“I never thought something like this could happen”: The immigration crisis and two biblical responses

“I never thought something like this could happen”: The immigration crisis and two biblical responses December 28, 2023

US officials met yesterday with Mexico’s president, seeking measures to limit a surge of migrants reaching the US southwestern border. Meanwhile, a caravan with an estimated 7,500 members is making its way toward the border this morning. While they are drawing international attention, this is actually a smaller number than the daily migrant encounters this month, which have been averaging more than 9,600 a day.

More than two million people were apprehended at the border in this fiscal year. The surge is creating chaos in parts of southern Texas and Arizona and straining resources as far away as New York, Denver, and Chicago.

In the Del Rio sector of the Texas border, which includes Eagle Pass, as many as four thousand migrants have been processed a day. “Illegal border crossings have always happened,” said Eagle Pass fire chief Manuel Mello. “Groups of ten, twelve—that was a large group. But now you see three thousand and four thousand in one day. I never thought something like this could happen.”

What is causing this crisis? How should we think biblically and act redemptively in response?

Explaining the surge

This is a massively complex and emotionally fraught issue. However, the crisis can be framed in terms of “push” and “pull” factors.

“Push” factors include war, famine, or economic challenges that cause people to leave their home countries and seek a new home. For example, leaders of the caravan coming to the US are calling the movement an “exodus from poverty.” Venezuela has descended into disarray in recent years, while Nicaragua’s government has become more repressive. The Congressional Research Service also cites natural disasters fueled by climate change and a general lack of security.

However, the New York Times notes that there have been no recent wars in Latin America and the region’s poverty rate has been flat. Accordingly, the article states that push factors don’t explain the entire surge “and maybe not even most of it.”

“Pull” factors, by contrast, encourage migrants to come in response to an economic boom or a more lax immigration policy. During Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, the Times notes, “he spoke in much more welcoming tones than not only Donald Trump but also Barack Obama.” President Biden in turn blames Congress for failing to respond to his immigration reform proposals and requests for additional funds to address the crisis.

The result of these complex and interrelated factors is that, according to the Times, the number of people apprehended at the border has risen more than fourfold since 2020 compared with the average level in the 2010s.

Reconciling two biblical themes

In my book, The State of Our Nation: 7 Critical Issues, I devoted an entire chapter to the issue of illegal immigration. There I discuss a number of biblical texts relevant to today’s topic. We can summarize them today in two categories.

One: Scripture affirms the importance of borders (Deuteronomy 32:8; Numbers 34:1–15; Ezekiel 47:13–23), the rule of law (Romans 13:1–2; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13–14; 1 Timothy 1:8–10), and self-defense (Luke 11:21; Exodus 22:2; Proverbs 25:26; Nehemiah 4:17–18).

Two: Immigrants are not to be mistreated (Exodus 22:21) but loved (Leviticus 19:33–34; Deuteronomy 10:18–19) and helped (Deuteronomy 24:19–22; Ezekiel 47:21–23; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; Hebrews 13:2). At-risk children are to be especially valued (Matthew 18:10; 19:14) and protected (James 1:27).

Our problem comes in reconciling these two themes. Without secure borders and the rule of law, a nation cannot thrive for the sake of its present and future populations. However, without immigrants, most nations cannot flourish; this is especially true for America, a nation comprised almost entirely of immigrants and their descendants.

Children who enter the US illegally or are born to parents who did are an example of our challenge. On one hand, should they be forced to pay for the illegal actions of their parents (Exodus 18:19–20)? On the other, is it fair for them to benefit from these actions (cf. Matthew 22:21)?

Your hands and your heart

My purpose in this brief Daily Article is obviously not to explore in detail the complexities of this deeply divisive issue. Persistent, unresolved societal challenges are seldom resolved by simple intellectual solutions. Whether the issue is opioid and drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness, poverty, systemic injustice, crime, or any other ongoing crisis, you and I are likely not going to solve the problem today.

Policy debates are vital, of course. We should pray for our legislators, hold them accountable to their constituents, and vote our conscience. But we should also do what we can do personally to be part of the solution.

As we have discussed this week, you and I are called to continue Jesus’ earthly ministry today. Our spiritual gifts, talents, education, opportunities, and experiences are the uniquely crafted way he is advancing his kingdom through us. This is how we can do “greater” works than he did (John 14:12)—billions of people can fulfill his kingdom mission more fully than he could in a single body.

Will you ask God to help you respond redemptively to the needs you can meet today? Will you offer Jesus your hands and your heart as the “body of Christ” for our hurting world (1 Corinthians 12:27)?

When we do, God’s kingdom comes as his will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). And our world can never be the same.

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