Toward Reconciling Christian Belief and Immigration Policy

This post is more on the order of a provocation than a study outline and I do not propose to do what the title might suggest I intend, i.e. reconciling belief and policy.  Instead my intent here is to spur genuine conversation about what is happening in our country, what it portends for us as Americans and how we should act as Christians.

First of all some background.  The current wave of immigration being experienced in the US is, like most things in life, not a first.  While we are in a peak right now, there was a similar peak during the early 1900’s.  Most of those immigrants were from southern and eastern Europe and Ireland, and were different from the mostly Western European residents of the US at that time.  This wave also included a significant but much smaller group of Japanese and Chinese immigrants. It is only in the last 2 years the the current influx of immigrants has exceeded that of the previous as a percentage of population.

The difference appears to be, from my perspective, that the members of the immigrant wave of the last century intended that they, and especially their children, would become Americans.  This does not seem to be the case with the current wave who appear inclined to retain their old national identies.

The second major difference in my mind between the two waves, is that the first was by and large accomplished legally.  That is to say the immigrants arrived at official ports of entry and recieved offical and explicit approval to immigrate prior to entering the country.

Additionally, there were few to no social services for which the new arrivals could qualify.  They didn’t exist for anyone.  No social security, food stamps, unemployment insurance, free health care (even health insurance was virtually unknown), WIC, etc.  It just didn’t exist.  Immigrants had to find a way to make it on their own.

Discrimination after the arrival of the early 20th Century wave was indemic.  From my time spent in Boston, one of the cities at the epicenter of the influx, I can tell you that the scars and leftover feelings of that period are still evident.  There are Irish and Italian neighborhoods and the people in them don’t like each other. (As an aside, it is truly amazing to me the variety of ways we can find to hate each other.  Where none really exists, we’ll invent new ways to hate other people.)

Now lets look at the current wave.  Most of this group is arriving for the same reasons the prior group came, economics.  The are convinced that they and their children will have a better economic quality of life in the US than in their home countries.  

However, they are not arriving in a legally sanctioned manner and where the previous wave had no expectation of benefits from public social welfare programs, these programs are so pervasive today that I cannot help but think it enters the calculus of those choosing to immigrate to the US.

So, what is a Christian to do?  People are comming into this country and their first act upon entering the country is to break the law.  Is it contrary to Christian belief to insist that people obey the law?  Are the laws themselves unChristian and unjust?  What does scripture have to say, if anything, about this issue?

Even the President quoted scripture in his speech outlining his current executive order.  He quoted Exodus 22:21, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”  Is this applicable in this situation?  Why or why not?

Jesus provides us with a fully approved summary of the Hebrew law in Matthew 22:37-40.  When asked what was the greatest commandment of the law He replied “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  It is interesting to note this quote appars in the same chapter where he discussed payment of taxes to Ceasar.

The same sort of people who asked which was the greatest commandment also asked Jesus to define neighbor (what is the meaning of “is”).  He answered that question by telling the parable of the Good Samaratian.  In this case the one who acted as the neighbor to the good Jew who fell among theives was a foreigner and a despised foreigner at that.  Was the Samaratian in the country illegally?  Did he offer to pay for the injured man’s care with his money or someone else’s?

It is clear from Jesus’ teachings that we are to care for and love everyone with whom we come in contact.  Some questions:

  • Does caring for those with whom we com in contact preclude us from insisting they obey the law?
  • Are modern nation states bound by the same strictures Jesus lay’s on on individuals who would follow them? (Was it wrong for Caesar to levy a tax on the Jews?)
  • Is the sovereignty of a nation state antithetical to Christian belief and the teachings of Christ?
  • Is it the job of the United States, or any nation state, to care for people or is it our job as individual Christians?  If it is the later, how are we doing at that?