Immigration and the Health of a Nation

Immigration and the Health of a Nation March 5, 2015

brownback kobach.001I was reading some Eugene Peterson this week, and ran upon a section in which he talked about how we assess the health of a nation. He said, “We measure the health of our nation and the success of our lives in terms of per capita income and gross national product.” (Working the Angles) The book was written 25 years ago, and nothing has changed. Add the Consumer Price Index, Dow Industrial Average, S&P 500, Consumer Confidence, Employment statistics, and you are hitting most of the levers for the average person.

Christians (especially my tribe, the evangelicals), love to whip out metrics involving certain moral issues like abortion, gay marriage, the right to bear arms, and low taxes. They say that’s how we should assess the health of a nation.

According to the scriptures, however, one of the primary metrics God uses to assess the health of a nation is hospitality. How do you treat the least of these? The scriptures are replete with commands to love enemies, care for strangers, and welcome aliens. My favorite is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

When God judges a nation or people harshly, more often than not, it is not because of their moral failures—sex, drugs, and rock and roll—but their failure to be hospitable to the vulnerable. “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom,” the prophet Ezekiel says, “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

Which brings me to immigration. In Kansas, where I live, Governor Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are both outspoken Christians. Both of them love to be seen in public acting in patriotic ways. Their rhetoric is sentimental if not idolatrous in terms of their regard for the nation, democracy, states rights, and the state of Kansas. They claim to do everything they do for the good of the nation or state. Yet they do everything within their power (in Kobach’s case arguably exceeding his power) to hurt the immigrant. One Kobach quote puts a fine point on it: “If you really want to create a job tomorrow, you can remove an illegal alien today.”

I can only imagine God’s disgust when he sees Brownback and Kobach sing “God Bless America” then turn around and treat the immigrant as a scapegoat, attacking the least of these with brazen callousness.

You want to know whether the arrow is pointing up or down for our society? Here’s your leading indicator: How do we treat the poor? The immigrant (legal or not)? Do we elect leaders who will do anything to increase our consumeristic zeal and lust for cash? Or do we elect leaders with the vision to help us become less focused on wealth production and consumption, and more focused on the flourishing of the most vulnerable among us.

With all due respect, Governor Brownback and Secretary Kobach no doubt believe they are leading their state in the right direction. But they seem to be blinded to the ways in which their political ideology and fears have usurped their commitment to Christ. They are tanking the health of the State of Kansas, and they are marching lock step with those who are doing their best to tank our entire society. They are on the wrong side of immigration.

How do we know this? We look the other side—the side they are trying their best to crush & defeat—and if that’s where the scriptures stand, if that’s where Jesus stands, and if that’s where faithfulness stands, if that’s where ‘the least of these’ stand, then one must be on the wrong side. One can cite economic statistics all you want, and the scriptures will simply reply, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

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  • First: God does not judge nations — if he judges anything, it is individuals.
    Second: You seem to be overlooking one of the Ten Commandments — Thou shall not STEAL. What are illegal aliens doing but stealing our jobs and resources? Where in the bible does it say that criminals should not be punished?
    And lastly, you wrote:

    I can only imagine God’s disgust when he sees Brownback and Kobach sing “God Bless America” then turn around and treat the immigrant as a scapegoat, attacking the least of these with brazen callousness.
    Not only are you judging your fellows who are being harmed by the illegal alien invasion, but you claim to know the mind of God!
    Hubris, Much?

    • Shoobacca

      Freedom1958 … No one died and left me comment moderator, and who knows what extra grace your backstory may require from me, but I find what you’ve said here way out of line and am compelled to say so. By all means hold a different opinion, but please try to engage others with whom you don’t agree more respectfully. Maybe another way to measure the health of a nation could be in the ability of its individuals to disagree in a civil manner.

      • I offered him as much compassion as he demonstrated toward Brownback and Kobach.
        How much do you want?

    • Tim_Suttle

      “freedom” – I’m not sure where you got that idea. The reality that God will judge the nations is specifically mentioned over and over in the scriptures. One of the Most famous times being Isaiah 66. Your invocation of the command against stealing is a stretch, especially given the fact that immigrants are doing jobs nobody else wants to do.

