Essay

This Is What We Mean

By June 22, 2017 14 Comments
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photo credit: Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

by Kate Kooyman

Yesterday, a judge in Michigan heard arguments on behalf of a group of Iraqi immigrants who are facing deportation. If they are deported, they will probably die.

The majority of these immigrants are Chaldeans. Chaldeans are Catholic Christians in the Middle East. Their liturgy is written in a language that derives from Aramaic, the language of Jesus. They are rooted in the very place and culture and language of the Jesus we follow.

They are what we mean when we say “our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Chaldean Christians are a persecuted minority in Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Chaldeans have fled by the hundreds of thousands, seeking refuge from executions and torture. Those who remain live under the threat of ISIS.

They are what we mean when we say “the persecuted church.”

Donald Trump, during his presidential bid, promised to “do something” about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. “If I run and I win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians that they’ve had in a long time,” he promised. The votes of naturalized-citizen Chaldeans helped to elect the President.

They are who Vice President Pence was talking about when he said, “[The President] made it clear that America will stand by followers of Christ in this hour of need.

Defenders of the President’s policies are quick to point out that these immigrants were identified and pursued by ICE because they had, at some point, either received deportation orders or committed crimes. But most have long-since served their punishments for those crimes. Moayad Jalal Barash is one of them. He is 47 years old and has lived in the United States since 1979. As a teenager, he got in trouble with the law — drugs and weapons charges — and served time. And then, like so many who grow past the mistakes of their youth, he changed his life.  He is now a dedicated church member, the sole breadwinner for his family.

He is what we mean when we say, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”

Lawyers have filed a class action suit. They claim that these deportations violate the law, depriving these immigrants of their right to prove the severity of their plight. “Our immigration policy shouldn’t amount to a death sentence for anyone,” said one of them.

This advocacy is what we mean when we say, “Speak up for those who cannot speak, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

“You vowed to protect us,” the sign of a protestor read outside the courthouse. It was held by a elderly man who was born in Iraq. His 37-year-old son, the father of two little girls, was detained by ICE and awaits the decision of the court. In fact, his life depends on it. 

His prayer is what we echo when we say, “Kyrie eleison.”

Kate Kooyman

Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

14 Comments

  • Duane Kelderman says:

    Thanks Kate. I recently walked with a family whose husband/dad was deported. The rest of the family decided to go back to be with him. After living here for 25 years, the two kids being born here, they leave for Mexico with everything they now own in a box. Was America worse with these people? No. Will they be poorer without them? Yes. They were hard working, tax paying, law abiding people. They came here to survive. I think it’s time for us to tear down the Statue of Liberty. It’s too painful to read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” when we see the America we have become.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thanks, Kate. It is hard to believe.

  • Susan Van Winkle says:

    The power of the pen, thank you Kate.

  • Leviticus 19-34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” I read this as a clear statement of how we are to respond to immigrants, and yet many Christian groups continue to emphasize purity codes and personal piety, reducing Christianity to self-help. Thank you for this article.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Thanks, Kate. An eloquent witness from you as usual. Tragically, our President rarely means what he says and cannot remember much of anything for long that does not deal directly with some aspect of his own self. If your blog could be turned into an honest segment for Fox News, the President might see it and be concerned . . . for about 10 minutes.

  • Suki says:

    Thanks for this article, Kate. It makes me very sad that this is happening. This is also happening to Indonesian Christians–the RCA in NJ is very involved in this cause.

  • Ann Conklin says:

    Beautifully and powerfully written. Thank you, Kate, for your voice for justice.

  • AnnaMae Bush says:

    So what’s the most effective way for us to respond/protest?

  • Sharon Etheridge says:

    Thanks very much for this blog. It is really sad

  • Marilyn Paarlberg says:

    Kate, have you sent this to POTUS and VPOTUS? (I doubt that Donald would recognize the biblical quotes unless you give the citations.) Actually, there are so many people in Washington who should read this powerful letter. Also a letter to the editors of Washington Post, NY Times, Wall St. Journal and more.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    This fits with this weeks RCL text from Gen 21 about sending Hagar and Ishmael away. But God hears and sees them so of course, so should we. Thanks Kate.

  • mstair says:

    Giving thanks for bringing this prayer concern to our attention; now daily asking God to intervene

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