Promote Immigration Based on Need and Grace, Not Merit

Promote Immigration Based on Need and Grace, Not Merit January 11, 2019

Immigrants Approach Ellis Island. Creative Commons 

President Trump has called for an immigration policy based on merit. What do you make of that language? What does it mean? What is its import? How does it mesh with America’s traditional values and ideals?

Merit could mean several things to Mr. Trump. He claims that immigration based on merit means accepting only those people with good intentions. He also makes clear that immigration based on merit means accepting only those people with good or great IQs and desirable skills for the marketplace.

I certainly agree that anyone who wishes to immigrate to the U.S. should desire to be residents who build this country rather than tear it down, who cherish its ideals, and seek to make America great. And while I welcome people with desirable portfolios and skills that benefit American society and industry, I also welcome people based not on merit, but on need.

President Trump always conveys that he is out to make America great again. I am, too. I want us to make America great again by going back to the ideals espoused at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus.” The poem includes these lines:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Some have debated that Mr. Trump’s merit-based system simply means less immigrants and that his immigration policies hurt business. I also think his merit-based system shrinks America’s heart. Yes, let’s welcome those like Albert Einstein and other intellectual elites to these shores. But let’s also welcome “the huddles masses,” “wretched refuse,” and “homeless,” as Lazarus refers to them.

Trump does not like the immigration policy that involves a lottery. You might expect that as an Evangelical Christian, I would be against lotteries and gambling. Indeed, I am. However, I am not against a system that chooses people randomly, or better, that is based on need and grace.

With this point in mind, perhaps those of us who are Evangelical Christians should start wearing hats that read “Make American Evangelical Christianity great again.” Given that Evangelical Christianity is part of the Protestant family tree, its roots go back to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Luther passionately argued that God’s love creates the attraction. Our attractiveness does not create God’s love. In other words, God does not choose people based on their merit, but based on grace.

As with the church, so it was with ancient Israel. God did not choose people based on their greatness, but God’s grace and their need. That’s why he reminds his people at every turn to care for orphans, widows, and aliens in their distress. Here are two texts that reflect the theme of need and grace:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:17-19; ESV).

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31; ESV).

No doubt, there are competing visions of America today, as well as competing visions of what Christianity in America should look like. Those who boast in the Lord revealed in Christian Scripture will not boast in merit, but in God’s grace.

I’m banking on God’s grace, not my merit. So should you. Not only does this pertain to Christian faith, but also to American immigration policies. As Americans, not many of our ancestors who made it to these shores were welcomed in because of high achievement, but because they were in need and longed to be free. Let’s make America great again, and welcome the needy in.


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