      I’m not judging Kobach & Brownback, in fact I say that I’m sure they feel they are doing the right thing. That’s giving them the benefit of the doubt. I’m calling them out for the fact that they are flouting the teachings of scripture by not fighting to welcome the alien, fighting to give those who are here amnesty, and helping to integrate them generously into our society. That’s the Christian move here.

      • Not stealing jobs? Do you think construction is a job Americans will not do?
        Construction has always been hard work, but it used to pay well enough that a man could do a fair job of raising a family. It was also popular work for less educated Americans. In Texas, the profession has been virtually taken over by illegals. Americans who are not fluent in Spanish are out of luck.
        Just because you personally consider hard work beneath you (sloth?) don’t assume that all Americans suffer from that affliction.
        How about identity theft? Do you think that is a non-crime? You wouldn’t if it had ever happened to you. The social security numbers of American children are especially prized in the illegal alien community because the fraud is unlikely to be discovered for a long while. Just wait, though, until the child grows up and tries to get a student loan or buy a car.
        Illegal aliens do real harm to real Americans, and they do so on a continuing basis, but if you feel you must help them, consider this:

        Timothy 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

        Let charity begin in the home, then in the nation of our fellows. Only when they are taken care of should we consider diverting our precious resources to others.

    • Jon-Michael Ivey

      There would be just as strong a case that the US government is stealing jobs from foreigners, or stealing employees from employers.

      Americans do not possess any property right over jobs offered by American employers. It is not theft to take something to which no one else has a right.

      Thinking that you deserve to be given a job in America rather than it going to a more qualified candidate who happened to be born elsewhere is a very arrogant entitlement mentality.

      (Note that being willing to accept less money for the same work is an excellent qualification. There are many jobs which would not be done at all without very cheap labor. Crops often are left to rot in the field if a farmer cannot sell them for more than how much he would have to pay workers to harvest them.)

      God is not a respecter of persons, and we are called not to be respecters of persons either. That means, among other things, that we should not privilege those of our own nation above foreigners but should be welcoming to all.

      Discriminating against “illegal aliens” would be immoral even assuming that jobs are in fixed supply, but that is very much not the case. Immigrants do not only increase the supply of labor, but also the demand.

      There is a heterogeneous labor market, and immigrants are generally not well suited to fill all the jobs that need to be done to serve the needs of their fellow immigrants. The studies are pretty clear that immigrants increase the demand for labor more than they increase the supply, at least in most markets. Some studies do show a small rise in unemployment about native born high school dropouts, but that is a relatively small demographic and the change is so small that it is barely outside the margin of error and is not really statistically significant. Among all other demographics, new immigrants lead cause a significant drop in unemployment.

      If all countries removed their barriers to entry, it is estimated that it would more than double the total wealth of the world. Even the most conservative estimates show at least a 50% wealth increase. It would mostly help the inhabitants of the poorest countries, but wouldn’t really make us worse off.

      The Ten Commandments are but one part of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses does not include any provisions for limiting immigration to the Land of Israel, but on the contrary it demands that we love foreigners and treat immigrants who dwell among us the same as the native born.

      The Law of Moses also protects Gleaners Rights, explicitly for foreigners as well as widows, orphans, and the poor. God even told the Israelite that if they follow the law there would be no poor among their own people, but that they must continue to protect gleaners’ rights for the foreigners who would wish to immigrate there.

      Gleaners’ Rights mandated that a landowner plant a tenth portion of his fields with crops which neither he nor his agents were permitted to harvest. Immigrants were guaranteed a right to pass through those portions of the fields unmolested and to take what they want to eat. This might seem like trespassing and stealing to some, but it does not qualify as such in God’s Law. To the contrary, it was denounced as theft for a landlord to stop a foreigner from taking advantage of this.

      It could even be argued that gleaner’s rights were a sort of compensation paid to the poor for the crime of land theft. If no one owned or planted on the land, then anyone would be free to forage for food there. By excluding others from the field one was stealing opportunities from any would-be hunter-gatherers. Since planting allows much higher food yields though, a tenth of the field could pay back multiple times the food that was denied them by restricting access to the rest. Paying back a multiple of what was taken is the only penalty acceptable for theft under the Law of Moses.

      God told the Israelies that they do not truly own any land and cannot sell it forever, but are merely his tenants. The land is the property of God alone, because it is His handiwork.

