For more than 40 years, Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc., has worked to ensure the wellbeing of the immigrant who arrives in rural New York. The current news is filled with angst about the arrival of a small group of immigrants to upstate New York; this arrival of refugees is being met with prejudice and fear, fueled by an apparent lack of thoughtfulness on the part of the government of New York City.
As we respond to the presence of refugees here, we must not lose sight of their humanity, and we must not lose sight of the fact that rural New York could benefit from their presence. Local governments must employ a comprehensive strategy that ensures the wellbeing and the dignity of these immigrants.
As a nation, we take great pride in the Lazarus quote inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We rightfully laud America’s place as the land of opportunity. Some of us arrived seeking political asylum; some, religious freedom; some, economic or educational opportunities; some, better opportunities for our children — along with hundreds of thousands of Africans who were enslaved and brought against their will. Whatever our reasons, we have come from around the world, often in waves.
For those of us rooted in the Judeo-Christian faith, it is clear that Scripture has no hesitation in proclaiming the importance of welcoming the foreigner. The sacred Scriptures of the Judeo- Christian tradition are filled with migration stories: Adam and Eve, expelled from Eden; Abraham and Sarah, wandering from place to place; Joseph in Egypt; Moses in the wilderness; Exile in Babylon; Joseph and Mary and the Child, refugees in Egypt; the perambulate ministry of Jesus; the journeys of Paul — these are all stories that speak to us today as we seek to make our way through these difficult times. Thus, we draw upon the living waters of Scripture for inspiration and guidance.
Keeping in mind the remarkable contribution that immigrants have historically made to our country, and rooting ourselves in our faith communities’ commitment to welcoming the foreigner — while acknowledging the prejudice and fear in our midst — RMM urges the following:
- Governments must find the resources to support comprehensive partnerships with non-profit organizations that lead to the effective incorporation of refugees into our communities, in a manner that protects their wellbeing. We must work together to find solutions, and not try to just “dump the issue.”
- We must remember that the non-profit organizations that have the expertise to assist refugees are already over-taxed. Non-profits need financial support to create pathways and to protect these men, women and children from further oppression.
- We must see the arrival of people as an opportunity for upstate. At RMM, we have listened for years now to farmers and businesses lament that they can’t find workers. Here is an opportunity. However, it is imperative this be done in a manner that avoids exploitation.
- As a community, we must not forget the humanity of these men, women and children, nor lose sight that they are fleeing oppressive conditions and merely seek what we all seek: safety, survival, opportunity and hope.
The Rev. Richard Witt