Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Friday, February 22, 2013

“A Day Without A Mexican”: The Essential Economic Contributions of Undocumented Immigrants

What if my wife woke up this morning and found me missing—together with my two kids and the more than 14 million other Latinos in California?

That’s the premise of the 2004 film, “A Day Without A Mexican.”  As a means of advocating for compassionate immigration reform, the film shows that the state would come to a standstill without the vital economic contributions made by Latinos—both documented and undocumented. 

According to the film (conceived in part by Raul Hinojosa, one of my departmental colleagues at UCLA), Latinos contribute 100 billion dollars to the California economy each year, while only drawing 3 billion dollars in social services.   We comprise 60% of all construction workers in the state, and the agricultural industry—the most lucrative industry in California—is entirely dependent upon us.  We raise the children of the wealthy, wash their cars, paint their houses, and serve them food and libations in their favorite restaurants. 

A lot of us are teachers, doctors, professors, lawyers, and dentists, too.

We (including our undocumented brothers and sisters), pay millions of dollars in taxes which help keep our state afloat in desperate economic times. 

And oh, we’re not all “Mexican.”  Though some of us are proudly Mexican, we also come from 21 other beautiful and distinct countries in Latin America—Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, just to name a few…

And so, If we Latinos were to suddenly disappear, California would lose out on this wonderful diversity—and also grind to an economic halt.  This is the main point of “A Day Without A Mexican.”   

It’s also the main point of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform.  

 The 11 million undocumented immigrants of the United States contribute in essential ways to the economy.  Recent statistics reveal that undocumented immigrants contribute more than 2 trillion dollars a year to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the United States!  Without these vital economic contributions, our nation would plunge into economic despair. 

Undocumented immigrants do the jobs no one else wants to do—for low wages that no one else wants to get paid.  Their low wages ensure big profits for large corporations and small businesses alike, and for the 401(k) retirement plans of millions of Americans.  Their low wages also make it possible for 99 cent Big Mac specials, $4.99/lb strawberries, $39.99 Forever 21 jeans, $99 travel specials, and a wide assortment of Angie’s List specials.   

Undocumented immigrants account for 4.3% of the U.S. labor force—about 6.3 million workers out of 146 million.

They are clustered in construction, agriculture, service sector, and domestic work.  Undocumented workers make up: 

27% of drywall/ceiling tile installers
21% roofers
20% construction laborers
26% grounds maintenance workers
25% butchers/meat and poultry workers
18% cooks
23% misc. agricultural workers
22% maids and housekeepers
18% sewing machine operators

Note that these are national statistics.  In places like California, Texas, New York, and Florida, the percentages are much higher. 

To fill our ravenous need for cheap labor, 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. in the early 2000’s.  It is estimated that 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States.   

If 6.3 million undocumented workers and their families contribute more than $2 trillion per year to the U.S. economy, guess how many unskilled labor visas the U.S. granted to immigrants throughout the world in 2010?:  4,762.  In fact, the maximum number of annual unskilled labor visas granted by the U.S. government is capped at only 10,000. 

Can you see the grave injustice here?  The U.S. benefits from the cheap and arduous labor of 6.3 million undocumented workers—to the tune of $2 trillion annually--but it is only willing to grant 10,000 (or less) low-skill worker visas per year!  6.3 million workers vs. 10,000 unskilled labor visas.  That’s INJUSTICE! 

The United States benefits immensely from the cheap labor of 6.3 million undocumented workers, but it is not willing to officially recognize these vital economic contributions by granting legalized status and a pathway to citizenship.  That’s not right! 

To fail to grant legalized status to these 6.3 million workers and their families constitutes biblical oppression.   The Bible is clear:

“You shall not pervert justice due the stranger (immigrant) or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge.” Deut 24: 17.

 “Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.”  Deut 27: 19.

“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.  Exodus 23: 9

Each day we fail to pass compassionate comprehensive immigration reform in this country, we perpetrate biblical oppression and pervert justice.  We oppress undocumented immigrants when we allow ourselves to benefit from their essential economic contributions, but deny them the concomitant rights of political citizenship.  