      Classical Liberals like John Locke based there conception of private property on that and similar bible verses. They reasoned that humans should enjoy a right of private property in the fruits of their labor, but not in natural resources. Every human has an equal right to land everywhere on Earth. For practical reasons though, it is more convenient to divvy it up to provide secure enough possession for development upon the land.

      Locke’s homesteading principle never grants land ownership, despite what many of the political right say. It rather establishes that a man has a right to defend a local monopoly over a plot of land only to the degree necessary to defend the fruits of his labor and only so long as he leaves as much and as good for anyone else who would wish to do likewise. Ignoring the Lockean Proviso is ignoring the entire moral foundation for his system. (A non-Proviso Lockean is as much a contradiction as a non-loving Christian.)

      The Lockean Proviso is generally violated in the real world. Where there is enough and as good left available for free, then the land itself has zero market value and zero rent could be earned from controlling access to it.

      (Note that most of the value of Land comes from its location. A single parking space in Manhattan may be worth more than a large farm in Nebraska. When people think of land they often think of rural farms, but it is a more significant issue in the inner cities.)

      When land rent is positive, then there is aggression being committed by landlords who even implicitly threaten force to keep out trespassers. The landlord then owes some compensation to those he keeps out.

      The old testament guarantee of Gleaner’s Rights is an excellent way to provide such compensation in a primitive agricultural society. So are tithes, which (at least during certain years) were distributed among not only among the Levites (who could never be landlords legally) but also among all the landless including foreigners.

      In today’s world, it would be more practical to levy Land Value Taxes and use the funds to compensate those living in the community, either through public goods or direct payments like a Citizens’ Dividend.

      A government jurisdiction may be treated the same as a landlord. A government with open borders is not aggressing against any would be immigrants, and so would owe them no compensation. A State with closed borders would incur a debt to pay those whom it denied opportunities equal to those available within its borders.

  • Gary

    I am unaware of any place in the Bible where God says go forth and commit crimes – identity theft, fraud, illegal entry. Nor have I found a passage that says the ends justify the means. Only by ignoring biblical prohibitions is it possible for such “Christian Activists” to fail to see the difference between welcoming the legal, law abiding Stranger and welcoming the law-breaking Illegal Immigrant.
    It says in the Bible that “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him”. Maybe I missed something, but to date I have not seen any Illegal Immigrants come forward and turn themselves in to authorities, saying forgive me. Instead, I see many unrepentant Illegal Immigrants who have plenty of excuses as to why they broke the law, who continue to use false documents, who have plenty of demands to change our law, and who are quick to demand their rights. Is not breaking the law because you covet something your neighbor has a sin? Is not identity fraud bearing false witness and thus a sin? Thus is not forgiving unrepentant sin the same as condoning that sin, and thus participating in that sin?

    • Tim_Suttle

      Here are a few scriptures you asked for Gary:

      Exodus 1: the midwives defy the command of Pharaoh.
      Exodus 2: Moses’ mom & daughter defy the laws of Pharaoh & lie to a govn’t official.
      Joshua 2: Rahab defies the law.
      1 Sam. 14: the people defy the king’s decree and do not kill solomon.
      1 Sam 20: Jonathan helps David instead of turning him in, defying king.
      1 Kings 18: Obadiah defy’s the king & hides the priests.
      2 kings 11: Jehosheba hides the innocent child in defiance of queen.

      Daniel 3: Daniel, Shadrach, et al, defy the king’s orders & do not bow.
      Acts 4: Peter defies the decree that they should stop preaching.
      Acts 5: Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men”

      Those are just a few, there are more. Paul, for instance, defies orders over and over again in order to preach the good news… Good news, btw, when Jesus described in his first sermon (Luke 4) as good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, the setting free of the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor… which was the year of Jubilee, once every 50 years. All debts were cancelled, all land returned to the original ancestral owners, all political and financial prisoners were turned loose.

      • Gary


        I see where you got this from . Please note that the same page says that

        “If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless he can flee from the government, he should accept that government’s punishment for his actions”

        Thee is also a section on illegal immigration that says

        “There is nothing in Scripture that contradicts the idea of a sovereign nation having immigration laws. Therefore, it is rebellion against God to unlawfully enter another country. Illegal immigration is a sin.”

