Christians and Immigration

This is part of the synchroblog for September.

The immigration issue, like so many issues, is not quite as polarizing in Canada as it is in the United States.
But Canada has been and always will be a nation of immigrants. Given our low birth rate, we are relying more and more on immigration to bolster our population numbers.

Today, the issue for Canadians is the immigration back-log and the refugee system.

It can take up to six years to immigrate to Canada through the skilled workers application. Part of the backlog is due to an increase in fraudulent applications, those who, in order to expedite the process, submit counterfeit documents. Recently, it was reported that the Department of Immigration is working on ways to crack down on these types of applications.

“In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Kenney said he will also ask Indian officials to consider whether they may need a bill similar to one introduced in Parliament this June – the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act – which would make it a crime for a person who is not a lawyer, notary or member of a recognized association of immigration consultants to accept a fee for providing immigration advice.
“In Chandigarh, in our consulate there, we have a `wall of shame’ with some examples of the thousands of fraudulent documents that are generated by this industry – fake marriage certificates, death certificates, travel itineraries, banking statements, you name it,” Mr. Kenney said.
“There’s a pretty sophisticated industry that produces these kinds of documents.’’”

There are also issues with the refugee system. While there are some amazing refugee assistance programs happening, for example, the Karen people who have been living in refugee camps in Thailand being sponsored to come to Canada, there is also the current debacle over the ship of 490 Tamil refugees who landed on the west coast this summer, having paid up to $50,000 each to be smuggled to Canada. Supposedly there is another ship on the way, and the media has been playing up the issue of cost, and whether or not these refugees are “jumping the queue.”

In both systems, people are coming here for an opportunity for a better life. It’s what this nation was built on: hope. The Ukrainian Canadians who immigrated in the late 19th and early 20th century, came for the “free land,” without knowing exactly what they were getting into. Some didn’t bring tools. No one told them how hard it would be to clear the land of trees, and more often, rocks, prior to farming. With firewood being a precious commodity in Ukraine, many families brought trunks full of firewood over with them, not realizing that they would quickly have an abundance of wood available as they cleared land. Many built houses by digging a cave in the side of a hill, until they could clear the land.

Canada has a reputation as being a good place to “start over.” We have many social programs in place to help those new to Canada adjust and flourish. But at the same time, the highly educated immigrants struggle to find work and acceptance in their fields of expertise, and there are countless stories of doctors and engineers being able to find work only as cabbies or janitors.

What is the Christian response to all of this?
Should there be a different response to the issue of refugees as opposed to the issue of immigration?
How can Christians pursue justice in the immigration/refugee system, and speak out against the corruption and fraudulent claimants without being branded as being “anti-immigration?”

Several churches in Hamilton and across the country, have taken up the call and volunteered to “adopt” Karen families, and help them adjust to life in Canada.
In Toronto, Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene has a Tamil congregation, that is reaching out and making a difference under the leadership of Pastor Christabell Selvalingham who has founded four Tamil congregations across the Greater Toronto Area.
Across the country, churches are offering English as a second language classes, and VBS and Sunday Schools are reaching out to the children of immigrants.

My call to the Church is to support the system. Engage with the government policy, and help the wheels of bureaucracy work. At the same time, fight against the human smugglers and fraudulent immigration consultants who profit off of cheating the system.

For churches in rural areas, or in areas where there is not an influx of immigrants (they tend to cluster around large city-centres), pray and partner with city churches in your denomination to serve these amazing opportunities to show Christ’s love and Christ’s salvation. Partner with ethnic churches. And maybe even find a way to do a “swap,” in which immigrant teens, young adults or even adults could come and experience life outside of the “big” city, and Canadian teens from outside the city-centres could go and learn and experience life from their perspective.

And most of all, we need to remember that these immigrants aren’t all “foreign pagans.” Many are our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are seeking a life where they are free to worship and pray and witness for Jesus without the fear of persecution. Christianity is not a North American religion. Christianity is not a “WASP” religion. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God is not based on colour, or location or culture. Citizenship is based on confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Let us preach Jesus to the nations, and thank God that the nations are no longer just across the sea, but that the nations are right here, right now. We are living in the midst of an amazing opportunity to see lives changed, healed and set free.

(edited to add):
HT to Erin over at Prairie Road for pointing me to this article about Canada’s Invisible Immigrants.

This month’s synchroblog includes:
Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being the Flag
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can Make Dreams Come True
Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories
Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Christians and the Immigration Issue
Ellen Haroutunian – Give Me Your Tired …
Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear
Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge
George Elerick at The Love Revolution – We’re Not Kings Or Gods
Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother
Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration
Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head – it’s alot easier to against immigration reform …
Jonathan Brink – Immigration Synchroblog
Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – Immigration Reform
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Right