As followers of Jesus, let’s do all we can to advocate for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform. And let’s ask God to carry out His justice for undocumented immigrants.   Here’s a good way to start:

In hope,

Robert Chao Romero


Friday, February 15, 2013

We (the Chinese) Were the First "Undocumented Immigrants" from Mexico

Unknown to most people, we, the Chinese, were the first “undocumented immigrants” from Mexico.   Actually, we were the first undocumented immigrants from anywhere.  This is because we were the first ethnic/racial group to be singled out for official exclusion by the United States.    
         As many people do know, we first came to the U.S. to make our fortunes during the California Gold Rush (in the 1850’s, not too long after half of Mexico was stolen in the U.S.-Mexico War; see last week’s blog post for more on that).   Following the Gold Rush, about 40,000 of us were recruited as cheap labor to help build the railroads.  We did the most dangerous jobs for the lowest wages.
         After the railroads were built, many of us went into jobs in California as domestics, launderers, miners, and manufacturing plant workers.  We were also among the state’s first agricultural laborers. By the 1870’s and early 1880’s we made up about a quarter of all laborers in California. As immigrants, we worked for cheap.  Too cheap for some. 
         Anti-Chinese sentiment--“sinophobia” as it’s called--expressed itself in the forms of “anti-coolie” clubs, bigoted newspaper editorials, and boycotts of Chinese commercial products. In reaction to the Chinese presence in mining, anti-Chinese activists successfully lobbied in 1852 for an invidious tax targeting Chinese miners. By the 1860’s and 1870’s, we were the targets of a political smear campaign by the Democratic Party and racist protests by white labor union organizers.  The Democratic Party scape-goated us as a means of regaining political traction after their blundered attempt to preserve slavery.  Because of our willingness to work for low wages, we were condemned as unfair competition (sound familiar?) by white laborers. 
         Tragically, the anti-Chinese movement of the 1870’s and 80’s was also justified in religious terms.  Some people tried to justify their racism against us by saying it was God’s will that we be expelled from the country (does that sound familiar today, too?).  As a grad student back in the day, I was horrified when I came across this prayer from a San Francisco pastor, Isaac Kalloch, (who later went on to become mayor of the Golden Gated city—not so golden to the Chinese).  On July 4, 1878 he prayed:
“We believe, O Lord, that the foundations of our government were laid by Thine own hand; that all the steps and stages of our progress have been under Thy watch and ward…We meet together today to celebrate the anniversary of our national birth, and we pray that we may be enabled to carry out the divine principles which inspired our noble sires and others, and we pray that our rules may be righteous; that our people may be peaceable; that capital may respect the rights of labor, and that labor may honor capital; that the Chinese must go…and good men stay.  We believe Thou wilt hear our prayer when we pray that we believe to be right.” (As quoted in The Indispensable Enemy, by the late UCLA history prof Alexander Saxton).

I cringe every time I read this prayer because it is a disgusting misrepresentation of Jesus (I am pretty certain that Jesus cringed as well when he heard this prayer).  This pastor used Christianity, and his official clerical office, to justify discrimination against Chinese immigrants.  We came to the U.S. in order to be able to work hard and feed our families, and were initially recruited to serve as cheap laborers for jobs that nobody else wanted to do.  After the railroads were built and we began to branch out into other types of work, we became unwanted.  In other words, people wanted our labor, but didn’t want to recognize us as human beings, made in the image of God, and worthy of full political inclusion in the United States of America. 
To boot, as articulated by Mr. Kalloch, some people even felt that our expulsion and exclusion was God’s will.  As a Chinese-Mexican Christian American I find this reasoning sickening and antithetical to all the teachings of Jesus and the Bible.   
God is a God of justice and He doesn’t play racial favorites—not then, not now.  He loves all people more than we could ever hope for or imagine, and He desires for all of us to come to know Him.  Many verses of Scripture warn against the mistreatment of immigrants and speak of God’s love for all people of all the beautiful ethnicities He has made. 
Here is a small sampling of what the Bible says about God’s love and concern for immigrants:
“The Lord watches over the strangers [immigrants]; He relieves the fatherless and widow.”  Psalm 146: 9.
“You shall not pervert justice due the stranger [immigrant] or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge.” Deuteronomy 24: 17.
“He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.  Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  Deuteronomy 10: 18-19
“Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.”  Deut 27: 19.
“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.  Exodus 23: 9

In addition to all of these strong warnings against the mistreatment and oppression of immigrants, the Bible is also clear about the fact that God does show racial favoritism. 

