05/25/2012 08:07 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2012

What If Jesus Was An Immigrant ... Actually, He Was

Yes, this is yet another article about immigration. However, this isn't about immigration policy. Or the economic benefits of immigration or whether immigration is a drain on America. I'm not even trying to the argument that immigration bolsters the workforce. This isn't about the practicality of deporting 10 million people. This is simply a moral argument for Christian believers.

"So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt." (Dt. 10:19).  
Let's start there, at the genesis of this passage. You see, Jesus and His parents left His birthplace and hometown for a better life when Jesus was a baby to escape persecution. No, I'm not talking about the carpenter named Jesus who is part of your contractor's crew who might or might not be documented. This is a different Jesus, although He was also a carpenter and an immigrant in a new land. Except this Jesus didn't leave El Salvador or Mexico for the United States, He left Bethlehem and Nazareth for Egypt. And the bad guy He and His family were escaping wasn't a Latin American dictator - he was a Roman named Herod. Yes, it's a bit confusing. So, to avoid confusion, let's call the Jesus that requires a capital H when I refer to Him as Jesus of Nazareth.

It is precisely what Jesus of Nazareth and his family went through which inspired the disciples to write in Scripture mandating believers to have indefatigable compassion for those who seek new hope in a new land. This teaching is underscored by none other than Jesus of Nazareth Himself, who pointedly teaches His followers to welcome and treat a stranger as they would Jesus Himself, "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me ..."

This point was not lost on his Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony, Father Virgilio Elizondo and Father Dan Groody of Notre Dame, who reached out to me to help them with an effort to get Americans to treat all immigrants with dignity. His Eminence considered it his mandate from Jesus of Nazareth Himself. His Eminence was very clear about the approach - a faith-based, youth-led campaign with a social-media/networking-friendly message. So I gathered up a group of much-smarter-than-me young leaders like Adan Acevedo, Jonathan Padilla and Jessica Barajas to give the Cardinal and me guidance. And they did. And we are creating a movement based on scripture to treat strangers the way Jesus said we should. The American Project was born this month and will kick-off with the training of hundreds of young leaders of all races and faiths to expand and execute the campaign in their communities across the United States on June 22, 23, and 24 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The three-day effort will conclude with a worship service to pray for America's immigrants on Sunday morning.

His Eminence knows a thing or two about this sort of thing. You see, 50 years ago he worked alongside the legendary Cesar Chavez who led a campaign to promote treating immigrants with dignity. So it's not an original idea however the soon-retiring Cardinal is hip enough to add a new approach to a very old problem.

"As a Christian, there are no prior commitments that can overrule or trump this Biblical tradition of compassion for the stranger, the alien, and the worker," said the Cardinal. "Whatever economic, political, or social policies we discuss--and whatever discussion of constitutional rights and liberties may take place--we cannot turn our backs on this Biblical legacy of hope and the consequent Gospel imperative to show compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters."

Escaping persecution or seeking hope was reinforced at the screening of the poignant documentary by Wendy Thompson and Eduardo Lopez called Harvest of Empire (based on the book by Journalist Juan Gonzalez). I burst into tears re-witnessing the historical horrors that led to massive Diaspora from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. King Herod wouldn't have made the top ten list of Latin American monsters highlighted in the movie. Of course, the part about Nicaragua, where I immigrated from, hit me the hardest.

There is a reason immigrants come to our great country (I was sworn in a US citizen with great pride, purpose and appreciation when I was 28 years old). Immigrants are here for the same reasons Jesus of Nazareth and His family went to Egypt.

Yes, I'm a believer. Not just in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but a great believer in the United States of America.