As a Nigerian missionary on furlough I attend this Nigerian church. I watch people and I feel deeply for them as I interact with them. I listen to their concerns and their prayer topics. They have been through a lot to be in the United States of America. Most have sold all they had to afford a ticket to ‘God’s own country’. Many are disillusioned by the lack of fulfillment of their promise. Many would even quit, but are too ashamed to say they never realized the promise of the Golden Fleece in the land of opportunity. Many a doctor has been seen doing janitorial work. I have seen accountants of yore driving cabs. The more perplexing are even those who went to school in the US but have not found useful employment or are under-employed. I once went to court with a lawyer, who after the court session, took off his lawyer suits to go to his regular job that did not need a suit.
At night vigils in the churches you may hear the congregants say a resounding amen when the ‘evil’ holding unto their immigration papers is being bound in the name of Jesus. In some may be the face of desperation to escape poverty, but in all is a resolute determination to hang in there until the prayers are answered and their immigration status cleared. The concerns are never strictly personal because families, even extended families, are involved. There are siblings, nieces, cousins and parents awaiting the success of the one immigrant to the land of opportunity. Sad, but, one cannot help but notice a superiority air among the holders of the blue passport vis-a-vis their green passport Brethren. The mid-way parties, are the green-card holders because they can travel in and out of the country.
I attend Monday night prayers and about half of the serious prayer concerns are to God for help in an immigration situation. During the monthly Thanksgiving Service, the loudest ‘Alleluia’ is uttered when a testimony arrives that against all odds a brother or sister has been given that magical ‘Green Card’ or had graduated from a non-person to a ‘citizen’. There is dancing and felicitation in the hope that, if it happened to Bimbo it could also happen to Jimoh. In all, the Nigerians Iencounter are determined, clean, upright and resolute in contributing to this society. They often have a first degree, speak very good English and have impeccable manners when they are not too excited. When they are excited, they may be a bit loud and boisterous. No harm, they are just enjoying fellowship in God’s own country. The question is, does God not answer the prayers of His Children who are aliens in God’s Own Country? Of course, God answers prayers, but through the agency of human reasoning and acts. Even the illegal aliens are steadfast in the belief that God has promised that He would set free the lawful captive according to his word.
In writing about Nigerians in the US, one must concede to the negative dent occasioned by the scams that have come to be known as 419. While the desperation of poverty and unemployment may have pushed some to crime, the issue of collusion of the parties to reap where they did not sow could be cured by education and the good work of law enforcement on both continents. The EFCC in working with the FBI have sent almost all but the criminal die-hards scampering. Hardwork being a national ethic of the Nigerian, the lure of easy money is lure for the unemployed or the few with criminogenic tendencies; nothing good law-enforcement cannot cure. While not excusing this crime-wave, some young persons one encounteredare of the view that it may be a way to show their disenchantment with the multinational companies that dominate the oil industry in Nigeria without a resultant effect on their daily lives.
For a very long time the issue of immigration Reform has been on the front burner in the policies of this present government. Right from the beginning of the present government of George W. Bush, there was talk of Immigration Reform. Most of the Nigerian Immigrant population welcomed it and looked forward to regularizing their stay. Most Nigerian Immigrants with a very religious background are naturally socially conservative, so when the present US government tagged itself as ‘Compassionate Conservatives’ they thought they could align with that. The ‘No Child Left Behind’ educational policy also resonated well with them, seeing as they love children as well as education for themselves and their children. The Nigerian immigrant community is therefore confused as to why a self-described ‘Compassionate Conservative’ cannot pass an immigration law that would reflect those good values after many attempts. Since most Africans still perceive issues in black/white or up/down, they are perplexed as to why the socially conservative politicians would be the ones hardest to convince regarding the plight of the immigrants whether legal or illegal. Regarding the role of the organized church or Christians as individuals, I wish to quote the words of Amy (a real or cyber personality) as follows:
“the church ought to be more engaging in their denunciation of injustice, exploitation and oppressive regimes. Christ, for one, spoke out against Herod’s illegitimate government and had no soft words for those that oppressed the poor and needy for personal gain. During the civil rights movement in the States, black churches contributed immensely to the dismantling of institutionalized racism in America.”
I don’t think surrendering to the will of God translates to uncritically accepting prevalent socio-political realities as our lot without a struggle. If Christians, for instance, are admonished to be the salt of the earth, it follows from that logic that they should forcefully denounce illegalities, injustice and the political stagnation”.
The time to tackle such bi-partisan issue of Immigration would be now. This is because the Congress has reverted to the Democratic Party who although more liberal, have a history of being more disposed to immigrants. Nigerian Christians especially wonder how a party whose policy is dominated by the Christian Right would take a harder line posture regarding immigration issues. Could their acts of kindness whilst abroad as missionaries not extend to the homeland? is the unasked question on the expectant faces of the Brethren; more so, as the good book enjoins all to be kind to the Alien in your midst. Also in view of the bilateral relationship between the two countries working especially regarding the African diplomacy and peace keeping efforts, the two nations should find it easy to collaborate. It would be easier too to convince Nigerian governments to a mutual beneficial relationship in the Gulf of Guinea if their nationals have easy access to and from the US. The US government too gains from the immigration of Nigerians because of the already trained workforce as well as the natural work-ethic of the average Nigerian who is forever upward-mobile, besides contribution to the social security net of the economy by a younger workforce.