Kindness to the Immigrant

Immigration reform is often a sticky issue, especially in the Church. Last year alone, 724,000 illegal immigrants were caught at the border. While this was the lowest since 1973, it nonetheless represents a vast number of people with a desperate desire to enter the United States. The issue of immigration is highly politicized, with opponents of legalizing those who entered the country illegally saying that the economy cannot sustain the influx of undocumented workers, while proponents say that legalization would increase the government's net revenue by $65 billion over the next decade.

The issue becomes even more complex, though, for Christians. While many may favor tighter border security and better enforcement of immigration laws, there is also the biblical mandate to care for aliens and strangers within our country. Couple this with Jesus' assertion that whatever we do to the least of these, we do to Him, and immigration becomes a much more human issue, with concerns that go deeper than political leanings.

In a June 11 press teleconference, faith leaders gathered to discuss the intricacies of immigration reform as they relate to faith. According to the leaders present, the current American immigration policy is not only ineffective at stemming the tide of illegal entry, it puts those trying to come to the United States at risk. Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, described the conditions and dangers faced by people seeking to enter the States, saying: "This past week, 27 undocumented immigrants from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador were involved in a rollover accident in a Ford Excursion that killed 8 persons and injured several others in Southern Arizona. A comment by the police was, ‘We see the people stacked like wood frequently. Our immigration policy is killing people, and border enforcement alone is not the answer.’"

Because many impoverished people cannot afford the immigration process through legal means, they end up trying to enter the country in an extremely dangerous fashion. It is estimated that two immigrants each day die in their trek to the border. With the combination of a difficult legal immigration process and lax border security, it is difficult to deter people from attempting the trek in spite of the risks.

"They have come to our cities looking to find a better life for their families, because they know that if they make it into the USA they will be given jobs—jobs that many Americans won't do," Castellanos said. "So immigrants come because there are jobs and they will do whatever it takes to support their families, like many of us would do if we were in their situation."

Castellanos believes that the answer to the problem is threefold. "[First we must have] a pathway for citizenship," Castellanos said. "The second would be a guest worker program with an adequate number of visas. In addition, make sure there are border protection stipulations in there. The systems we have in place must be enforced this time. I think those three elements are the elements necessary for comprehensive immigration reform. It reconciles the rule of law component with mercy and compassion."

Beyond increasing security and streamlining the work visa process, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis believes that people of faith have to make compassionate immigration reform a priority. "This is a faith issue. It isn’t just a political issue or a special interest issue," Wallis said. "It’s a matter of faith for us. The way we treat the stranger is the way we treat Jesus Himself."

Wallis and Castellanos also target the deportation of illegal immigrants as an area in need of reform. "I recently got a call from a pastor who was asking me for help for one of his undocumented members who had been arrested for a minor traffic violation," Castellanos said. "He was terrified that he would be deported and his families would be left alone."

Wallis agreed, saying: "Family values are at stake here. When you’re separating families, you’re getting to the heart of our Christian conviction."

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Moreover, Castellanos believes that the current immigration policy unduly punishes those who entered the country illegally as children. "In one of our local ministries a young woman is suffering under the current immigration system," he said. "She was brought to the U.S. before her fifth birthday, so in reality she’s much more American than she is Mexican. She is very motivated to succeed, but she has no hope of attending college due to the current laws that require undocumented students to pay out of state tuition in her state. Like thousands of other young men and women in her situation, she is ready to study, ready to work, ready to contribute to our nation and ready to do whatever it takes to become a citizen of our nation, but there is no opportunity to do so."

Wallis and Castellanos agree that providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants is a key component of immigration reform. The majority of Americans seem to share this sentiment. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of the public favors "providing a way for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to gain legal citizenship."

Regardless of the political nature of the debate, both the right and left seem to agree that our immigration system is in need of reform. More importantly, people of faith from both ends of the political spectrum can agree that the situation must be handled with compassion. According to Wallis, the root of immigration reform is inextricably tied to faith, and is building a groundswell of unity among Christians of every political ilk. "What you’re hearing is a rising tide of Christian faith saying this is for us. This is something we can't ignore," he says. "You see a unity. You see a consensus. You see a movement building. Something is now about to happen."




