Americans have griped about immigrants, and illegals, and undocumented workers, etc., etc., for years.
Other much less kind epithets are commonly used to refer to “those people who come over here and take our jobs and go to our schools and use our hospitals….”
It’s confusing and complicated and chaotic. We find ourselves afraid and angry and unsure what to do.
“What’s up with with you guys?” I asked innocently and ignorantly.
“America needs to make up its mind,” he retorted. (Fortunately for me, he speaks really good English. The three lines of Spanish I command would have made for a much shorter conversation.)
“What do you mean?”
“Either you want us for cheap labor or you don’t want us because we ‘don’t belong here’ . . . you see us as illegal freeloaders.”
“Well,” I proffer, “There are those issues of breaking the law to get here, bringing drugs and crime, receiving benefits you don’t pay for…and then there is the Spanish thing.”
“You don’t get it. To you, we are ignorant low-lifes who sneak over to steal your jobs. To us, you are rich beyond imagination and don’t want the jobs we do. You think we are cheaters. We think you are generous and have enough to spare.”
“Why don’t you just come legally?”
“Have you tried to become a U.S. citizen lately?”
“Ummm . . .”
“It costs a lot of money, it is complicated, the officials are not helpful, and our families are hungry now.”
“Well, we can’t rescue all of Mexico.”
“Maybe not, but you have to do something, because we are desperate, we will keep coming—no wall will be tall enough.”
If I lived in Mexico, I’d want to come here.
If I were fleeing non-stop war and persecution, I’d want to go somewhere— Europe, America—and hope to God I found some warm-hearted soul who would give me a handshake and a job.
The government has not been very helpful:
In spite of promises, presidents and legislators from both parties have
addressed this issue largely with benign neglect.
The issue is in our face in a big way (Gallup, third highest issue in the US)….
- Clearly the issue has once again been made a central campaign issue. 12 million or so illegal immigrants and porous borders always score points as political football.
- The current migrant crisis in Europe is one thing.
- The proposed settling of several thousand Syrian refugees in the US which was not such a big deal until Paris and San Bernardino.
No doubt, there are real concerns…
Illegals really have broken the law.
Millions of people knowingly and willingly violated federal laws by entering the US illegally or overstaying their visas. They live every day knowing that they could be caught and deported. Flouting the law has become the norm.
The borders have a lot of holes.
Millions have come in. Thousands more come over every year. This is a testament to the attractiveness of America. It is also a sign of how open our borders are, in spite of patrols, drones, guards, etc.
We have an economic identity crisis.
We depend on “migrant” workers, legal and otherwise. We benefit from their low cost labor.
But we complain about their taking jobs away from Americans and benefitting from health and education services.
The citizenship process is complex and costly.
Ask someone you know who has become a citizen lately—it can be punitive and demeaning with pointless exercises and piles of paperwork, often a frustrating, moving target. Kind of like having to go to the MVD every day for years.
Families are established.
Illegal immigrants establish families, generations of kids and grandkids. Sometimes called an “anchor baby”, a child born in the US to an illegal immigrant mother has US citizenship under the 14th amendment.
A genuine security threat:
When 1 out of every 100 people in America is undocumented, there is a security problem. Not a direct threat, necessarily, but the presence of millions of migrants and/or refugees effectively creates a cover for terrorists and criminals. Gangs, cartels, smugglers, and terrorists bent upon mayhem and destruction all potentially can come in.
Americans, with all of our claims to “exceptionalism”, can be surprisingly xenophobic.
This is perhaps understandable in light of recent events both at home and abroad.
SO HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS THINK AND ACT IN THIS SITUATION?
What does our faith-informed conscience tell us we should do with those immigrants and refugees…
…who find America such a desirable place to live that they would break their backs for a poverty-level job and hide from the law just to raise their families here?
…who flee war-ravaged lands hoping to find a safe place and open arms?
We go to the Bible.
Our perspective is always shaped by Scripture and grounded in a redemptive faith.
1. Do we find immigrants and refugees in the Bible?
Abraham in a strange land Gen. 12:1; 10:23
Joseph’s brothers in a famine Gen. 46:1-7
Moses fleeing the Egyptians
Israel in Egypt, oppressed and enslaved
Jesus was refugee Mt. 2:13-15
The early church scattered Acts 8:1-8
2. Are Christians ever described as aliens or strangers?
Phil. 3:20; I Pet. 2:10-11
3. Should that fact influence how we see immigrants and refugees?
Of all people, we should have empathy!
4. What Bible passages instruct us to fear, shun, mistreat, or otherwise demean foreigners or refugees?
5. Are there any texts that give us guidance on how to treat foreigners?
6. Which interpretive principles apply here?
Use the whole Bible.
Build your theology and ethics on a broad base.
Let’s look at a pivotal text that will provide a basis for our reflection on the biblical content:
Matthew 5:3-12 (Luke 6:20-23)
“Blessed (fortunate, prosperous) are the….
:3 “the poor in spirit…”
Those who are not spiritually arrogant.
It is easy to love our own.
It is easy just to say words, to tell them to take care of themselves.
The instruction is to put them first.
The song we learned as babies reflects the deep truth of the value and dignity of every man: “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.”
:4 “those who mourn…”
Those who grieve for this sorry situation.
Weep with those who weep…
See the families broken apart, struggling
Jesus wept with the mourners at Lazarus’ tomb mainly because He knew they had not hope beyond the grave.
