OPED: I'm a white evangelical Christian who stands with immigrants

Jenny Potter
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

My parents raised me in a conservative evangelical family in suburban Palatine, Ill. When I turned 18 they gave me a list of candidates to vote for — all Republicans — and I dutifully followed their instructions.

Today, I’m 36 and living in Palatine once again, but in the November midterms I cast my ballot for the Democratic congressional candidate, Sean Casten. My vote, I’m proud to say, helped turn Illinois’ 6th Congressional District into one of 43 nationwide that flipped from red to blue.

I’m still evangelical. In fact, I’m a white, educated mother of two and the creative producer of a large church.

And although Republican politicians might be surprised to hear it, my faith compelled me to vote for the pro-immigrant candidate.

The reason is simple: Jesus embraced the marginalized and called his followers to do the same.

After the Trump administration enacted its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy in April, forcing thousands of immigrant families to be separated, my civic engagement instincts kicked into high gear. I bombarded the phone lines of Peter Roskam, my district’s Republican incumbent. On those calls, I could sense his staff’s indifference and, by extension, Roskam’s indifference to the devastating human rights crisis that he had the power to address.

Migrants run from tear gas launched by U.S. agents, amid photojournalists covering the Mexico-U.S. border, after a group of migrants got past Mexican police at the Chaparral crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. The mayor of Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis in his border city and says that he has asked the United Nations for aid to deal with the approximately 5,000 Central American migrants who have arrived in the city. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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Separating children from parents is moral bankruptcy. My children, like millions of others around the country, watch the PBS show “Daniel Tiger” and have learned an important lesson: “Parents always come back.” It’s something I say whenever I drop my boys off at daycare. The fact that parents at the border can’t make this same promise breaks my heart. It also makes me furious at the politicians responsible for this.

I’m not alone in my outrage. Media reports often overlook the many evangelicals who feel the moral gravity of this moment. The Bible calls us to “welcome the stranger” and if our politicians won’t do that, we will cast our ballot for those who will — and hold them accountable to that promise.

Another factor to consider is that our district — like so many around the country – is changing. The 6th Congressional District has added more than 6,000 Hispanic and Asian-American voters since 2016, according to a report by New American Economy.

The report shows that in this election, all of the districts that flipped from red to blue have increased their share of Hispanic and Asian-American voters since 2016 and that, in the races that decided the House of Representatives, the anti-immigrant platform lost. Roskam did not rally for immigrant families, whereas Casten ran pro-immigration ads focused on protections for so-called “Dreamers.”

This pro-immigration messaging appeals to voters like me who embrace diversity. Immigrants bring a dynamic energy to suburban Palatine, with new restaurants, culture centers and an entrepreneurial spirit. Our district has more than 3,344 immigrant business owners, and immigrants pay more than $1.4 billion in taxes each year, according to research by New American Economy.

On a personal note, my neighborhood school offers Spanish immersion in kindergarten, and the class is evenly split between native English and native Spanish speakers. My son, who will start kindergarten this fall, wouldn’t have this tremendous opportunity in a town without immigrants. Culturally, economically and educationally, we all benefit from welcoming immigrants.

As the midterm election results made clear, voters care about welcoming refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. We are a diversifying America that won’t stand for anti-immigrant ads or policies — even those of us from traditionally conservative religious communities. As we embark on a new year, the new Congress can count on voters like me to keep bombarding their phone lines with demands: for morally just immigration reform and ending the crisis at our border.