Review of Just Immigration

Review of Just Immigration January 15, 2018

My review of the book Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective by Mark R. Amstutz has appeared online on Reading Religion. Here is an excerpt:

I think that most readers, irrespective of their specific viewpoints, will appreciate Amstutz’s call for churches to prioritize their role as moral teachers. Some of the deadlock that hinders immigration reform results from public contentment with superficial appeals to justice, insufficient engagement with different ideas of justice, and their varying prioritization by different individuals and communities in our society. Readers of Amstutz’s book who take his challenge seriously may be among the first to turn their critical gaze onto his points and to see weak points in them. But I suspect that if large numbers of Christians do precisely that, Amstutz himself would be pleased, precisely because his aim in this book is not to advocate for specific policies, but to advocate for improved moral reasoning and substantive engagement on the part of individual Christians, churches, and denominations.

Click through to read the rest of my review. I have been doing a lot more reading on the subject of immigration as a result of teaching my year-long course on “Religion, Refugees, and Migration.” It seemed appropriate to not merely read for myself, but to also seek opportunities to write reviews of the books I hoped to read, with a view to clarifying my own thinking as well as sharing my thoughts, and those of the books’ authors, with others.

The Reading Religion website, for those who may not be familiar with it, is a project of the American Academy of Religion, and it is full of both book reviews, and opportunities for grad students and professors to write reviews for them. And so don’t just read my review – there is much more on the site that deserves to be explored!

See also my review of The Bible in Music in Review of Biblical Literature, if you are an SBL member.


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  • arcseconds

     Even apart from the possibility that Christians might object to the nationalistic ethos that so divides human beings, the government role described would apply equally to city, state, and national governments—and yet we would most likely not view it as appropriate for one of the states that makes up the United States to restrict entry from others. 

    This is basically, or almost, the point that many cosmopolitan-minded people make about immigration.  

    Nevada’s internal net migration rate was nearly 30 per 1000 people at some point in the early 21st century, which is ten times the migration rate for the whole of the USA in 2015. 

    If the USA were suddenly, somehow, to be taking on 10 times as many immigrants in a year people would hit the roof.  We’d be hearing all sorts of nightmare stories about how the USA is being destroyed, it can’t cope, it’s an impossible burden, society is under threat, it’ll cost the earth, seas of blood, darkened skies, the floodgates to Pure Evil have been opened, etc.

    But no-one thinks like this with regards to internal migration. It’s often treated as a good thing: economic growth! Popularity! Sometimes it’s treated as a practical inconvenience, maybe it’s sometimes A Problem, and occassionally with nostalgia for the days when life was simple and property was cheap.

    But hardly anyone thinks it’s a doomsday scenario that requires walls and punitive legislation and armed guards ready to respond with lethal force.

    (And few seem too perturbed about immigration from Canada, for some reason.)

    Also, it’s often pointed out that somehow we’ve ended up in a world where capital can flow freely, but people can’t. According to classical economic theory this must be inefficient.

    Europe had few controls on immigration in the 19th century, up until World War I.

    In the Iron Curtain days, internal movement was controlled. You needed permission to move cities. People in the Free West thought this laughable.

    One day, maybe people will look back on the 20th and early 21st century and think all the movement restrictions just as laughable.

    • Gary

      “all the movement restrictions just as laughable”…

      The controversy has to do with how much moving across borders costs? If you are liberal, you will find studies supporting a benefit to the economy. If you are conservative, you will find studies saying it is a drag on the economy. Which is right, take your choice.

      The obvious point is that when immigrants came 100 years ago, there was no federal, state, or local benefits given to anyone, let alone immigrants.

      As far as across state lines go, use the military as an example. When a state sees a chance to get money from the feds, their eyes light up! I don’t know what the current status is, but when I was growing up, you filled out a card starting school, saying whether your father was in the military. If he was, the local school district got money from the feds for each kid, to supposedly pay for the impact to the local school system. If there were no local schools (as in, overseas), the military had their own DoD schools. Of course, the states never considered the boom in local economy for having the military people renting, buying food, or whatever, locally. The entire immigration issue has to do with money. Unfortunately, both sides have their expert, paid analysts, to generate studies that support each of their positions. It’s all about the money.

      • arcseconds

        I am pretty sure it’s practically a consensus position among mainstream economists that immigration is economically beneficial. You can, of course, find people supporting any fringe position you like, particularly if you pay them to do so.

