Karen Gonzalez’s first book, The God Who Sees, taught me so much about immigration, a topic close to my heart as the daughter of a father who was both a child refugee and immigrant during and after World War II.
I was eagerly anticipating her next book, Beyond Welcome, which takes the conversation about immigration to the next level. In these pages, Gonzalez navigates deeper layers of the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico borderlands and issues pertaining to people who are on their way here or are already here. What is the North American church’s responsibility to these image bearers, many of whom are fleeing poverty and violence? And how can we place immigrants at the center of our response, not ourselves?
Like in her first book, the author artfully weaves in Bible stories to illustrate her point; Scripture flows beautifully through both books. In a challenging discussion of the “good immigrant,” Gonzalez asserts that Rahab would have been denied inclusion in most communities in North America because of her profession as a sex worker. Do we have the right to demand perfection from our newcomers? She makes the point that all human beings are “worthy of belonging,” despite having possibly committed a criminal misdemeanor by crossing the border illegally.
Gonzalez urges readers to remember that words are powerful, and calling someone an “illegal” is dehumanizing. “Illegal is an adjective, not a noun. It allows us to reduce a human being to their legal status,” she writes. The Guatemalan immigrant also calls out politicians who use words like “invasion” and “infestation” to describe the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./ Mexico border and challenges readers to employ ethical storytelling when talking about people on the fringes and margins.
Perhaps the most powerful takeaway for me in reading this book was learning how the U.S. government had destabilized Guatemalan democracy in the 1950s, all to fatten the profits of a huge multinational corporation. (The CIA overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected president in 1954 because he proposed land reforms that were considered a threat to the company that now goes by Chiquita Brands International.) The ripple effects of that action continue to this day, resulting in countless Guatemalans trying to cross the border into the U.S. To me, this fact makes it even more important that we not ignore this massive issue but address it with compassionate attention and justice.
What is our responsibility to our fellow human beings who have come already or are desperately trying to seek entry? We must recognize ourselves in our immigrant neighbors, and we must “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” as the prophet Micah implores. And finally, we must remove ourselves from the center of the conversation and firmly place the immigrant there instead.
Every chapter ends with a prayer, and the book itself ends with an especially potent plea:
“We want justice, kinship, liberation, and belonging. Don’t let our hope falter in seeking this kin-dom. Let us see you in the face of our neighbors. Amen.” This is an empowering, informative, and humane book for anyone who cares about immigrants. (Brazos Press)