Illegal Immigrants: People, Not Political Capital

My favorite restaurant in town is El Sol King Pollo. The grilled chicken is marvelous. The chips are perfect. The burritos are magnificent, and the salsa is sublime. I’m no Spanish expert, but even I noticed that “The Sun King Chicken” does not make a lot of sense in English or Spanish. I asked the owner, who has become my friend, why he chose that name. He said he also owns the grocery next door: Tienda Del Sol. When he bought the restaurant, it was called “King Pollo”. Jose just combined the two names. Jose and his wife Nelva are creative with chicken, not with store names.

Over the last year or so I’ve made friends with just about every server in the place. I know them all by name. I asked them to only speak to me in Spanish so I can learn the language. They are happy to oblige. They seem to genuinely enjoy sharing their language and their food with me and the friends I bring to their restaurant. They are my “professors”; that’s what they tell my friends when we go there and they speak Spanish to me. When they talk to me at lunch, they treat it like a pop quiz in front of the other guests. One day, I realized that one of my favorite servers and professors wasn’t around. I asked Nelva where Anna had been. Nelva frowned and said that Anna and her family had moved away because they were afraid of the “new law.” I was stunned.

I never thought of my friends at King Pollo in the category of “legal” or “illegal” immigrant. I simply viewed them as a neighbor. My faith in Christ teaches me to love my neighbor, to view every human being as a person made in the image of God, and it teaches me to be good to the alien and sojourner in our midst.  Anna is a friend. She has a husband who worked hard at the local chicken plant. Together, they are doing their best to raise two children.  Our town lost something when they left.

In my home town, about 28% of the population is now Hispanic. It’s hard to get an accurate count because a lot of the Hispanics here do not have permission to be here. These neighbors are law-breakers because they have entered the country illegally, and a lot of my friends are pretty galled that they have crossed the invisible line that divides our country from theirs.

As I examine why it upsets people, I find that their anger seems to be rooted in the fact that these illegal immigrants are costing them money. These illegals are taking up American jobs, and they are siphoning off the American welfare system. As I have made it a life goal not to care too much about money, this doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it does others. My faith teaches me to be content with food and clothing, and so I strive to be (1 Timothy 6:8). Are you upset because illegals are costing you money?

I don’t buy it. Every last immigrant I know has a job, not a reliance on welfare. That’s a small pool of people, I realize. But it is true nevertheless. They come here and they spend; that creates and upholds jobs for others. Some second-generation legal immigrants, whose parents may be illegal, open businesses and pay taxes. The illegals pay sales tax, too. They are contributing to the economy. The numbers that we see regarding what an illegal costs us in welfare never reflects the amount of money they inject into the economy through their work and purchases.

Could we take a moment, then, to talk about law-breaking? I confess that it does bother me that people come here illegally. However we must consider that there is more than one law at play in your illegal neighbor’s life. First, life in Mexico can really be awful. If you read the news, you know that cartels regularly harass, and even behead people who defy them. Work is scarce and resources are hard to come by. It’s so bad there, that your neighbor probably had to entrust his life, and the life of his family, to a “coyote” or pollero in order to slip across that border. How bad would your life have to be to take that kind of risk? It could be that your neighbor was tired of living in poverty, that he was tired of seeing his family do without, and that he feared for the safety of his children.

My faith teaches me that a man who doesn’t take care of his own family is worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8). Faced with the decision of an impoverished and endangered family versus sneaking across an invisible boundary to greener pastures seems like an easy choice.  Everyone knows that some laws are more important than others. We all think child abuse is inexcusable, right? But speeding on the highway, well, we all do that. Speeding is breaking the law just like child abuse is breaking the law, but one of these is worse than the other, and anyone who cannot see the difference should be glad the police department can. I confess to you that if my family were hungry and endangered, I would be tempted to hop across the border and take whatever work I could find.

I don’t have the answer to illegal immigration. I just know that I must love my neighbor, and I hope that I do. I’ve coached their sons in soccer, and they were kind enough to come to my house for the team party. We’ve grilled chicken together, and we’ve laughed at my terrible Spanish and their terrible English. I also know that I don’t want my neighbor to have to go back if he doesn’t want to; I enjoy his company.

In the not so distant past, I grew up hearing and believing that the United States was the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Is that still the country I live in? The very idea that the new Arizona law makes  it “illegal for a church van to pick up undocumented kids for youth group” boils my blood, not only as a pastor, but as an American who cherishes liberty. Are we really going to require our churches to check documents before ministering to people? Does this look like loving our neighbor to you?

