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Defending the Vulnerable

As two Southern California leaders living out CCD in our communities, we are intimately aware of the issues surrounding the broken immigration system. Robert is both an immigration attorney and professor of Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA. Erica has worked in youth development in South L.A. and currently mentors student activist. Together we lead Jesus 4 Revolutionaries, a UCLA campus ministry that trains and mobilizes urban students around social justice issues from a Christian perspective.

One of our students is Francisco. Francisco grew up in San Diego having come from Mexico with his family after the downturn in the Mexican economy, caused by NAFTA. His family were strong Christian leaders in their church. Francisco was an outstanding student in high school and was accepted to UCLA and Columbia. Francisco chose to attend UCLA but because he was undocumented, was unable to pay for his schooling. A generous donor, who had heard about Francisco’s situation, agreed to pay for his first year of college. During his freshman year, Francisco’s father, sister, uncle and cousin were deported. To help his fractured family make ends meet, Francisco gave them his scholarship money. Consequently, he lost his scholarship.

While on campus, he visited a campus fellowship where someone called him a “criminal.” That event caused him to think that most Christians on the campus were racists. Between that emotional toll coupled with the financial barriers, Francisco dropped out of UCLA. He also fell away from his faith. Francisco’s story is not unlike many of the students in Jesus 4 Revolutionaries. While we have been committed to standing with the vulnerable, now more than ever as a result of what is happening in our country, we are working harder than ever.

On December 18 we opened up space for Southern California leaders to come together for an informational training session led by Rev. Alexia Salvatierra at the historic Union Church of Los Angeles. We modeled this training after those of César Chávez and MLK whose gatherings combined both worship and organizing. The location was deeply symbolic too, because it was the church that many Japanese Americans attended the day before being shipped off to internment camps during WWII.

To foster a broad base of support, we solicited the sponsorship of 13 churches and ministry organizations and were amazed at the overwhelming turnout of more than 200 people from diverse cultural and denominational backgrounds. The strong turnout evidenced to us God’s hand over the event as well as the deep desire of many Christians to stand for justice in the wake of the controversial election. At the event, we began to invite people to join the Matthew 25 Movement.

The Matthew 25 Movement is a new national movement of Christians from diverse cultural and denominational backgrounds who are coming together at this historic moment to pray and stand together.

In Southern California, our group—which started with a prayer gathering in our friends’ living room in Pico Union—decided to start with policies affecting undocumented immigrants (in the future we anticipate broadening our scope to include other issues affecting urban communities such as education and criminal justice reform). We feel that immigrants are being exploited for their cheap labor, and most have no path to a green card. On a national level, the same is true—although 11 million unauthorized immigrants contribute more than $400 billion per year to the nation’s GDP, and hundreds of billions of dollars more through tax contributions, guess how many unskilled worker visas the U.S. government granted to all countries in the world in 2010? 4,762.

Fairness, indeed biblical justice, requires that the U.S. government recognize the incredible economic contributions of immigrants by granting them a fair number of work visas and/or legal residency status. To refuse to do so is biblical exploitation (Deut.10: 17-19; Ex. 23:9; Matt. 25: 31-46). According to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25, moreover, by doing this we are not just oppressing immigrants, but JESUS HIMSELF.

A few weeks after the first gathering, we held a follow up meeting for Matthew 25 leaders at our home. We created five leadership teams: Prayer, Advocacy, Protection and Defense, Education/Training, & Social Media/Stories. Each leadership team was tasked with appointing two, point people who could help keep their group on track. The Prayer team–keeps us grounded in Jesus by leading us in a weekly prayer call. The Advocacy team leads M25 in partnership with other immigration organizations in the area working to exert pressure on elected officials. The Protection and Defense team help bringing together immigrant churches, ally churches, and lawyers in constructive partnership to help stop unjust deportations. The Education team sponsors training and educational initiatives to mobilize church communities. Finally, the Social Media/Story team brings together the compelling stories of immigrants and other vulnerable communities.

We believe we must come together to promote racial understanding and reconciliation in the Church, and to help restore the witness of the Church. We want to help people like Francisco be restored to their faith which is rooted in relationship, theology and action.

We know we need to do something to stand with our many students and friends like Francisco. The Matthew 25 Movement is providing a gathering place in which we can work together to ensure that vulnerable people have a strong Christian witness alongside them as we face the uncertain days ahead.

We pray that our testimony will encourage many to get involved with the Matthew 25 Movement. Please join us and other CCDA ministries across the country who are working to build on the message of Matthew 25 through organizing people to welcome the vulnerable in Jesus Name.

The Romeros

Robert is both an immigration attorney and professor of Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA. Erica has worked in youth development in South L.A. and currently mentors student activist.

Together they lead Jesus 4 Revolutionaries, a UCLA campus ministry that trains and mobilizes urban students around social justice issues from a Christian perspective.

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