Why is it that the United States prohibits me from being faithful in following my Lord and Savior’s admonishment to imitate the example of the Good Samaritan? (Luke 10:29-37)

During my time in the desert, while walking the migrant trails with food and water strapped to my back looking for those crossing the border to provide physical, spiritual and medical assistance, I came across Jesus several times.

On this highway through Hell, thousands of brown bodies die torturous deaths in fulfillment of a U.S. policy called Operation Gatekeeper designed to deter future immigration through the death of those who out of desperation attempt the cross. But among these migrants, who like lambs are sent to their slaughter, is Jesus.

Jesus was once an immigrant escaping Herod’s reach, and Jesus today is an undocumented immigrant escaping the poverty caused by NAFTA. If you want to see Jesus, then join me in the desert for there he is again being crucified for the sins of U.S. foreign economic and trade policies toward Latin America during the past century.

We are told that Saint Martin of Tours (316-397) once came upon a nearly naked beggar at Amiens. Cutting his cloak in half, he clothed the wretched figure. That night, in a dream, Jesus appeared to him wearing the cloak Saint Martin gave the beggar. How true are the words of our Lord that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger, we are doing these things to him! Not figuratively, but literally.

It is because I believe God’s holy word that I was given the honor and privilege of ministering to Jesus, who was disguised as an immigrant, on these secluded trails of terror. I bound the wounds on his feet, attended to his thirst and hunger and provided a cot for him to regain his strength in our camp.

And yet, laws have been enacted that make us accomplices if we give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty or provide care for the alien within our midst.

If I were to come across an undocumented immigrant, beaten and dying in the wilderness, as did the Good Samaritan, present legislation prohibits me from doing as the Good Samaritan did – take the stranger to a facility to have her or his wounds bound up.

We say we are a nation based on Judeo-Christian values, yet when some of us attempt to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, we are harassed by the border agents of this so-called Judeo-Christian nation.

Several of my fellow companions and I were detained for hours by the border patrol for providing medical attention and a place to rest in our camp to several immigrants who lost their way in the desert and were dying from exposure. Today a “Good Samaritan” can receive up to 20 years in prison for providing transportation to the closest hospital for a dying immigrant.

Could it be that this is the only country in the world in which providing humanitarian aid is a crime? We can muster our resources to save the whales but certainly not Latinos and Latinas.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we must care for all humans regardless of their documentation. It was the religious folk, in Jesus’ parable, who found justification as to why it was God’s will not to minister to the dying stranger by the side of the road.

To deny preventive health-care services to any person based on that individual’s documentation status is inhumane and directly repudiates the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The story of the Good Samaritan lies not only in some distant past. Christians today are called to heal the wounds of the strangers within their midst. It’s interesting to note that because Samaritans were viewed as the dirty foreigners of Jesus’ time, this particular one was singled out as good.

If this parable were to be updated for today’s audience, it might be titled the parable of the Good Illegal Alien – maybe even the Good Spic – a story of someone who doesn’t fit the predominant negative stereotypes of society.

Let me then close with the true parable of the Good Illegal Alien. As we walk through the desert, we yell in Spanish: “We have food and water. We have medicine. We are with the church. Do not be afraid.” Migrants, hearing us coming usually hide, afraid we are the border patrol, or worse, one of the numerous vigilante groups patrolling and terrorizing the border. Our words are meant to have the migrants come out and receive the life-saving supplies we carry.

One of our groups while on patrol saw several migrants running away, so they quickly cried out the familiar phrase. The migrants stopped in their tracks and returned to our group. They said, “We don’t have much food or water, but what we do have, we’ll share with you.”

These refugees misheard and misunderstood the cry for assistance as a cry for help. They who had so little were willing to share their meager resources with those of us who have so much.

We went into the desert to be like the Good Samaritan only to be humbled when we actually came across them.

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice and Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

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