As the Apostle Peter famously says in Acts 10: 34-35:
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”  
         Paul echoes similar sentiments in his famous speech to the Greeks in Athens:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  Acts 17: 24-27.

         And, of course there are Jesus’ own famous words: 
“For God so loved the world  [not just Europeans or white Americans or Chinese or Asians or Mexicans or Africans or any limited ethnic or cultural group] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  John 3: 16-17.        

         Oh yeah, now back to the topic of undocumented immigration.  This virulent racism as expressed by Mr. Kalloch, white labor unions, and the Democratic Party led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  This law barred the legal immigration of Chinese immigrant laborers to the United States—zero, zilch, nada.  This law was subsequently extended and was not repealed officially until 1943.  Even then, things didn’t really change for us Chinese until 1965 because between 1943 and 1965 only 105 of us were allowed to immigrate to the U.S. per year!
          And that’s why we turned to Mexico [my paternal homeland].  Many of us went to Mexico in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a way of circumventing the Chinese Exclusion Laws and getting smuggled into the U.S.  During these years, there were virtually no restrictions on the numbers of Mexican immigrants that could come to the U.S.  We, the Chinese, were the ones singled out for exclusion.  And so we invented undocumented immigrant smuggling from Mexico! 
Coyotes (smuggling guides), fake papers, smuggling by boat and train and plane, underground tunnels—you name it.  We came up with it first.  Even the earliest border patrol units were created to keep us out—they were called “Chinese inspectors.”  We were the first ‘undocumented immigrants.’  Don’t mess with us. 

Robert Chao Romero

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A History of Mexican Immigration to the United States: Manifest Destiny and the Mexican-American War

Mexican immigration to the United States began with bad theology and an “unjust war.”  

In 1821, Mexico was about twice its current size.  It included what is now California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, as well as parts of Utah, Colorado, and Kansas.   After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, Anglo Americans began settling in the Texas territories.   In 1836, these immigrants and Mexican Texans, or, “Tejanos,” gained their independence from Mexico through military battle (i.e., “Remember the Alamo”…).   As you can imagine, Mexico was not quick to recognize Texas’ claim to independence and did not like it when Texas became a state of the American union in 1845.   To make matters worse, the U.S. and Mexico disagreed as to what constituted the official border between Texas and Mexico.  The U.S. asserted that the boundary was the Rio Grande River (what it is today).  Mexico claimed that the border was 150 miles farther north at the Nueces River (which was the historical boundary line).   This border dispute is theoretically what sparked the Mexican-American War in 1846. 

Following failed diplomatic negotiations regarding the boundary line, 4,000 U.S. troops marched to the disputed Rio Grande region.  According to President Polk, Mexican troops then fired on American troops and started the Mexican-American War.  A year and a half later, the U.S. won the war and Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. 

As part of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Mexico surrendered half of its territory to the United States in exchange for 15 million dollars.  That’s how the U.S. acquired the present-day states of California, New Mexico, Nevada and parts of Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and even Oklahoma—over half a million square miles. 

That’s also how we Mexicans first “immigrated” to the U.S.   We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us!

Unknown to most people, many Americans felt that the Mexican-American War was an “unjust war.”  Abraham Lincoln was the most famous opponent of the Mexican-American War.  Lincoln felt that the war “was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President," and he staked his early congressional reputation on opposition to the war.  Ulysses S. Grant, famous Civil War general and 18th President of the United States, also condemned the Mexican-American War later in life.  He stated, “I had a horror of the Mexican War…only I had not moral courage enough to resign…I considered my supreme duty was to my flag.” Grant went so far as to say that he felt the Civil War was God’s punishment of the U.S. for the Mexican-American War. 

