Evangelicals and Immigration Reform
Glen Peterson is founder and President of the Capacity Partnership Group. He consults with non-profit organizations on matters of leadership and moral governance, and has abundant experience in developing community-based partnerships that serve the poor and the needy.
There may be no "Christian Position" on immigration, legal or illegal, but there are principles that will inform our discussion and shape our conclusions about immigrants as human beings, about fairness, and about God's work among us. The issues are nuanced and complex and require the serious attention of Christians who seek to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.
In the Christian and Jewish narrative of creation, God makes humans in his own image. Immigration cannot be discussed and debated only in the abstract, as it is ultimately about individual people, created in God's image, who are immigrants. Each of these immigrants has value to God and to people who value what God has created. Christian attitudes and actions toward immigrants, informed by our belief in a common creation and our possession of God's image, will inform the way we treat all people, immigrant or not.
This possession of God's image also applies to the self-understanding of the immigrant. Some immigrants think of themselves as inferior to the majority culture in which they live because they may come from a place of economic or educational impoverishment. Immigrants who understand their own intrinsic value become better educated and participate more fully in the economic and cultural life of their new home.
Economic systems pull inexpensive labor from countries south of our international border when there is a need. Related economic forces push laborers northward in search of ways to provide food and shelter for their families and children. Economic forces also push labor away when there is less demand during economic shifts that create fewer jobs. Christians know about God's interest in economic fairness for workers from James 5. Workers deserve fair treatment and payment for their work. Fair employers and just legal systems will not treat certain individuals differently for arbitrary reasons.
Economic forces over the past fifteen years have attracted nearly half a million people per year that the legal system has not been able to accommodate. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are 10.8 million laborers in the United States who live outside of the current immigration law and are therefore undocumented. It is un-Christian to allow people to live in a system that allows some workers to have fewer human and civil rights than others. The current system allows for human traffickers, unscrupulous employers, and other criminals to prey upon the vulnerable immigrant labor force that has built riches for others. Immigration reform that is fair and just to the vulnerable workers is an ethical issue for Christians. Leaving the broken immigration as it is only offers amnesty to human traffickers, smugglers, and unscrupulous employers who take advantage of migrants.
Jesus calls Christians to love across the social constructs that divide us. Men and women who want to follow the example of Christ will look for ways to help, to improve the lives of those who have less than us.