        The examples you sited were for evil leaders that ordered bad things such as the killing of all male infants. None of these example’s included anyone lying, cheating, or stealing for money. Illegal immigration is really arbitrage. People are just crossing the border for higher wages. Many people in this country are laying off American workers to get foreigners at a lower rate

        Illegal migration is really about the money for all parties (workers, employers, politicians, and even churches.
        Jesus does not care what side of the border we live on, only that we respect each other. Immigrants are different from people who violate immigration laws. I am an immigrant and we were brought up to respect authority.

  • Tim_Suttle

    1 Kings 8:41-43; “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”

  • KoreanKat

    “Do we elect leaders who will do anything to increase our consumeristic zeal and lust for cash?”

    A) Most immigrants are economic immigrants, they want more cash and more stuff, just like my family forty years ago.

    B) Why do the Koch Bros., Wall Street Journal, Jeff Bezos, Chamber of Commerce, and basically every other oligarch and mouthpiece for the interests of the 1% support increased low-skilled immigration on top of any skilled needs if it benefits ordinary people?

    C) What about the poor we already have? We have a real unemployment figure, when factoring in non-participation of 10%, how does immigration of more competition for jobs help them?

    Honestly people who get self-righteous on immigration with naked emotional appeals, but have little to say on comprehensive economic policy, reminds me strongly of anti-abortion people who speaks of the sanctity of life, yet oppose social welfare for a baby once its born.

  • KSM

    To not differentiate between legal and illegal immigrantion is much like not differentiating between legal and illegal bank withdrawals. The former is perfectly fine and the second could a bank robbery.

    What part of the word “illegal” is so difficult to understand?

    • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

      I don’t see anything in the passage that indicates it only applies to foreigners who have come into the country through government approved channels.

  • micahj

    Amen and well said, Tim. Frankly, I do not understand all of the resentment and disagreement that you (and others) receive on this. I’m not in support of blanket amnesty policies, but this issue has many more complex solutions other than pure deportation or pure amnesty.

    It is not in best interest of the country to have poor immigrants stay in poverty. The National Research Council estimated that an immigrant without a high school diploma will create a net lifetime burden on the economy of $89,000, for an immigrant with only a high school education it is burden of $31,000. However, an immigrant with education beyond high school is a fiscal benefit of $105,000.

    Immigration policy should be oriented around trying to increase the chances of immigrant success. Part of the fix to a broken immigration system is not in preventing uneducated immigrants from entering – high levels of illegal immigration have showed that they will enter anyway – but rather in implementing policies directed at helping immigrants assimilate into American society. Language programs, early education, lower remittance transmission costs, and economic desegregation policies can build upon an already strong family structure that many Latino immigrants (that’s who we’re all talking about) possess to help new cohorts of immigrants to rise out of poverty and become economically mobile.

    The success or failure of immigrants in achieving economic mobility is contingent upon numerous individual factors. Sweeping statements or generalizations are not appropriate to categorize current immigrant populations (“People are just crossing the border for higher wages.” “Most immigrants are economic immigrants, they want more cash and more stuff, just like my family forty years ago.”). These are plainly not true. To disregard the highly dangerous situations from which many immigrants are fleeing is blinded and naïve. Even to the extent that these statements are true, so what? Someone who is born into a situation where they can only make a couple dollars per day should just be happy to live in a slum? That’s nonsense. Further, to say that everyone who crosses illegally is committing a sin is far too simplistic. What is the spirit of having national borders and immigration policies? Is it exclusion? It definitely is not. Is it safety and order? Yes, much more so. Therefore, trying to keep illegal
    immigrants out because they are illegal makes no sense from a Biblical perspective, yet many of the arguments take this stance – a mentality of ‘This land is ours and they must ask permission.’ As you have cited, the Bible makes it clear how Christians are to treat immigrants. As for Freedom’s comment about “providing for our own,” yes, we absolutely should provide for our own. We are amiss if we don’t. But who counts as “his own?” Leviticus 19 answers that question. As followers of Christ, we are to act on the behalf of all who are downtrodden, marginalized, or oppressed.

    Furthermore, broad, nationwide policies are unable to address the varied needs of immigrant populations. There is a need to localize immigration policies so that they can be tailored to provide requirements of success for each new immigrant cohort in each geographic location.

    I haven’t said much about the church, but you covered that for the most part. Treating the foreign-born as a native-born person means ensuring that they are not at an unfair disadvantage compared with natives. This means that the Church should work against economic desegregation in metropolitan areas, provide language and educational assistance, and more in order to promote the well-being of immigrants and all who are poor.