Immigration is a Hunger Issue
Marvin Garcia Salas eats breakfast with his son Jesus, 4, in Chiapas, Mexico. Marvin was once an undocumented immigrant in the United States, where he had moved without his family to better support them. Hunger, and a lack of economic opportunity are at the root of much of the undocumented immigration from Mexico. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World
“Immigration is a hunger issue,” emphasized organizer David Gist during Bread’s monthly grassroots webinar and conference call yesterday. Mixing personal narratives with biblical principles and policy, the call focused on today’s release of a bipartisan Senate bill on immigration reform.
Since 2010, Bread for the World Institute has researched immigration’s connections to hunger and poverty. Moving forward, Bread for the World will act as an ally on immigration reform, mobilizing people of faith and aligning with partners who seek reform that respects the dignity of immigrants in the United States while addressing poverty and hunger overseas. We recognize that poor conditions in home countries is a major cause of unauthorized immigration to the United States, and we have identified five principles (PDF) that are crucial to craft policy that addresses hunger as a root cause of immigration.
Illustrating the often stark choices that drive migration to the United States, organizer Tamela Wallhof told the callers about Antonio, a man with whom she worked in Hilipo, Nicaragua. A subsistence farmer, Antonio was driven from his land by a combination of Nicaraguan and international policies that encourage large cash-crop farming in place of family-farming for local consumption. If Antonio had stayed in Nicaragua, his only option would have been to work for one of the large coffee plantations for less than a dollar a day, a sum that would not feed his extended family. Facing that future, Antonio was willing to risk entering the United States without authorization.
Later in the call, Ana, a woman in her 20s, spoke about her parents who left Peru nearly 15 years ago amid threats of kidnapping. Her parents left because of their concern for the wellbeing of their children. Ana escaped danger in Peru, but now lives in the United States without authorization. As her tale unfolded, Ana expressed raw fear about the fact that she could be deported from the only home she has ever known. She lives with that reality every day.
These stories show the human faces behind immigration and speak to our hearts. Bread for the World is driven by a biblical call to love our neighbor. And the Bible is full of immigration stories.
“We are called to ground our treatment of the stranger in scripture,” said Rev. Walter Contreras during the call. The Bible instructs us on how we should treat strangers. The model is hospitality, from the stories of God’s people as immigrants in Genesis to Jesus's teachings in Mathew 25—in which he tells us that what we do for the stranger we do for the savior.
As a faith-based organization dedicated to ending hunger, immigration reform falls squarely in Bread’s mission. Situations that push families like Antonio's and Ana’s to migrate are far too common and illustrate poverty beyond our borders.
But as David Gist points out, “it’s also a hunger issue here in the U.S. Thirty-four percent of U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrant adults lives in poverty—34 percent! That’s almost double the rate for children of U.S.-born adults.”
There is a lot of work to be done and the introduction of a Senate bill is just the first step. The House of Representatives will go through an independent process, but it is important people of faith to talk to Congress: reformed policies must respect human dignity and alleviate hunger and poverty both here and abroad.
“The opportunity for immigration reform process to move forward is now,” says government relations director, Eric Mitchell.
Today offers such an opportunity as religious leaders visit Capitol Hill for a day of prayer and action and you can join them. Learn more here.