This political season, please try to remember that illegal immigrants are not money sponges who are looking to exploit our welfare system. They are men and women with families and dreams, and most of them are here to work and better themselves. They are image-bearers of God, and sojourners in our land: our response should be mercy, not wrath.

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne.

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • http://www.TheHorton7.com Allison Horton

    That’s a new and good way to look at it, Brad. In the past I’ve thought of “illegal immigrant” in a bad way. This article opens my eyes to the reality that they are people too and most have probably had a life much harder than mine.

  • Ron Champion

    Yeah it is a really bad situation. Many of them have been here 20 years illegally. If you go that long with a law that is not enforced is it really still a law?

    To be fair to the State Gov’t they are being drained because of the food stamps, WIC, healthcare and education costs. But we allowed companies to bring them here with the promise of a better life when we needed the workers, and now that unemployment is high we are trying to get rid of them.

    It seems to me shutting down the border and allowing those that are already here to earn citizenship would be a much better way to fix this problem. But that would mean the Fed would have to fix the problem, and that isn’t going to happen.

    I wonder how history will look back at this. Perhaps like we look at the trail of tears, or the way the Irish and Chinese were treated by the mining companies and railroads.

  • Case Ferguson

    Currently I live in Malaysia, a smaller country in Southeast Asia that is more affluent than two of it’s Northern neighbors (Myanmar and The Philippines). Small pockets of Myanmar’s unfortunate ethnic minorities fled their homeland for Malaysia in hopes of escaping genocide and to bettering their lives; and thousands of Philippino mothers made the hard choice to leave their families in The Philippines to work as virtual slaves for their Malaysian family hosts. For the past three years I’ve seen the disdain for these vulnerable pockets of human beings expressed by many as well as heard the verbal condemnation of these groups. I’ve concluded that generally people de-humanize other groups so that it make it easier to abuse these hapless people, and by making these groups less-than-human it’s easier not to love them as Christ loved the church.

  • http://mdcsanchez7@hotmail.com Maria Sanchez

    I`m glad someone brought up the foodstamps and welfare issue….i am a citizen born and raised here and grew up believing “All men are created equal”…back to the foodstamp and welfare. 1st of all there is a process and paperwork to be filed and proof of Identification along with other paperwork are required…if u are illigal you don`t qualify so therefore cannot use the system. 2nd most people on welfare are joblessso that means Legal jobless people on welfare are the ones using the system…Not the illigals! Most people talk like they know what they are talking about but infact don`t.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Ron,

    I think that folks will find in pretty short order that the Hispanic community brings in much more revenue than they take out. Some businesses in town will be losing 20-30% of their clients over this, not to mention a large percentage of the labor force. If this were really a revenue only discussion, this law would not have passed. I think that this is simply racism cloaked in money talk.

    I believe that people’s minds are changing about this because the paper law has become a reality. That is, it is one thing to hoot about “those illegals” costing us money; it is another thing to watch a child weep because they are moving and observe the fear in their parents eyes because they don’t know where to go or what to do. It is sickening.

  • Ron Champion

    Brad, I wasn’t talking about revenue Albertville will certainly be hurt because of the loss of sales. But the state of Alabama are the ones paying out for health care, WIC, food stamps etc.. and most of the people effected by this law will not earn enough to pay in state taxes.

    I have stood in line at Wal-mart behind a family of latin origin with 2 buggies of groceries and they paid less than $30, the state paid the rest, and this is happening all over the state.

    I am not saying what is happening is a good thing. My heart goes out to these people and they are the real victims.

    I am just saying I understand why the state is doing this. They have a responsibility to the citizens of Alabama to handle their money wisely.

    The problem goes back to the Feds not enforcing their own laws. These people came because we were not taking our own laws seriously and now the state is having to deal with it.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Ron,

    We also invited these people here, offering many of them jobs that no one else was doing at the time.

    Anyway–next Tuesday we will have a podcast up with a discussion by me and Brad on these very subjects.

  • Ron Champion

    Drew, I agree. I made that point in my first post. The “illegal” immigrants are not to blame the Fed is. If my family were in the situation these people were in and I saw others going into another country for a better life and no one seemed to care I would go too.

    The Fed would not enforce the laws they already had so innocent people came into this country for a better life.

    I can also see the states position. Most of these people are taking low paying jobs so they are not paying state income tax, they don’t earn enough. They also qualify for food stamps, WIC, health care etc., so overall they are a huge drain on the state.

    My point was that the Fed has created a bad situation that the state is having to do something about and a lot of people are going to get hurt.

    I am not a racist bigot yelling send them all back where they came from. I understand that these people came here for a better life and I hope that something can be worked out so they can earn citizenship, but I see the states side too.


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