By Lizzie Davis
This spring semester sparked interest in me to know more about how people come to the United States. Two events happened that made me think about this:
First, was watching the news as thousands of people fled from Syria because of a brutal civil war. Thousands have died in voyages across the Mediterranean Sea while in hope of seeking refuge in other countries — countries that are unsure of what to do with the large number of people coming in their borders. The United States is one of those countries.
Secondly, I began to learn about immigration in school. In working on a dual degree through Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and Diana Garland School of Social Work, I get to dive into many topics I know little about. One of my classes for social work looked at how immigration impacts the City of Waco, Texas.
We looked to demographics and the immigration process, and talked to people whose daily lives are impacted by immigration. I have learned so much about many neighbors in Waco and in Texas. I have had my eyes opened. I have found myself wondering what this crisis means for us as the church.
On Thursday afternoon, during a workshop at the 2016 CBF General Assembly, entitled “Aiding the Persecuted: The Refugee,” Heather Scavone, the Director of Elon University Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, discussed what it looks like to be a refugee or seeking asylum in the world. More specifically, she focused on what it means to be a refugee or seeking asylum in the United States.
The first thing she discussed is the difference between the two. These are hot topics in our nation so it is important to know the differences.
A refugee is someone who seeks refuge from persecution while in his or her own country. On the other hand, when someone seeks asylum, they have already fled their country of origin and are currently in the country they seek asylum in. Once a man, woman or child claims they will continue to be persecuted if they are to return home, they are put into a detention center while they wait to seek asylum. These detention centers are essentially private prisons and waiting centers where injustice is the norm.
I have to admit, my knowledge of this has not been what it should be. This is especially true because Texas has three detention centers that hold people while they are seeking asylum. I recently heard rumors of the prospect of a fourth. Some of these are for men and some are for women and children. Families are separated.
Those who are seeking asylum or refuge have no right to counsel in the United States. This shocked me as this is stated in the 6th amendment and in Miranda Rights. Scavone says that the 6th amendment has, “not been construed to apply in immigration court.” And once in court, no two cases of refugees or asylum seekers are treated the same. Scavone calls this, “refugee roulette.”
The amount of information provided during the workshop was remarkable — but there is still more to learn.
I challenge you to ask questions, watch documentaries and to be informed on the processes people go through to seek safety. In order to be a part of the solution, we first need to know the problem.
The Bible talks consistently about caring for the refugee and the foreigner. Often the Israelites find themselves being in that very position. Chapters and books of the Bible are written from the perspective of being in a foreign land. Jesus calls us to be hospitable. Jesus calls us to seek justice.
Scavone shared that there is a need for more immigration judges. This would make the process go faster and keep people from being locked in detention centers for so long. She also says that there should be council for those seeking asylum, especially children and those with mental disabilities who may be unable to defend themselves.
In Waco, a grass roots organization called Waco Immigration Alliance trains members to go and visit with those seeking asylum in the detention center in Hutto, just down the road. Around the world, CBF field personnel work with refugees.
Yet there is more to be done. May we continue to seek justice.
Lizzie Davis is about to start her final year as a Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work student at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and Garland School of Social Work. She is a CBF Leadership Scholar and serves at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.