BIBLICAL THINKING ABOUT IMMIGRATION

Sofia[1] smiled as she greeted me and asked for the birthday that pharmacies use as identifiers. Then she frowned and said, “I don’t see that one yet,” in gently accented English, “but I will check.” Coming back to the counter she smiled again, “They are filling it now. I’ll just put your other items to the side and take care of these customers, then call you when its ready?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” I said and stepped back to watch her work. We’ve known her since she arrived as a fourth-grade student in my wife’s art class, unable to speak a word of English. My oldest daughter, home from college at the time, became one of Sofia’s first friends by using her rudimentary Spanish to help the young immigrant understand assignments. Later, she gave her life to Christ through the ministry of Young Life, which our church supports.

The pharmacy was busy, but Sofia—now a junior college student and pharmacy tech—gave each customer the same cheerful smile and professional service. It never occurred to me to ask how she got here. I was just happy to see her doing so well, enjoying her work, and learning the business from the bottom up as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor.

That happy story can be repeated millions of times all over America, as can the unhappy ones, like the increased drug trade, murders, welfare abuse, and human trafficking stories associated with illegal immigration. President Trump was elected in large part because he—famously or infamously, depending on your point of view—promised to bring illegal immigration to a screeching halt by building a wall and “making Mexico pay for it.”

Thinking Biblically about immigration means more than taking sides based on the latest heart-warming or inflammatory headline. It requires sorting through the balance between justice and compassion.

Scripture commands compassion for the stranger, as in Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”[2] Mary and Joseph, too, “found no room in the inn,” but did find refuge from the tyrant Herod as strangers in Egypt. Yet it also emphasizes justice: 20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” [3]

Empathy is easy. It comes naturally to us when we see others struggling. But empathetic compassion without justice, without something to keep it in balance, creates chaos and perverse incentives for criminal elements. Like Felix, my Uber driver earlier this month, who paid a smuggler $12,000 to get him across the Mexican border. “It’s a lot of money,” he said in a thick Cuban accent, “but safer than the Florida Straights in an overloaded boat.”  He’s working with a sponsor now to try to obtain permanent legal status, but the threat of instant deportation dogs his heels.

Barak Obama bypassed Congress when he created DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals), a clear overreach of his executive authority. Some call it a compassionate move, but not if it creates incentives for more illegal immigration. Senator Ted Cruz, in a response to WORLD Magazine’s Evan Wilt on questions about DACA, explained: “Any action on the individuals in the DACA program could potentially lead to chain migration of 3, 4, 5 million additional people here illegally.”[4] In other words, if Congress doesn’t bring justice to bear on Mr. Obama’s attempts at compassion, more chaos will ensue.

Americans, including some Christians, have a checkered past when it comes to welcoming immigrants. Even though most of our ancestors were once émigrés dreaming the American Dream, we are no strangers to bigotry. How soon we forget.

We are also oblivious to more pragmatic considerations. Birthrates are at historic lows, which is no surprise.[5] Since Roe V. Wade, we have killed 58 million babies, each a potential taxpayer. The Social Security Administration says that the fund is healthy, and fears of its collapse are unsubstantiated, but it also says benefits may need to be reduced by 25% by 2035 and taxes increased to keep it solvent.[6]

Some complain that immigrants take American jobs, but fewer Americans are willing to do the “dirty jobs” Mike Rowe made famous. Many business owners report that it’s because of our too liberal welfare system. Why work when you can eat for free? Most immigrants—even and perhaps especially the illegals—see dirty jobs as opportunities. Those kinds of jobs have always been the first step up on the multi-generational ladder of immigrant success. And the legal immigrants who work them pay taxes.

Historically, America welcomed immigration and immigrants helped build America. Biblically, we are commanded to treat them compassionately without ignoring justice and order. Politically and economically, it seems like common sense to create a path for illegals to become legal, and to reopen the doors to immigration once the injustices created by unwise compassion have been addressed.

[1] Name changed to protect privacy.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ex 22:21). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 16:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Marvin Olasky, Here to Stay? WORLD, Sept. 2017. https://world.wng.org/2017/09/here_to_stay

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/health/united-states-fertility-rate.html

[6] https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n3/v70n3p111.html