The ICE Raids in Mississippi and Two Moments that Changed the Way I See the World
By Josh Raybon
August 19, 2019
There are certain moments in our lives that change the way we see the world around us. If you are a parent, that moment you held your child for the first time provided you with a new perspective. Perhaps you perceive things differently as a result of a blessing like the miracle of childbirth, or even because of tragedy or loss. News of ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) raiding several poultry facilities in central Mississippi recently brought to mind two of those moments in my life. They are moments that would radically alter how I viewed the world, but for totally different reasons.
I remember sitting in an American Government class my senior year of high school watching the second plane fly into the World Trade Center. For the first time in my life I saw the danger of “radical Islam.” I remember the uncertainty. I remember the fear. I recall spending hours reading books about Wahhabism and the leader of a group called Al-Qaeda. I was fascinated by everything that transpired that day in September as well as what led up to the day and what it meant for our future in America. Those events pushed me into studying political science and history in college. More importantly, it shaped how I thought about immigration and national security. I knew we had to, as a nation, figure out how to secure our borders so that nothing so evil could happen on American soil again. The images of that plane crashing into the building changed me.
Nearly a decade later, a second defining moment struck me. This one did not come in the form of a historically infamous tragedy, but instead came to me in the form of a letter from a teenage girl. In 2010, I was serving as a youth pastor in Scott County, Mississippi. This is the same county where many of the ICE raids took place recently that saw nearly 700 immigrants taken into custody. It was here that I met Maria.
I knew Maria and her family were from Mexico. I knew her mother did not speak much, if any, English. I did not think much of it, though, as many of our students had similar backgrounds. Scott County is referred to by locals as “The Chicken Capital of the World” because of all of the poultry facilities located in and around the county. Hispanic families came to towns like Morton, Forest, and Sebastopol to find work with these poultry businesses.
Maria was a sweet, unassuming young lady who found her way to our church through friends she had made at the local public school. As a way to get to know some of our students better, I asked them to write out their “testimony” and turn it in to me one Wednesday night. I read dozens of those personal stories over the next several days. Nearly a decade later, I only remember one.
I remember shaking my head in disbelief as I read a firsthand account of a little girl being dragged through the deserts of Mexico by her pregnant mother. It seemed like something out of a Hollywood script. A mother, desperate to get her family to America, trekking through the wilderness. I must have read that crumpled little letter twenty times over the next few days. Something happened to me when I read Maria’s story. For the first time those people in Scott County were not simply Mexicans or Hispanics. They were real people, with real stories. Maria was a real person with a face and a story. She was not here to take advantage of America. She was here because her scared, desperate, pregnant mother brought her here when she was three years old. Maria and her story changed my life. She changed how I viewed people.
September 2001 and my study of political theory and public policy caused me to view people as statistics. “There are ‘X’ number of people gathering along the border waiting to invade America.” That’s how I saw those seeking to migrate to America. Ten years later I saw Maria. After seeing her, I began to see others. There was a young man whose mother brought him and his brother from Mexico when they were infants. He had no idea he was undocumented until he attempted to apply for financial aid for college. These are the kinds of people who were targeted and detained recently in Mississippi. People with real lives, real hopes, real dreams and real stories.
God lets His followers know early on how they should engage the foreigner. It is in Leviticus that the nation of Israel is instructed to treat the sojourner as they would treat themselves (Leviticus 19:33-34). God reminds His people that they were once the stranger in the land of Egypt. What a timely reminder for all of us that we were once strangers in this land called America, but more importantly we were once aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12). But God, being rich in mercy offered up His Son so that even the stranger might have access.
Perhaps the answer is for those who have benefited from such lavish mercy to offer up the same. There is work to be done when it comes to immigration to be sure. What happened in Mississippi a few weeks ago, though, is not the answer.
Josh Raybon now serves as the youth pastor at Eastern Shore Baptist Church in Daphne, Alabama.