I’ve been reading a lot of the news on U.S. Immigration policy and the coverage Monday’s protest. I’m no expert by any means and I’m sure that I’m only getting part of the picture. But it seems to me that it’s not a huge thing to ask of Americans to try to share our unbelievable wealth with the rest of the world. I’ve always believed in the idea of generosity and that it returns to us as we reap what we sew.
If we need to lower our overal standard of living, or even just reduce the rate at which it is growing – we’d still be the most affluent society on the face of the earth. It is intellectual poverty to want so badly to live as we wish, that we could completely disregard the fact that on our same continent there are millions of hispanics who are living in pain because of disease, poverty and oppression.
I have a friend named Jarrett Meek who works with a ministry in KC called Mission !Adelante! – he wrote this article and I thought I’d just post it here.
A Personal Position Paper on Illegal Immigration
By Jarrett Meek
A Biblical Perspective
Economics, border security, jobs, patriotism, and other issues tend to dominate the popular debate on illegal immigration. For Christians however, these issues should all take a back seat to perspectives that are central to our faith. I believe that at the heart of the immigration issue are amazing opportunities for cross-cultural evangelism and demonstrations of Godly compassion. This position paper is an attempt to help Evangelical Christians see above the secular conservative culture with which we often align. Even as I write, I fear we are in danger of being followers instead of leaders in this national debate, allowing secular conservatism to inform our position on an issue that has so much spiritual and Biblical significance.
For decades the church has been sending missionaries to Latin America. To American Christians, the current immigration boom represents, first and foremost, the coming of the Latin American mission field to our own doorstep. While secular groups are debating whether or not to make these people felons, believers in Christ should be mobilizing to share our faith with our new neighbors. Illegal immigration is not primarily about jobs, economics or even terrorism, for Christians it is about a foreign mission field in our own backyard.
This unique opening for sharing the gospel carries with it another powerful opportunity; the opportunity to demonstrate the compassion of Christ. Immigrants, especially illegal ones, have many needs. They are families who have come from desperate situations seeking mercy in the form of an opportunity to work. Now they are in our midst, struggling to survive in a foreign culture, with a foreign language. They are often despised, often taken advantage of, and rarely shown hospitality. Our calling as believers is to show compassion to the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. While the world around us is caught up in debating how to get rid of them, we should be inviting them into our homes and giving them a cup of cold water. If you doubt that this is important to God, remember the greatest commandment and its corollary; “love your neighbor as yourself”. Remember also that it was a Samaritan (hated foreigner) who was the neighbor in Jesus’ parable, that we were once strangers to the kingdom of God, that “aliens” are often mentioned with widows and orphans in the Bible, and that Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
Evangelism and compassion are central to the Biblical practice of our faith. Notably, they are also central to the immigration issue. Let us not be distracted by politics, lest we forget what is most important. Even something as good as patriotism can tend cloud our judgment in this issue. For those of us whose political views normally align with conservative causes, it is all too easy to be carried along by impassioned, secular, conservative voices (or even leaders of national Christian organizations that are following the crowd). But we are citizens of heaven first. Before we look to our national interests as U.S. citizens let us consider the interests of our heavenly kingdom.
Respect for the Law
Many Americans rightly struggle with the idea that millions of people are breaking the law of the land. Although we don’t always follow the law, in general we Americans pride ourselves on our respect for it. Moreover, as Christians, respect for the law and for authorities is a Biblical principle that has relevance in the immigration issue.
Most thoughtful Christians are not pointing judgmental fingers at undocumented immigrants, but are rather trying to reconcile the value we place on compassion and evangelism with the value we place on “obeying the law of the land.” Even so, removing the proverbial plank from our eye regarding our own law-breaking tendencies can give us a more accurate perspective on illegal immigration.
Which of you would not willfully exceed the speed limit to avoid losing your job? Which of you has not broken the speed limit for reasons much less significant? At its heart, the motivation for illegal immigration is to provide for one’s family. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are here for that reason alone. Many come from desperate places of poverty where the average daily wage is as low as $5. By its very nature, working to provide for one’s family is good, and immigrants prove this motivation over and over again in the U.S. workplace. Having seen their desperation first hand, it’s hard for me to blame them for seeking work to provide for their families here, even if it means breaking the law.
Both crossing a national border and driving fast are morally neutral in and of themselves. However, both are illegal according to “the law of the land”. And both are often done as a means to a good end. The end may not justify the means in either case, but at least it puts it in perspective. In my opinion, the moral offense committed by most illegal immigrants is tantamount to speeding to avoid losing your job. But whether you agree with this comparison or not, we cannot escape the fact that our motivation for compassion and evangelism should never depend upon the perceived worthiness of the person with whom we’re sharing. Indeed, Jesus came to seek and save lost sinners. Could a follower of Jesus really neglect to show mercy under the pretext of respect for a law with no moral or Biblical grounds?
Many Americans are concerned that allowing illegal immigrants who are already here a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship would undermine respect for the law. They adamantly oppose this solution under the premise that it is wrong to reward “law breakers.” I would argue that it is too late to stand on principle when our government has practiced a policy of non-enforcement for 20+ years. Government agencies, churches, businesses, banks, schools, and whole communities have integrated undocumented immigrants into their very fabric and have developed systems that accommodate them. Many of these people actually do pay taxes (using a special federal tax ID number for “workers ineligible for a SSN”), they own businesses and homes, and they have children who are natural born U.S. citizens. The longstanding policy of non-enforcement makes sending these people “home” not only impractical but also borderline unethical and arguably unjust.
In most cases, providing a legitimate path to residency and/or citizenship for these “lawbreakers” would bring them in line with the law in many other ways. A path to legal residency or citizenship would not ultimately undermine “respect for the law”, but would rather foster it. Provided, of course, that future immigration laws are enforced more consistently from the beginning than the present ones have been.
Who should be allowed to come to the U.S.?
Current immigration law denies legal entry to most would be immigrants. While our neighbors in Latin America are earning $5 a day, the United States is prospering. I am in favor of prosperity, and believe it is both the result of hard work and given as a blessing from God. It is right to be thankful to God and proud of our hard work and accomplishments as a nation. It is wrong however to lock others out of the opportunity to participate in this prosperity. There is no place for a hoarding mentality in a Christian perspective on the economics of immigration. Let secular patriots promote a proud nationalism that locks desperate people out, but let followers of Jesus promote a welcoming nation that gives outsiders a chance to become insiders and the destitute a shot a earning a livelihood through hard work. As a general policy, I believe we should make legal immigration very accessible to those who would come to work.
What about border security?
Our government has the responsibility to protect its citizens from terrorism and other threats such as drug trafficking and the illegal entry of foreign criminals. Clearly, better security at the border is needed to accomplish this. Moreover, whatever immigration bill eventually becomes law, it is important that we take its enforcement at the border seriously in order to avoid the same kind of impossible situation we find ourselves in now.
In conclusion I believe that Christians should promote and practice a compassionate and welcoming attitude toward immigrants regardless of their legal status, taking full advantage of the opportunities to show God’s love and share the gospel with the foreign mission field on our door step. Moreover, we should support legislation that
1. deals compassionately and realistically with illegal immigrants who are currently in the U.S, providing a pathway to legitimacy that fosters future adherence to the law of the land,
2. makes legal immigration very accessible to those who would come here to work, and
3. is enforceable and includes adequate resources for enforcement, including border security.
Thank you for prayerfully considering this issue with me.
In His Grace,
P. Jarrett Meek