TravelingTwinkie commented…


I definitely see what you're saying, but the thing is, I don't know any illegal immigrants who came to the States to avoid paying taxes. They would pay their taxes if they could become legal. I guess I'm also more okay than most about my money going to support children who don't get food if their school doesn't feed them. And yes, I know I'm painting an overly simplistic picture, but the US government also funds AIDS programs in Africa with our tax dollars. For me, it comes down to what I can do about the problems with immigration. There are a lot of people who are already in this country; what are we going to do about them? We could turn up our noses because their existence makes us pay more for insurance, or we can reach out to them when they're in need. I, for one, don't care whether someone is legally American or legally Mexican - they all have the same needs. So whether they're a Wall Street broker or a McDonald's dishwasher, we're called to love them as Christians. For me, just because the broker is here legally and has white skin doesn't mean that he deserves a better life than the dishwasher.

Also, be careful about who you decide is illegal. Just because they're Hispanic doesn't make them illegal. The illegal immigrants I know don't drive nice Escalades; one returns to Mexico every year to see his wife and daughters that are still there. (I have no idea how he continued to get in and out.) Just don't lump them altogether in one group if you don't really know them.



jason commented…

I did not use the word "Hispanic." And yes, I drive by several areas illegal aliens live, and see their vehicles, which consist of Escalades, and many other more expensive vehicle with expensive wheels and such that I certainly can't afford, because I am spending so much of my tax money on taking care of these leeches. And that's what they are.

Now as a Christian do I love them? Of course. Do I wish them bad? No. But do I think they should abide by the same rules I do. Of course. Your sentence, "just because the broker is here legally and has white skin doesn't mean that he deserves a better life than the dishwasher.." leaves out a couple of key points. One is, it has nothing to do with skin color. There are people of many colors and heritages who are here legally, whether born here or not. Second, everyone who plays by the rules deserves to reap the benefits of this nation. Given that they participate as we are all called to do. Learn the language, assimilate. Pay taxes, follow our laws, contribute positively to our communities.

"We could turn up our noses because their existence makes us pay more for insurance, or we can reach out to them when they're in need." Wow, where do I start? For starters, I support a lot of work in Africa, and if you want to see people who need our help, there are many other places worse off. The fact is, there are endless places of need in this world today to different levels of degrees, even in our own back yards. We can't reach out to everyone. And I am not turning my nose up to these people, I am trying to do all I can to stay afloat my wife and I, legally and ethically, I might add. I can't take care of anyone else right now, especially people who choose to break our laws to do it. Again, read the Bible at how God balances justice and mercy.



TravelingTwinkie commented…

But how are we loving them? This is my key question, not just for you, but for everyone out there, including myself. What are we doing or what can we do as Christians to love illegal immigrants? Because it certainly isn't defending or attacking their actions on a message board. I guess it's kind of a tangent from the argument, but the argument isn't really doing any good. You aren't going to change your opinion just because of something I say, and I'm not going to change yours.

Anyway, I would disagree that God's definition of justice has anything to do with the laws of the country we live in. I would also argue that describing illegal immigrants as "leeches" doesn't really help anyone. Neither you or I or them can do anything about the fact that they are currently illegally living in the US. What we can do is change the way that we respond to them, the way we look at them. If all you see is someone who drives a big car and should pay taxes, then that will likely change the way you treat them.

And no, we can't reach out to everyone. And yes, the poverty is definitely greater in Africa - I used to live overseas, you don't have to tell me that. But would it be better if these same people were living in actual poverty in Mexico? It just seems paradoxical to be willing to help poor people who are in other countries, and to not want to care for those who are in our country doing something about their poverty. If it was an African child soldier who came here illegally, would we have the same response?



TravelingTwinkie commented…

Oh I forgot - I didn't mean to imply that you thought everyone who was Hispanic is illegal, though I know it sounded that way. I just think it can be easy to blanket everyone that lives in an area or is of a certain race as illegal. I'm just saying that some of those people who are driving Escalades might not be as illegal as you think.


Cicero commented…

How can we legalize tens of millions of illegal immigrants without giving the green light to scores of millions more would-be immigrants from the Third World?

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