        Does the military do nothing in terms of paying State taxes? If so, there’s a point to the ‘drain on the school’ system. Immigrants, of course, pay tax. But anyway, your story illustrates how short-sighted people can be about this.

        However, I think one has to ask exactly why it is that a wall is being proposed for the Mexican border, and not the Canadian. And why people from ‘shithole’ countries are undesirable, but apparently people from Norway are fine.

        And you are also ignoring the fact that immigrants from Mexico are frequently considered to be criminals, and Muslim immigrants terrorists.

        There’s no way this is simply just about the money.

      • arcseconds

        Also, if were simply about the money, why isn’t Nevada up in arms about how all the internal immigrants are going to cripple them economically, and trying to get the Feds to build a wall between it and California or something?

        (Maybe they are? I don’t know, but I’ve never heard of it, and I did try to google for it)

        Basically, people seem pretty much fine with immigration so long as the people are sufficiently like them.

        • Gary

          “why isn’t Nevada up in arms about how all the internal immigrants are going to cripple them economically”…
          It’s all about the money. Minimum wage, cheap labor, supplied by immigrants.

          Military in any state pay taxes. More of an impact, anywhere you have the military, you have support contractors that provide big time wages to residents. Not minimum wage. All about states wanting fed money.

          And, “practically a consensus” on plus/minus…hardly.

          And about border wall…you do know there is a border wall already, right? “Border Wall” is a political term used to attack by both right and left. Just that the wall doesn’t extend everywhere. No one really expects a wall everywhere. Now, if you don’t like walls in general, you can have the wall that exists between Tijuana and San Ysidro torn down. Except, if that is the case, you must support open borders. If that is the case, you’ll save a big bundle of money getting rid of the Border Patrol. So, I don’t think the problem is quite as black and white as you seem to think. I certainly hope/assume the book review recognizes that the problem is a little more complicated than you seem to think.

          • arcseconds

            I am not discussing the practicalities of the border wall, but rather what the excitement of ‘build a wall’ tells us how people see the issue.

            You can keep saying “it’s all about the money” all you like, but all this tells me is that you for some reason want to ignore the concerns people have about violent criminality of dark-skinned foreigners. It’s very clear that they are concerned about this. How could you forget Trump’s comments about Mexican rapists?

            Of course, if these fears have simply failed to enter your consciousness by now, I suspect there’s nothing I can say that can alter your flawed perception of the issues.

          • Gary

            Flawed perception? Ok. True, no sense in discussing it. Although, if the Demo’s and Rep’s have the same attitude, a negotiated deal will be impossible. Typical Washington culture. All posturing, for a sound bite, with no real negotiations. You may not like it, but that’s the real reason Trump got elected in the first place. Not, as you think, 1/2 the electorate are racists, deplorables. But they were sick and tired of the Washington Swamp.

            Amazingly enough, the Demo’s were effective in killing off Sanders. The Republicans were unsuccessful in doing the same for Trump. So, the Demo’s lost by winning with Hilary.

          • arcseconds

            I wouldn’t suggest that half the electorate are motivated by racism to vote for Trump. For a start, that overstates how many actually voted for Trump – 46.1% of the vote went to Trump, which is a little under half the vote, but the turnout was only 55.7%. So only about 25% of the electorate actually were motivated to vote for him at all.

            And of them, I’m sure there are few ‘hold my nose and vote R even though he stinks’ Republicans (although how on earth they thought Trump would be better than Clinton on traditional Republican issues like national security or the economy or keeping an even keel and not changing anything around too much is beyond me — I’m starting to wonder whether those things are more excuses or some kind of catechism that one intones rather than genuine values).

            And a few are ‘he’s terrible but he’ll put a conservative Justice on the Supreme Court, and that’s what we really need’ — seems like a massive risk given the chances of him starting a war accidentally, or really following through with deporting millions of people to me, but then people are pretty terrible at assessing risk I guess.

            Or, you know, caring about other people. Sure, a few thousand immigrants and refugees will have their lives ruined, but who cares about Not Real Americans when you really, really want to Stick it to the Man?

            Actually, I was quite inclined towards the ‘people are frustrated’ angle myself, and I still think that’s a powerful motivating feature. Although having said that I do not understand how anyone genuinely thought that electing a narcissistic, nepotistic, corrupt, 2nd-generation tycoon of dubious competence who allies himself with white nationalists and boasts about sexually assaulting people was going to drain any swamp at all — the best you could hope for is him to facilitate displacing the old swamp creatures with his own swamp creatures. And I think history has born me out on this one.

