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Photo:
Sunnyside community members join Kelsey Herbert (front row, third from right) in holding up Blessing Not a Burden signs.

Kelsey Herbert says she learned that many of the members of Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church in Sunnyside, Wash. already know that immigrants are a blessing and not a burden.

On a trip to visit CRC congregations in Washington state to share the Immigrants Are a Blessing Not a Burden campaign, Herbert became aware of the demand for labor on the many dairy farms and fruit orchards in the community.

The Blessing Not a Burden campaign empowers individuals and congregations to change the conversation about immigrants in the U.S.

 “Over 50 percent of white evangelicals believe that immigrants are a drain on the economy. Sunnyside confirmed for me that this is absolutely not true. They don’t believe they are a drain,” stated Herbert, immigration coordinator for the Office of Social Justice

“Farmers in Sunnyside told us of the strong relationships they already have with their employees and how they are the greatest asset for their farms,” said Herbert.

At the same time, she said, people in the church were interested in learning about Church Between Borders, an OSJ and Office of Race Relations interactive workshop that helps people better understand the broken immigration system.

“Immigration is a very real issue in communities such as Sunnyside,” she said. “There are those in Sunnyside that are there without legal status and have a real fear of being deported. There are also employers who are in fear of losing workers and friends.”

Herbert and Sophia Henager, Policy Analyst and Advocacy Fellow with OSJ, recently traveled to CRC congregations in Washington, including Sanctuary CRC in Seattle, Family of Faith CRC in the Tri-Cities, and Sunnyside CRC in Sunnyside, to discuss Church Between Borders and the Immigrants Are a Blessing Not a Burden campaign.

Generally, they spoke about the campaign in lunch meetings with students, community leaders, business people, pastors, educators, and immigration reform advocates.

In the evening, they presented the Church Between Borders workshop, helping church members become more aware of how the U.S. immigration system actually works.

“Many people have opinions about immigration without understanding how our immigration system works, which makes sense because it’s complex,” said Henager.

“Our workshop helps people understand the basics of immigration and helps communities begin a constructive conversation based on the Bible and facts. They learn that we have a 50-year-old system that needs to be updated. Many people can agree on that.”

There are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many of whom live in the shadows and yet contribute important things to the communities in which they live. Seventy percent of all farm workers in the U.S. are here without legal status, said Herbert.

“Both immigrants and employers are forced to work outside of the law,” she said. “They are caught in a very difficult situation. For many immigrants, there is no line they can wait in in order to seek legal status and our immigration system does not grant enough visas for employers to hire immigrants legally. It’s a huge problem for everyone.”

Immigration issues varied depending on the CRC congregations and communities in which they met.

For instance, they spoke to people in the Seattle area of the demand for skilled high-tech workers. Unfortunately, they learned, the current system makes it very challenging for skilled workers from outside the U.S. to receive visas to come to the country to fill the open positions, said Henager.

In one of their meetings at Gonzaga University in Spokane, they heard from a young man who has legal status because he was born in the U.S., but his family is severely limited in what they can do because they are not here legally.

“He stood up and shared very openly,” said Henager. “He told us that the negative rhetoric in the U.S. characterizes his family as a burden, but he knows this is not true. We could tell he was empowered by our campaign.”

Many people are looking for things they can do in the face of negative rhetoric. While there is no meaningful legislation to advocate for at the moment, the campaign is a tool to challenge myths surrounding immigration and spread the truth that immigrants are a blessing not a burden, shared Henager.

Comments

Immigrants, especially low skilled and especially illegal immigrants (who are particularly low skill and make few demands at work) are a decided blessing for businesses who need an abundance of low skill, low pay labor, as well as American consumers who enjoy the benefits ("blessing") of paying less for certain goods and services that use a lot of low skill, low pay workets.

Still, it is unwise, untrue, and even unjust to constantly perpetuate the bumper sticker slogan of "immigrants are a blessing and not a burden."

Why? Simple supply and demand laws dictate that an increase in supply means a decrease in price, all other things being equal. We tend to "justify" the negative effect immigrant labor has on workers who are entering the workforce or who stay at low skill levels by saying "Americans won't do that work anymore," but that simply is not true.

Non-immigrants would in fact do that work because the increased demand for workers would drive up the price of labor (those low skilled workers' wages) were it not for the injected labor supply represented by immigration. Certainly, large businesses could suffer a bit from being forced (by market forces) to pay more for low skilled labor, and American consumers would pay more for some goods and services too (producers would raise prices because they were paying more to low skilled employees), but hey, isn't that what we want? Less unemployment, higher wages (not by artificial fiat) at the low end of the labor spectrum, and more having the dignity of providing for themselves with their own efforts.

Immigration from third world countries to first world countries is complicated. We can't eliminate that complication by pitching political bumper sticker slogans that declare there is no complication. Of course, the irony here is that while our immigration policy (yes, we have one even if it doesn't correlate with what our legislated laws say) may help citizens of other countries, it hurts the poorer segment of our own historic neighborhoods. But then, we've moved to better side of the city anyway, or maybe even a nice place in the country, so we don't need to see those people anyway, right? And if the media ever talks about those neighbors "left behind," it is to say "they won't do this work anyway, but immigrants will."

Social justice anyone? We need to at least be honest with ourselves.

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The economy isn't a pie and me getting a slice doesn't mean someone else looses a slice. Immigrants are a benefit to the economy, to safe communities and to the church but still a majority of Americans view immigrants as a threat. When the rest of the nation is perpetuating myths Christians are called to defend the cause of the immigrant.

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In a macro-economic way, what you say is quite true Kris, and I'm sure you'll repeat that cliche in defending new millionaires and billionaires from increased tax proposals designed to "spread the wealth," ala Obama, Clinton and Sanders.

And what you say can be true in certain microeconomic scenarios, but not all. That's the nature of microeconomics. Imagine if the US were targeted with, say, apples exported to the US from foreign countries whose governments subsidized their apple growers. Yep, American consumers would benefit (lower apple prices) but American apple growers would indeed, your broad macroeconomic truth notwithstanding, left with a "lesser slice of the pie." The economic law of supply and demand is, after all, also true, in both macroeconomics and microeconomics.

I have little doubt but that the American economy is enhanced -- that is, that we richer overall -- when we import lots and lots of low skilled, used-to-being-very-low-paid, workers from third world countries, but it is simplistic, even manipulative, political sloganeering to says that immigration is ONLY a benefit to ALL, or that is burdens NO ONE.

The CRCNA should be less hyperbolic and more honest in our political campaigning. If it isn't, it sets only a poor example for the world around us, and certainly disqualifies it from criticizing presidential candidates for their practice of political hyberbole, as our Banner editor has done recently, characterizing it as demagoguery.

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