“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
President Donald Trump
It is very difficult to explain immigration to most Americans. In fact, most Americans have no desire (or need) to move to another country. Those who have enough resources, linguistic ability and expertise to immigrate and to make "a better life for themselves" in another country are most likely doing just fine in the U.S.
So, why are there so many Mexicans, Central and South Americans in the U.S.? Why are there so many people from the Caribbean islands living in the U.S.?
You see, there is this thing called empire. According to the Oxford Dictionary, an empire is "an extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state". A secondary definition is a "supreme political power over several countries when exercised by a single authority".
The U.S. is not an empire according to the first definition (unless you consider the sociopolitical situation of U.S. territories throughout the world, i.e. taxation without representation). However, the U.S. is most certainly an empire when you consider the second definition.
(I am not the first theologian and social scientist to make this affirmation. Walter Brueggemann is a notable theologian who writes extensively on the topic. Even within my own Christian tradition, churches of Christ, other scholars have made this same affirmation, including Dr. Lee Camp of Lipscomb University.)
Please allow me to explain. The U.S. sets the diplomatic and legislative agenda for many countries in Latin America. When the U.S. has been unable to manipulate local and in many cases puppet governments in the region, they have resorted to military intervention, covert operations by the C.I.A. and to their favorite and most effective form of control: the flow of money and resources.
Latin America is the backyard of the United States. There has always been an interest in securing national borders not only from military threat (i.e. Cuba's role in the Cold War), but also from ideological threats (resulting in different coups d'état throughout Latin America, most effectively in Chile). The U.S., in order to secure political and economic sovereignty in the region must subject Latin America to a particular political and economic agenda.
Latin America must remain subject to U.S. sociopolitical and economic interests and therefore must remain subject to free trade agreements that exploit factory workers in order to sell cheaper products in the U.S. One of Latin America's biggest export to the U.S. is young, able-bodied men and women with dreams of escaping violence and life-ending poverty. Their absence in Latin America perpetuates the vicious cycle of poverty throughout the region.
Many U.S. citizens complain about the number of immigrants from poor countries around the world. President Trump called them "shithole countries". But what if for the U.S. to remain a sovereign, economic and political powerhouse, poor countries must remain poor?
Many people in the U.S. disdain foreign immigrants. They dislike hearing their languages at the mall and at the supermarket but have absolutely no problem staying in a hotel built by immigrants or sleeping in beds changed by immigrants. If their poverty guarantees your wealth, if their lack of food contributes to your overabundance of food, maybe this disdain is generated by a subconscious need to turn away and not face the truth.
Many Central Americans are in the U.S. because their government has, at the bidding of U.S. foreign policy for over a hundred years, needed to employ cheap, unskilled laborers in order for the rich to get richer.
All that I have written so far is well attested to by historians, academics, social scientists and much of it has been described in detail in declassified documents from the U.S. government. It is important to realize that on so many levels, the U.S. government does not represent the will or the heart of its people in matters of foreign policy. Much of what the U.S. does in Latin America is not covered by mainstream media outlets nor is it discussed outside academic settings. If most Americans had even a faint notion of what I have described above, I pray that they would change their minds and open their hearts and homes to poor Latin American immigrants in the U.S.
What is at play here is not only racism but aporaphobia. Aporaphobia is a concept that is employed in the social sciences to describe "a strong antipathy, aversion or hatred toward poverty or poor people". Most Americans, for example, do not dislike Jennifer López, Salma Hayek or Marc Anthony -- what makes many Americans uncomfortable or gives them a bad taste in their mouth are the numerous latinos and latinas in the U.S. who are poor and uneducated, those who are "stealing our jobs and resources".
Why is a Christian theologian writing about social issues? Shouldn't he just stick to reading and teaching the Bible?
If God calls us to love Him and to love others, our love for others compels us to stand up for the poor and innocent. The historical facts I have mentioned and the explanation of the Latin American reality that I have offered here are not leftwing ideology - they are facts and by no means are they alternative facts.
Christians should love truth more than country. They should love the poor more than money. They should worship the God of the Exodus and not bow down to those who enslave others to make an extra buck. Christians should exalt and live into the reality of God's Kingdom and not pledge allegiance to any flag because their allegiance belongs to the cross of Christ.
What Donald Trump has said is racist and ignorant. Christians should feel compelled to denounce such racist discourse and fight for the rights of those who might soon be deported due to racism and ignorance. (See this article about the plight of 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S.)
What should we do with the poor immigrants living among us? We could begin by accepting them, loving them and getting to know them. Most Latin American immigrants would prefer to live in their native lands if only they could work, eat and live in peace. Christians should also take action to end the root causes or forced migrations.
Christians in the U.S. should praise God for the opportunity of having poor neighbors from shithole countries because it is in their faces that Christ reveals Himself most plainly (Matthew 25:31-46).
Book recommendation: Stranger God by Richard Beck.
Richard Beck. Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.