:5 “the gentle…”
Those who are humble and meek.
God loves the alien…the vulnerable, helpless, hopeless
II Cor. 1:3-7
We have been given comfort. Now it is our turn.
II Cor. 8:13-15; 9:6-8
We have been given so much. Now it is our turn.
We have been lifted up. Now it is our turn.
Foreigners are not blood kin or not “one of us…don’t talk like us, eat like us, act like us.
The people who were among the Hebrews were most likely slaves or Egyptians who accompanied the Hebrews when they departed the “land of oppression and slavery.”
These foreigners were different: language, food, customs…and dangerous.
They were also vulnerable.
So God says, “Remember, you were once there. Now it is your turn.
Take care of them.
:6 “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
Those who crave what is right.
Ex. 22:21; 23:9 You were a stranger…now don’t oppress them
Prov. 31:8-9 Speak up for them
Personal responsibility to do what is right.
We can’t simply be outraged. That does no good.
We can’t make bombastic declarations that are all noise and no substance.
In every instance, we treat “foreigners” with honesty and respect, neither despising nor demeaning them.
Political responsibility to do what is right.
Have you called your legislator lately?
Have you demanded that your government act in a just and expeditious manner to resolve the issue of illegal immigration and its associated concerns?
Are you engaged in the political process, seeking to put in office genuine statesmen who have the best interests of the country, its citizens and all people at heart as opposed to personal and political agendas?
Government responsibility to do what is right.
Good government upholds law which restrains wrong-doing and promotes good behavior. Rom. 13:1-7
The “rule of law” is for the express purpose of ordering our lives so that appropriate boundaries are maintained so that we are free to pursue a full and meaningful life (the “Declaration” roughly restated.)
The church has a responsibility to do what is right.
Are we living above fear-mongering and whining?
Are we asking more of ourselves than mere protectionism and wall-building?
Are we intentionally teaching our kids the importance of obeying the law, the value of every individual, and the wrongness of bigotry?
Have we identified the issues in our neighborhood and take steps to address them?
Perhaps we should offer classes in ESL, citizenship preparation, and academic tutoring…or support ministries to the Mexican population.
:7 “the merciful…”
Those who see a need and respond without prompt.
Those who give generously with demanding pay-back.
:8 “the pure in heart…”
Those who see the other as God sees him.
We don’t even know who these people are.
I Jn. 3:2-3
Mt. 22:38; Mk. 12:30-31
Neighbor, it seems, is anyone who comes into our circle of influence who is in need. Remember that Samaritan guy?
Our first concern after loving God (indeed, in our loving of God), is figuring out how to love the people around us, including (perhaps particularly) the “illegal immigrant.”
:9 “the peacemakers…”
Those who help repair broken places.
Rom. 12:16-21; 14:19
Peace-making: dispelling fear, building trust, resolving conflict, discovering common ground upon which to build relationships.
Christians have to be “oil on the water.”
We eschew unhelpful complaining and shrill shouting.
We seek to create constructive, grace-filled, life-affirming dialogue aimed at problem-solving, not wall-building.
:10 “the persecuted for sake of righteousness…because of Jesus…”
Those who are willing to suffer because they know who holds their future.
II Tim. 3:12
I Pet. 4:12-19; 5:9-10
We are, of course, to take care of our family and obey the law and live justly and peacefully with all men.
At the bottom line, however, we are not commissioned to protect a way of life or build walls to keep people out.
We the people redeemed by Jesus Christ and bound for eternity with Him are free to live life with courage, openness, and abandonment to His provision and purpose.
We who have been rescued, healed, and reconciled are on a mission that is more profound and far-reaching than anything so mundane as money and material things and earthly security.
We are radically saved, radically called people, praying for, speaking to, loving, and reaching out to anyone in our path who is in need of hope and life….to rescue, heal, and reconcile them to God and to fellow humans.
Imagine what would happen if all Christians were committed to live the radical life to which Jesus calls us.
Imagine the impact on the culture, on the government, on immigrants, on refugees—even refugees among whom may lurk terrorists—if they saw genuine Christianity in action.
HYMN: BE STILL MY SOUL
Some things that should be considered…..
So, do we “round’em all up and send’em back”?
Let’s face it: these people are settled here. A majority of them are law-abiding and hardworking. It would be impossible to catch, convict, and send home more than 12 million of them (or however many there are.)
Besides, we pride ourselves on human rights and treating people humanely. We were founded on that principle. We are a nation of immigrants. We are all from somewhere else. Humiliation and family disruption are not very consistent with our core principles. Calling for mass deportations just isn’t a workable solution at this point.
What can be done?
Create a pathway to citizenship.
Those who are here illegally cannot go on living in constant fear of discovery and deportation.
Streamline the process.
Help them assimilate and become contributors fully to the society in which they have chosen to live.
Help them learn the language.
Devise a way for them to pay back taxes, pay current fair taxes, and earn fair pay.
Develop a temporary guest worker program for future immigrants.
Provide extra visas for highly skilled foreigners to remain here legally
Create a mandatory nationwide employment verification system.
Monitor all who come in and who are here: that can’t be so difficult in this modern technological age. There is no substitute for a nationwide system that identifies and documents all visitors. It just takes government commitment!
No program will work very well if we leave unguarded the northern and southern entry points.