Chris Marquardt: Build Bridges, Not Walls


Faith in Public Life: “Build Bridges Not Walls”

Chris Marquardt is an Attorney in Atlanta and is Board Chairman for the Latin American Association (LAA).

Remarks from a speech at the LAA Prayer Vigil in Atlanta – 2/18/17


It’s an honor to step up to this podium, and to add my small voice to the strong voices of many faith leaders you’ll be hearing from today.

I’ve been asked to start by highlighting some of the developments that have affected our communities in recent weeks, and to say a few words about what a human response – a faith response – to these developments could look like.

In late January, as we all know, the President issued a series of executive orders.  Among other things, these orders seek to:

• Create a border wall along the 1,300-mile US/Mexico border;

• Turn local police into federal immigration law enforcers;

• Expand the definition of “criminal,” for immigration law purposes, which could result in the deportation of immigrants with no criminal charges who have been here for decades;

• Compromise access to legal representation for immigrants, by reducing the time in which they can find lawyers to pursue valid asylum claims or other legitimate means of obtaining deportation relief; and

• Suspend the US refugee program for 120 days, bar citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, and ban Syrian refugees indefinitely.

In addition to these executive orders, or perhaps because of them, over the last two weeks approximately 200 people have been arrested as part of ICE activities in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

These activities raise two important – and related – questions: What is the humane response to this increased immigration enforcement? What is the faith-based response to it?  I’ll try to address those questions in my remarks today.

Before I go farther, let me make clear that, unlike the other speakers, I am not a faith leader.  I’m not a reverend, or a pastor, or a priest. Who I am is far more ordinary.  I’m a husband; a father; an imperfect Catholic; and a proud American.

I love this country.  We all do.  

Like all of us, I want what’s best for my family and for this nation.  I want us to thrive, and to succeed.  I want America to be true to its ideals & its greatness.

And I believe, wholeheartedly, that we are true to our American ideals and our American greatness when we welcome and embrace the hardworking immigrants living among us.

As a Catholic, I believe this: We cannot be pro-Christian and anti-immigrant.  We just can’t be pro-Christian and anti-immigrant at the same time.

There’s a lot of fear in our country today.  Fear of the other.  Fear of the stranger.  Fear of the immigrant & the refugee.  None of this is new, of course.  We’ve seen this many times before in the history of the United States.  There’s always fear of change.

Right now, there’s fear that we are losing connection with what many believe to be the Judeo-Christian foundations and traditions that have made this country great.

But I know that, for centuries, immigrants have made this country great.  They continue doing so today.  

In my view, a great irony of these times is this: When we attack immigrants – when we wall off strangers; and when we round folks up & throw them out – we, as a nation, are attacking the core of true Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Though I don’t have degree in theology, I can read.  The scriptures in my Bible are unambiguous when they discuss our moral obligation to welcome the immigrants living among us.  The Hebrew Bible, what many of us call the Old Testament, says this many times.  The idea is best expressed in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 19:33-34:

“When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.”

That Biblical command to respect immigrants carries over to the New Testament.  Jesus made this crystal clear in the Gospels.  He said we have a moral duty to welcome the strangers living in our midst.  In Matthew Chapter 25, for example, Jesus tells us that the nations that do not welcome strangers and care for those in need will be cast off into darkness.  People smarter, and far holier, than me have described this as a litmus test for Christianity.  The message is clear.

The Christian tradition teaches us that Jesus emphasized two great commandments: First, to love God. Second, to love our neighbors as ourselves.  (Matthew 22:37-39; Luke 10:25-28).  Fortunately, we know from the Gospels who Jesus meant when he talked about love for our “neighbors.”  In our faith tradition, “neighbors” are not just those who live directly next door, or those who come from the same nation of origin.  No.  As taught to us by the parable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbors we are called to love are often foreigners – people from other countries.  People who are here, and who stop to help.  People who, as Dr. King said, display “dangerous unselfishness” for others in their times of need. Right now, the immigrants among us are facing great challenges. We will show love for our neighbors in their time of need?

As I said a moment ago, there is fear in our country right now.  We know this. The fear is reflected in our political discourse.  Here at the LAA, we know there is also growing fear in our immigrant community.  But we also know, firsthand, that there is tremendous goodness in that community.  We know that our immigrant community is made up of good and decent people; people who, in many cases, have lived with us for years; people who have become woven into the fabric of who we are as Georgians, and as an American people.

When we take time to sit down with immigrant families here in Atlanta, we get an opportunity to realize that these are good people; hardworking people; deeply faithful people.  And we realize that we are better as a country because they are here.

On issues of immigration, the early signals from our new Administration have been discouraging, to say the least.  In trying to protect us from perceived threats, in trying to attack what it calls radical Islam, this Administration is actually attacking beliefs that are fundamental to our Judeo-Christian ideals.  

We can do better.

We can do better than executive orders and actions that are targeting good and hard-working families with deep roots in our American communities.  

When we move beyond stereotypes and rhetoric, we see more clearly that attacks on immigrants in this country are attacks on the civic values that Americans hold dear.

Many of the people now prioritized for deportation by immigration enforcement are spouses, parents or siblings of American citizens.  Many pray with us in our churches and cheer with us in our high school stadiums. In their lives we see things that have always made America great: hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, generosity, and devotion to family.  

Instead of focusing taxpayer dollars on jailing these neighbors and kicking them out of our country, we should work to achieve comprehensive immigration reform – immigration reform with full background checks, payment of taxes, and an attainable path to lawful status.  That will allow us to stay true to who we are as a nation.  It will allow us all to benefit more fully from the talents and contributions that immigrants continue to bring to America. And it will keep us safe. 

I’ll close with a focus on some ways that we, as people of faith, can help get this country moving in the direction of true comprehensive immigration reform.  These suggestions come from David Schaefer and our talented team at the Latin American Association:

• We can and should communicate with our elected officials about the human aspects of immigration.  Real people are really getting hurt, and many of them are children.

• We can and should consider networking across congregations and across religious lines, in new ways, to think critically about shared core values such as kindness, love, and hospitality.  For those of us who are Christians, perhaps the focus can start with that important question that a lawyer posed to Jesus 2000 years ago: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

• We should think critically about why immigrants are coming to this country. Is it to feed their families? Is it to flee violence and persecution? Would any of us do any less for our families?

• We should consider the global dimensions of the immigration problem. The forces that drive immigrants to the United States are multiple and powerful, and cannot be summed up or dealt with through blunt metaphors, jingoism, or empty policies like wall building.

• We should avoid the zero-sum trap – the misguided belief that if an immigrant gains something, I lose something. If we believe in the justice, power, and goodness of the God we serve, we also believe that we are blessed in order to bless others.

These are just a few thoughts on what the human response – the faith-based response – to the issue of immigration could be. 

There is much work to be done.  We at the Latin American Association are committed to doing it.  We hope you’ll join with us.  The community needs us all – now more than ever.


Chris Marquardt