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Beneath the political battle in Washington, away from the drone of cable news vitriol and behind the scenes of America’s raging illegal immigration debate is a fact that oftentimes goes unnoticed.  In a world in which Facebook statuses, Twitter posts and six-second videos garner more attention than meaningful discussion, it becomes easy to forget what, or rather, who, lies at the center of this entire debate: people.

The “illegal immigrants” or “undocumented workers” in our country are more than props for political grandstanding; more than labels and inappropriate stereotypes; and more than chess pieces in the game of United States politics.  They are, in fact, real people – people who, like all of us, just want what is best for their families.  We see them at the mall, in the park and during our trips to Wal-Mart.  These people are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles.

Yet in the heat of our passionate debates, I fear we oftentimes diminish an entire group of people to easily-digestible terms and politically-sanitized phrases.  As believers, we must avoid the all-too-easy trap of reducing individuals to such dehumanized language; instead, we must see them for who they truly are – our neighbors, and people created in the very image of our God.

Jesus’ words two millennia ago still ring true today, as He told those around Him to love their neighbors just as they loved themselves.

Jesus went on to define that word with the parable of the Good Samaritan, ending His story with these words in Luke 10:36-37:

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

How grateful I am that Jesus Himself proved to be the Greatest Neighbor of all, taking mercy to such an extent that He laid down His life for us.  And because of our designation as sons and daughters of the King, we as believers are even described as temporary residents and exiles (e.g., 1 Peter 2:11) – aliens who are on our own pathways to citizenship in a Kingdom not of this world. 

If there is anyone we should relate to, it should be to those around us who are in a country that is not their own, facing head-on real-life struggles and difficulties.  In the end, this is not an issue of politics or philosophy; it’s an issue of humanity. 

The end of the illegal immigration fight may not yet be in sight, but parameters of the Christian stance should be clear: Be merciful. Show love. And reach the vast mission field around us. 

So as the protest signs go up and the Facebook posts come out, let us be reminded of the words of Jesus who, in Matthew 25, described the final judgment:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’ ”

Some may call it a pathway to citizenship; others may say it’s amnesty.  But whatever the solution in this debate, may we all call it mercy and remind ourselves that, like legal citizens, illegal immigrants are our neighbors, too.