Nicholas Trist, the man responsible for brokering the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo for the United States, had some of the harshest words to say about the war and ensuing treaty:

“If those Mexicans…had been able to look into my heart at that moment, they would have found that the sincere shame I felt as a North American was stronger than theirs as Mexicans.  Although I was unable to say it at the time, it was something that any North American should be ashamed of…”

To make matters worse, the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo were inspired by bad theology.   This bad theology had a name, and it was called Manifest Destiny.   According to Manifest Destiny, God had ordained the United States to colonize North America “from sea to shining sea”—from Maine to California, and everything in between.   Moreover, as a specially anointed people of God,  Anglo Americans were given the “manifest destiny” to spread Protestant Christianity and U.S. democracy throughout North America.  The brutal colonization of the Native American population and the seizure of half of Mexico through an unjust war was all part of this so-called “divine calling.”

John O’Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, coined the term “Manifest Destiny.”  In the July/August 1845 issue of the Democratic Review, Sullivan claimed that it was the American “destiny to overspread the whole North American continent with an immense democratic population” (i.e., white and Protestant).   Manifest Destiny was not some fringe idea either.  It had broad social support, and proponents included rural communities, New England poets, northern abolitionists, and southern slave holders.  Notable supporters of Manifest Destiny included Walt Whitman,
John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the letters and diaries of American soldiers during the Mexican-American War clearly articulate the bad theology of Manifest Destiny.  In fact, some of these letters and diaries are quite shocking.  For example, one volunteer officer wrote the following to his cousin who was a Protestant minister:

“I wish I had the power to stop their churches [Mexican Catholic Churches]…to bring off this treasure hoard of gold and jewels, and to put the greasy priests, monks, friars and other officials at work on the public highways as a preliminary step to mending their ways…It is perfectly certain that this war is a divine dispensation intended to purify and punish this misguided nation…Most of our officers concur with me that nothing but a divine ruler and commander could have brought us safely through so much peril against awful odds.”

Unfortunately, some American Catholics were also not immune to the lure of Manifest Destiny.  One Catholic soldier wrote:

“ I cannot help but think, that God has fought upon our side, to chastize them for their sins.” 

Some American soldiers not only misrepresented Christianity through their bad theology and journal entries, but also through unjustified violence on the battlefield.  Accounts of soldier misconduct during the Mexican-American War were also often squelched.  Highlighting the military abuses committed by American soldiers, and the silencing of voices of opposition, one military private wrote the following to his father: 

“The majority of the Volunteers sent here are a disgrace to the nation; think of one of them shooting a woman while washing in the bank of the river—merely to test his rifle; another tore forcibly from a Mexican woman the rings from her ears.  Their officers take no notice of these outrages, and the offenders escape.  If these things are sent to the papers, they are afraid to publish, and so it happens.”

One regular officer commented on the military destruction in northern Mexico in the following way:

“From Saltillo to Mier, with the exception of the large towns, all is a desert, and there is scarcely a solitary house (if there be one) inhabited.  The smiling villages which welcomed our troops on their upward march are now black and smouldering ruins, the gardens and orange groves destroyed, and the inhabitants, who administered to their necessities, have sought refuge in the mountains.”

Boy, this is making me depressed!  I’ve taught about the Mexican-American War many times in my classes, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to speak about it in depth to a broader audience in the context of my faith.   As a follower of Jesus, it makes me so sad to know that there were those who misrepresented His name in such a horrific way. 

I am filled with hope, however, to know that there were Christians who loudly and boldly denounced the Mexican-American War.  As we’ve already said, Abraham Lincoln was a vocal Christian critic of the war, and so was Ulysses Grant--later in life at least.  In a book called, The War With Mexico Reviewed, Abiel Abbott Livermore also denounced the war in powerful—and explicitly Christian—terms.  In stinging condemnation of Manifest Destiny, Livermore wrote:

“Again, the pride of race has swollen to still greater insolence the pride of country, always quite active enough for the due observance of the claims of universal brotherhood.  The Anglo-Saxons have been apparently persuaded to think themselves the chosen people, anointed race of the Lord, commissioned to drive out the heathen, and plant their religion and institutions in every Canaan they could subjugate…Our treatment both of the red man and the black man has habituated us to feel our power and forget right…The god Terminus is an unknown deity in America.  Like the hunger of the pauper boy of fictionm the cry had been, ‘more, more, give us more.’”  (As cited in Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America, 46). 

