Immigration Reform

Arizona is hot, hot, hot. No, not the weather. SB1070.

Well, the weather is really hot too. So hot thousands of people, including women and children, have died in our desert. How crazy desperate do you have to be to risk your life for a minimum wage job?

Yet American citizens are fearful and angry. Islamaphobia is on the rise. Home prices have crashed and jobs are going away. As a result, illegal immigration is boiling on a front burner.

What to do? Christians turn to the teachings of the Bible for guidance, although what exactly Jesus would do in certain situations is not always exactly clear. It’s why we often disagree about what Scripture says about particular issues. Our national immigration crisis is no exception.

Based on broad biblical principles and specific Bible passages, a growing number of evangelical leaders are calling for comprehensive reform. Simply stated, there are three issues: the border, our need for migrant labor, and the millions of undocumented people currently living in America.

I don’t know any advocate of reform who believes in an “open border.” All of us know our border must be secured. The Bible says, “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined … the exact places where they should live.” Boundaries and borders are good.

Many advocate a “border first” policy. They believe that once the border problem is solved, we can address the other two issues. This is the safe position politically. Yet since 1986, spending on the border has increased 300%, and Congress has just set aside another $600 million for border enforcement. Crossings and apprehensions on the southern border are down, and El Paso was just named the second safest city in America! So when will the border be declared secure enough to move towards solving our compressive immigration problems?

Secondly, we Americans want lettuce and tomatoes, blueberries and watermelon–and we want ’em cheap. I’m not convinced Americans would be willing to accept the deep impact on our economy if we don’t let migrants work jobs we won’t. This points to the need for a “guest worker” program, a way for people to enter the U. S. more easily to work legally. We would also expect employers who hire migrant laborers to treat them fairly, humanely. This is Christian.

Lastly is the controversial matter of what to do with the millions of people living here illegally. The first of two extreme solutions is “amnesty,” waving the magic wand of citizenship over everyone who is already here. The other is mass deportation. Neither of these options is feasible or affordable. Or Christian. Amnesty overturns the rule of law, and deportation ignores deeper human concerns: illegal immigrants are economic refugees and they have families. We have to find something in the middle of the road, some path to legalization, not without penalties.

According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute study, a surprising 60% of evangelicals supported comprehensive reform that included a path to citizenship. According to this study, white evangelicals thought our immigration policy should be guided by four principles: enforcing the rule of law and promoting national security (89%), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (85%), protecting the dignity of every person (79%), and keeping families together (78%). Mass deportation ignores human dignity and shatters families.

Yes, we are a nation of laws, but sometimes laws are unmercifully uncompromising in the face of complex human issues. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul instructs us to respect and obey those in authority. So why was there an American Revolution? Why didn’t our Bible-believing Founding Fathers just submit to the laws of the English Crown? Or if slavery is legal, or Jim Crow laws rule the South, what part of legal don’t you understand?

Even God’s laws can be applied so rigidly that their intent is lost. Jesus cried out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23).

I have one final concern: wildly partisan politics. Our rhetoric is fever-pitch hostile, including threats of violence. We’ve lost the art of purposeful and civil problem solving. Polarization and incivility have paralyzed us.

For the Christian, human “anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20). The strength of the church is not political and our heroes are not the hotheads on talk radio. Our strength is our compassion, our humility, our meekness and civility, our wisdom deeply rooted in Scripture, and our healing presence in in a world of pain.

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