ImmigrationIn 2016, we live in a world filled with fear, misunderstanding, and unknowing when it comes to dealing with the wide reaching issues of immigration, whether it comes from our own local or national politicians or from conversation with our families and friends.  At Xavier University we live and act as an embodiment of the principles of the Society of Jesus, which serve as a helpful guide for us to understand our own role within the immigration paradigm.  Living as “men and women for and with others” accompanied by a spirit of “kinship and solidarity” can help us find some sure footing amidst a world full of noise and fear when it comes to immigration.

Over the summer of 2015 I had the privilege to work as a Summer Service Intern at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) in Over-the-Rhine.  It was there I had the opportunity to learn more about immigration on both a personal and policy level from individuals who were immigrants themselves and those advocating for reform. From my own experience with immigration prior I could tell you plenty of information about public policy on immigration and the theologies of liberation from Central and South America, but had little firsthand experience with migrants and refugees in our own country and community. Through my own experience at IJPC that reality quickly changed.  I came to encounter immigrants on a day to day basis, both young and old, and listen to their own stories and the injustice they were fighting to overcome. Whether it was a young undocumented immigrant telling the story of his family migrating at young age, and how his life has been an uphill battle because he was told “people like him” don’t succeed in school or even go to college. Or the family who is in constant fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement from coming and separating parents from their children, or the family fighting against the deportation case of a mother of two sick children. Each of these struggles and realities became a piece of me and I grew into radical kinship with them, that I could not remain silent the injustices of immigration.

This is where the Jesuit ideals came into my approach of the reality of immigration we find ourselves within.  In truly listening to the stories of immigrants, and being with them in their moments of struggle, I learned quickly what it meant for me as a student of a Jesuit institution who was for and with others.  I learned that my own role in immigration was a role of accompaniment and empowerment.  After all, I was not an immigrant myself, so there was a limit of how effective I can be towards other people in opening people’s hearts and minds towards immigration and encourage them to make a stand for reform. So my own role took the place of a supporter and listener with young immigrants as I helped them own their stories and grow in courage in telling them. Through this experience I found what it meant to be a man for and with others.  In telling their stories and in being completely human to the young people who came into IJPC to learn about immigration, a two-fold process was able to take place. The young immigrants were able to be confident and strong in a world that strongly rejects and fears them, and the students who came into learn were able to build empathy and a common understanding of immigration, because their peer who is an immigrant is not too much different from themselves.

In this season of Lent as both students of Xavier University and many of us citizens of the United States, we are called to radical solidarity and kinship with immigrants and also with all people within our community. Even though largely unseen, there is a large population of immigrants within our own city and even within our own university that carries the pain of fear and misunderstanding the general populous carries with them. In the spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola we are called to be present both for and with immigrants that we may interact with in our own lives with a spirit of love and mutual human respect. The only way we can break down fear and unknowing upon of group of people whom the world wants to deny dignity and respect, is to be open to an encounter with those whom we marginalize in our community and school, so that we may truly recognize the face of God in each individual person even if they are different than us.  I challenge the entire Xavier community to approach each person they meet with a spirit of encounter and kinship in order to be truly men and women both for and with others on this campus and in our whole community in a very real way.

Lastly I share the words of Pope Francis which I have found ring true in my own life on the importance of encounter and the fruits that come forth from loving encounter:

“When you meet those most in need, your heart will begin to grow bigger, bigger and bigger! Because reaching out multiplies our capacity to love. An encounter with others makes our heart bigger. Take courage!”

IMG_20160215_203842Brian Igel is a senior Theology and Philosophy major from Columbus, OH. He plans to do a year of service post-graduation, location to be determined… He also enjoys having conversations about the ethics of immigration of war, and on faith that does justice.