In recognition of his forceful critic of the Mexican-American War, Livermore was awarded the American Peace Society prize for “the best review of the Mexican War and the principles of Christianity, and an enlightened statesmanship” (Acuna, 46). 

The example of Livermore reminds me of an historical principle that I’ve found to  be at play in the past 2,000 years of world history.   Every time someone, or some country, misrepresents the name of Jesus through racism or oppression of the poor and marginalized, God always raises up a witness.  Like Livermore, these witnesses  denounce such misrepresentation as counter to the teachings of Jesus and sacred Scripture, and loudly declare that God is a God of justice and compassion for the poor and marginalized of society.    

Can I get a witness?

Robert Chao Romero



Friday, February 1, 2013

Faith and Immigration Part I: The Immigration Table and the 40-Day "I Was a Stranger" Challenge

I am hopeful.  This past week we’ve experienced an openness to comprehensive, and compassionate, immigration reform in the United States that we have not seen in more than 25 years.  “Comprehensive” immigration reform means a change in immigration policy which recognizes the huge economic contributions made by undocumented immigrants to our economy (to the tune of some $2.4 trillion a year) by providing them with a pathway to legal residency and citizenship; at the same time, this approach is also “comprehensive” in so far as it still recognizes that border security is a legitimate concern.  Ironically, the last time the U.S. passed this type of comprehensive immigration reform was in 1986 under the leadership of Ronald Reagan (a hero to many present-day opponents of such reform).  On Monday, an influential bipartisan team of senators known as the “gang of eight,” put forth a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, and on Tuesday, President Obama presented a similar plan.  In response to the walloping that Republicans experienced by Latino voters (like myself) in the recent presidential election, there’s been a complete about-face in U.S. politics related to immigration reform.  Many Republican and Democratic politicians realize that their harsh stance on immigration reform has disaffected millions of Latino voters, and they are eager to get that vote back.  In fact, according to a recent poll, 76% of conservative Republicans now favor comprehensive immigration reform. 

I am also hopeful because of the proactive stance that the evangelical Christian church in America has taken to promote compassionate immigration reform.  Yea!  I’ve been waiting a long time for this.  I’m particularly inspired by the Evangelical Immigration Table (
 and its 40-Day “I Was A Stranger Challenge.”   The Immigration Table consists of a broad evangelical coalition including:  the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) in Orange County, the Christian Community Development Association, Sojourners, the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, Bread for the World, and the Southern Baptist Denomination.   In support of their position, they have put together the following “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform”: 

“Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America. Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other’s positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost.

As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:

    Respects the God-given dignity of every person
    Protects the unity of the immediate family
    Respects the rule of law
    Guarantees secure national borders
    Ensures fairness to taxpayers
    Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

We urge our nation’s leaders to work together with the American people to pass immigration reform that embodies these key principles and that will make our nation proud.”  

Good job Evangelical Christian Table!  As an Asian-Latino, Chican@ and Asian American Studies follower of Jesus, I can now proudly say that the church in America has stepped up to the plate to pass immigration reform that is consistent with God’s amazing love and concern for immigrants.   Yea!!!

To read the original statement and the long list of signatories from many cross-cultural and denominational backgrounds, go to: (   On the website you can also sign a post-election letter to President Obama and Congress urging them to pass compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform now!

 I also strongly encourage you to take the 40-Day I Was A Stranger challenge!  For more information and a free “kit” that you can download, go to: (   You can do the challenge on your own, or with friends.  The first part of the challenge consists of reading 40 different Bible verses about immigration—one a day for 40 days.  Along with this reading, you are urged to pray for compassionate immigration reform.  As the second part of this challenge, you are asked to contact your local Congressperson, ask for a meeting, and encourage them to take the 40-day challenge and implement compassionate immigration reform!

Inspired by hope, I’m launching this 40-day series of blogs about Faith and Immigration.  More soon…

Robert Chao Romero