As promised, here are some of my thoughts- in no particular order- on the subject of immigration, legal and illegal.

1. Scripture and Immigration: From the story of the exile from the Garden on, Scripture is filled with the images of wanderers, exiles, and immigrants. The story of the people of Israel leaving Egypt and coming into the promised land becomes the paradigm or symbol whereby God’s covenant people are instructed to treat wayfarers and aliens, as they themselves were once strangers and wanderers. This ethic of the alien is reiterated by the Prophets, as in Jeremiah, where justice to the alien- and this is, I think, particularly significant for our contemporary situation- is related to justice done to other marginalized people:

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Jeremiah 22:3

Again, a similar ethic appears in Isaiah:

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Isaiah 58:7

The basic message of Scripture is fairly clear: God places the alien- the wanderer, the refugee- in the category of “the poor,” those who are generally left out by wider society and thus are given special attention in God’s messages lest they be forgotten and treated unjustly. This message of the Old Testament is only amplified by the New Testament, in which the old barrier between Jew and Gentile is torn down. No longer can one argue even that the alien or refugee is necessarily without the covenant people of God, as all can be included in the covenant through Christ. Thus our relationship towards all people of all origins is fundamentally changed.

What does this mean for our stance as Christians vis-a-vis immigration? We are obliged, on the one hand, to treat the immigrant with justice and indeed love, and at a fundamental level I do not see that the distinction between legal and illegal applies to how we treat the immigrant. On the other hand, we are still obliged to respect the law and it of course makes a distinction between legal and illegal. Thus the tension for the Christian is how to reconcile those on a basic, personal level. I personally have yet to encounter a particular situation in which this tension manifests itself; but it is something well worth consideration.

It should also be added that our obligation to treat the wanderer with love and justice does not mandate a particular opinion on immigration: ie open borders or tightly guarded ones. It does mean though that we must demand that all immigrants be treated by the law and its enforcers as human beings, not as objects or abstract entities. I do not see how the average illegal immigrant, who is non-violent and is not depriving anyone of their property, can be classified as a felon; the demonization of illegal immigrants current in politics and popular discourse is simply uncalled for and reprehensible. Now, while I do not think that the Christian tradition strictly calls for one immigrant policy over another, I do think that an honest open reading of Scripture calls for the most humane and open immigration policy possible. This is particularly true when one considers the rampant poverty of much of Latin America, and the fact that is is sometimes a result or aggravated by policies issuing from the US.

2. Force and Enforcing Immigration Law: It is currently in vogue to suppose that a massive wall and perhaps a massive military presence on the US-Mexican border will end illegal immigration. The assumption here is employed elsewhere: more coercive, government force, if thrown hard enough against the problem, will solve it. It is the same logic that has governed the War on Drugs for decades now, and will probably continue to be the logic driving the “War on Immigration.” In both cases the thing under assault is an essentially market phenomemon; in the case of immigration however the motivations driving it are usually much more profound and compelling than drug use. The average immigrant isn’t merely seeking personal pleasure or a quick high; he is seeking a living, an escape from dead-end economic situations. In many cases his personal desire for self-preservation and advancement is compounded by a similar desire for his family. The US has and will probably continue to be the strongest attraction for people in such a situation. Against this powerful dynamic many in the US propose essentially only force, and lots of it, as the corrective. For the problem of illegal immigrants already here, again, force alone is offered as the solution. Yet experience should demonstrate to us that mere force is rarely a truly succesful instrument, and it usually involves unjust and downright inhuman means for its completion.

Next week: The problem of assimilation, and Christ, the Church, and multiculturalism.