Immigration reform advocacy in Iowa is becoming stronger with the help of David Vasquez, Campus Pastor of Luther College. A champion of immigrants and immigration reform, Pastor Vasquez uses his own experiences along with scripture to help students and others develop compassion for the stranger. Today, I’m honored to share an interview with Pastor Vasquez. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the interview over email.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What personal experiences led you to become a champion of migrants and refugees?
Pastor David Vasquez (DV): Migration is at the core of who I am and in the very fiber of my family. I was born and raised in Guatemala, and have lived in four different countries. My wife’s family has its roots in Finland and my kids are originally from Ethiopia. I am grateful that each place we have lived has become home for us—in large part because of the connection to the body of Christ in each place I have been called to live or serve.
CP: What have you been up to most recently to support newcomers?
DV: Following the devastating immigration raid in Postville, Iowa in May of 2008, my involvement in issues of immigration moved to a new level. The impact of the raid on the community, the inspiring response of many, and the courage and faith of those affected have shaped much of my own ministry in the last six years. Most recently, I’ve been trying to capture my experiences and those of people I have worked with through writing Bible Study materials and leading retreats and workshops around the connections between faith and migration. This work continues to be rooted in my conversations, opportunities for direct support, and networking with recent immigrants in my community and region. Another important part of this work has been the privilege to serve on the Midwest Taskforce for Immigration, a group of business, civic, and religious leaders from states around the Midwest that together wrote a vision for what we need in immigration. The report is available at http://midwestimmigration.org/
CP: As a campus pastor at Luther College, how do you foster understanding and support for immigrants among students?
DV: The migration experience is at the core of our faith. When describing the life of faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says that we are “strangers and foreigners on the earth.” This is a powerful connection when working with young adults who are in the process of “migrating” from childhood into adulthood. Like other “immigrants,” college students at a residential college find themselves in a new community, trying to learn the language of their chosen professions, and figuring out how to reconcile their values and beliefs from childhood with the very diverse world they are encountering. By making connections between their own experience, the Bible, and the experiences of other immigrants, I find that students’ lives are enriched, our shared understanding of Scripture deepens, and our passion for the well-being of all people on the move grows.
CP: Do you see support for immigration reform among young people?
DV: Much has been made of the generational differences around many social issues, including support for immigration reform. For many of our students, their firsthand experience with classmates from other countries, recent immigrants, or their experiences traveling abroad, inform their perspectives on an increasingly globalized world. Many of them know that the fact that they are able to travel freely and benefit from the richness of the world, is also something that should be more fairly available to those who are motivated by despair, poverty, or conflict to move. Still, support for immigration reform is not universal among young people. Like any other generation, there is always additional work to be done in creating awareness, developing compassion, and making the connection between the benefits of a globalized economy and the challenges it raises particularly for the poor of the world.
CP: What improvements to an immigration bill would most benefit your community?
DV: All aspects of a fair immigration reform would have an impact on the community I serve. An emphasis on family unification would help many of those I know personally—to be able to reunite with a parent or meet a grandparent and be able to know that you are part of something larger. A more humane approach to immigration enforcement would reduce the unspeakable stress and appalling injustices that place people behind bars for unnecessarily extended periods of time, and make it financially impossible to stay in touch with them through their ordeal. A path to citizenship would open up the potential of students who are undocumented, giving them hope to complete their education and a reason to continue to seek to give back to the communities they already feel so much a part of. The opportunity for people living in the shadows—afraid of being stopped while taking their kids to school or going to work—would hugely impact the stability of rural communities around us. Like it is the case around the country, our rural communities in Iowa depend on immigrants for their very survival. While many express concern about the impact of new immigrants on community services such as schools or hospital, the reality in rural Iowa is that without immigrants, our communities lose their hospitals and their schools to consolidation and the loss of population. Immigration reform is desperately needed by everyone in our communities—not only immigrants—so that we can all pursue that dream of providing our children with a better future.