            At best this demonstrates people’s immense capacity for wishful thinking and hearing what they want to hear. I wonder though whether the real motivation wasn’t often really more something like ‘let’s vote in a powder-keg and blow everything up!’ rather than ‘let’s vote in this person who totally seems like a highly principled and thoughtful government reformer!’.

            But I’ve been reading a bit about survey data and other investigations into the opinions of Trump supporters, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they hold more racist attitudes than the general population, and that this also is heavily involved in their political choices.

            If you think you’ll actually read and pay attention to the evidence, I’ll get you some links, but if you’re convinced of your own story that it’s all just frustration with Washington with only love in their hearts for people of colour (despite Trump’s continual race-baiting (and ignoring that is, in itself, racist)), then I won’t trouble myself.

            However, I will point out that Hochschild, a social psychologist who spend several years researching the people of Louisiana’s bayou country, who is sympathetic towards them and basically supports the ‘they’re frustrated’ theory, gives this as their ‘deep story’:

            So the deep story I felt operating in Louisiana was this: Think of people waiting in a long line that stretches up a hill. And at the top of that is the American dream. And the people waiting in line felt like they’d worked extremely hard, sacrificed a lot, tried their best, and were waiting for something they deserved. And this line is increasingly not moving, or moving more slowly [i.e., as the economy stalls].

            Then they see people cutting ahead of them in line. Immigrants, blacks, women, refugees, public sector workers. And even an oil-drenched brown pelican getting priority. In their view, people are cutting ahead unfairly. And then in this narrative, there is Barack Obama, to the side, the line supervisor who seems to be waving these people (and the pelican) ahead. So the government seemed to be on the side of the people who were cutting in line and pushing the people in line back.


            So, sure, they’re not voting in Trump because they hate dark-skinned people and want to see them suffer. But they do think that they are not getting what they deserve in part because a black guy is giving it to black people instead, who don’t deserve it.

            And sorry, while it sounds like they’re indeed getting a raw deal, they aren’t still waiting for two centuries of back pay for forced labour — they have no warrant for thinking black people are cutting in any line for just deserts for hard work.

            I am not really much of a fan of the Democrat party either, I think they’re largely a bunch of career politicians in the pay of a different group of rich white people, and are not on the whole going to do anything much to change the status quo unless the electorate basically forces them to (which is difficult to do when many of the people who would benefit the most by different arrangements are so firmly against changing the arrangements, even while denouncing the outcome of those arrangements for themselves). Plus sometimes they’re extremely corrupt – the Illinois Democratic Party has a bad reputation, for example, and it looks to me as though it’s deserved.

            However, they are not e.g. hell bent on removing health care for sick people, or giving tax cuts to the rich, and they haven’t stumped up an incompetent, bigoted fool to lead the most powerful country in the world.
            (If my life story was like some of Hochschild’s people’s stories, then maybe I’d want to blow everything up by voting in Trump, too. But I hope I would realise that it was unlikely to improve anything for me, and would surely make it worse for other people in just as difficult, or more difficult, situations. And I’m pretty sure rewarding a ruling-class bully boy with anything would stick in my craw…)

          • Gary

            “If you think you’ll actually read and pay attention to the evidence, I’ll get you some links”…
            Thanks anyway. I think I can do it myself.

        • Gary

          By the way, concerning “shithole”…
          The Democrats are falling on their sword. They can obsess all they want about immigration reform. Making a big deal about what was said in a private meeting, from both sides, does not get the immediate problem of DACA or immigration reform solved. They’ve got limited time to get a deal done.

          And more importantly, whether the Demo’s like it or not, they have to get something passed. Without Trump’s signature, nothing is going to happen. So, if they want to get on a soapbox and complain about “shithole”, they can gloat and posture. But nothing will get done.

  • Martha Anne Underwood

    Unfortunately, my church is full of those who believe that anyone here in the US who is undocumented must be deported. Never mind that the majority of them have jobs and are paying taxes and are decent human beings. Not here legally, we don’t care. God will back me up. Makes me want to puke. I sometimes wonder why I stay. I guess because I feel the church need someone on the side of the immigrant and others who don’t conform to the norm and stands up for them when they are criticized.