Immigration: everyone has an opinion. We hear rhetoric used to describe the dilemma of undocumented immigrants in this country from politicians to pulpits.

This is an emotionally charged issue. People feel strongly about their opinions. If you don’t believe it, just start a conversation with a small group of people concerning this issue.

The remedy some suggest concerning undocumented immigrants coming into this country is to build a wall. This wall, if completed, will separate almost 700 miles of the U.S./Mexico border. Others suggest this wall is nothing more than a political gesture that allows legislators to claim they’re being tough on immigration.

We would do well to ponder why a wall at our border would make some of us feel more secure. Is this an issue about security, fear or maybe both? The Christian Century called the proposed wall “an unprecedented physical expression of xenophobia.”

The term xenophobe means a person unduly fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers. This is not a new fear, but it is a real fear in America today.

The challenge facing faith communities is to address both this issue and the underlying fear that fuels the rhetoric being used today. The language we choose to describe and talk about people is crucial. When a group of people are referred to as “illegal” aliens, are we dehumanizing people? History has taught that attempts to dehumanize people with language usually lead to mistreatment of those same people?

The faith community can begin to deal with this issue by calling us to pay attention to the use of our language. Regardless of our opinions, let us not mistreat others based on our fear and prejudice. The words we use to define and describe others are important. Let us use language of respect and concern even for the undocumented immigrants already here. As our society struggles to find an answer to this issue, let our faith communities practice wisdom and compassion.

There are no easy answers or quick solutions to this issue. As a Christian, I believe it is wrong to discriminate against or mistreat another human being. I believe to dehumanize any person is to dehumanize all of us.

Immigrants and undocumented immigrants are human beings–struggling to stay alive. Maybe we should remember that all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants in this country–except for part of my wife’s family. They are Cherokee.

Robert White is senior pastor of Locust Grove Baptist Church in Athens, Ala., and assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Athens State University.

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