I assume most people are familiar with Chic-fil-a. Their chicken is good and their customer service is better. Their unique marketing strategy creates a paradox – using cows to sell chicken. From the cow’s perspective, it is completely self-serving. When you and I are told by sign-toting cows to “Eat More Chikin”, they are really telling us, “I benefit if you listen to me.” There is no consideration for the chicken. I’m afraid this analogy is played out repeatedly in the discussion of immigration/immigrants/refugees. Voices and opinions offered on the matter are at times self-serving and don’t take into account the people involved. We must be balanced in our approach to this delicate matter.
Matthew Soerens, U.S Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief states, “Just 12% of evangelical Christians say their views on the arrival of refugees and other immigrants are primarily informed by the Bible.” 1 So, if barely over one out of ten evangelicals allow their thoughts and opinions on refugees and immigration to be formed by Scripture, what outside forces could possibly form their opinions? I can’t speak for the remaining 88%, but I have my thoughts on two possible influencers: personal politics and fear.
A tendency exists to allow the political party we identify with to shape and influence our views on not only immigration but other weighty issues. The truth is that no political party – Republican, Democrat, Independent, or otherwise is correct all the time. It is impossible. A political party’s platform – the sum of their position on the issues that affect the daily lives of Americans (i.e., taxes, education, defense, trade, immigration) will at some time come into conflict with Scripture. Immigration is one of those issues which rubs against the Christian faith. To offer blind allegiance to a political party and refuse to acknowledge the gospel imperatives and mandates is a slippery slope.
Politics is not a pure, dependable, and informative source from which to discern truth and establish personal conviction. This assertion rests on the premise that politics is ever-changing; motivated by human thought, desire, greed, and earthly pursuit. Even the most conservative parties move with culture and progress away from the center as society evolves. If politics is the source of our opinions on immigration and its related work, that position may be different depending on the outlook and direction an individual political party takes at any given time.
We seem to fear refugees and immigrants because our national leaders have told us to be frightened. Immigration is a convenient drum to beat. It is easy to whip a crowd into a frenzy by stating that all immigrants and refugees are here to hurt us, take our jobs, and drain precious resources that should belong only to Americans. This type of rhetoric is not only untruthful but harmful. Language such as, “caravans,” “hoards,” and “invasion” serve only to polarize the nation and exaggerate what may be happening in isolated locations that are not indicative of what is taking place across the country collectively. People are most afraid of three things when it comes to immigrants and immigration: terrorism, crime, and an increased economic burden.
There is a false narrative perpetuated by the media and public officials that all immigrants are criminals and terrorists. Most immigrants are well-meaning and honest individuals and families seeking a better life. With increased security screenings at airports and ports of entry since September 11, 2001, our country has made great strides to protect the safety of those residing within our borders by ensuring those outside our borders who wish to harm innocents do not enter. There is no way to keep those who would want to harm others, regardless of the country of origin or immigration status, from acting on their desire. A 2016 article published by the Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank, revealed the terrorist threat from the immigrant community to be lower than most would believe. Consider:
A thorough analysis of all terrorist attacks since 1975 found that the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a foreigner – including the large-scale attack on September 11, 2001 – are 1 in 3.6 million annually. Since the Refugee Act of 1980, no Americans have lost their lives in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a refugee. The odds of being killed by a terrorist who came to the United States as a refugee or who was in the United States illegally are much smaller still: 1 in 3.6 billion and 1 in 10.9 billion, respectively, per year. You are about 800 times more likely to die from being struck by lightning and 17,000 times more likely to die from an accidental gunshot than by a terrorist attack perpetrated by an undocumented immigrant. The level of collective fear over the possibility of immigrant-fueled terrorism is dramatically inflated. 2
One responsibility of the government toward its citizens is to provide a safe place to live, work, and play. There are many Americans who associate immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants with crime and propensity for criminal behavior. The fear of an increased crime rate makes the mistrust of immigrants and refugees easier to rationalize. Matthew Soerens notes it is vital to understand that unlawful presence in the United States is not a crime – it is a violation of civil, not criminal law.3 Unlawful entry, which is different from unlawful presence, into the United States is a violation of criminal statute. Nearly half of the undocumented immigrants in the United States entered lawfully and overstayed their visas. 4 It is simply untrue to make blanket statements to the effect that all illegal immigrants are criminals as is commonly claimed. A March 15, 2017 article from the Cato Institute paints a different picture of the “all immigrants are criminals” argument:
One way to measure the relationship between immigration and crime is by examining incarceration: in 2014, based on US census data, 1.53% of native-born US citizens between the ages of 18 and 54 were incarcerated, but only 0.85% of undocumented immigrants and 0.47% of immigrants with legal status of the same age and cohort. 5
The American Immigration Council released a report in July of 2015 entitled, “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States.” Their findings are of particular interest, “This disparity in incarceration rates has been consistent in studies based on census data going back to at least 1990, with the incarceration rate of native-born US citizens always at least double and sometimes as much as five times the rate of immigrants.”6
Many Americans believe immigrants are an economic burden on our country: taking goods and services away from Americans. This perceived burden involves jobs, healthcare, education, and other services. There are two sides to this coin with the immigrant/refugee caught in the middle. On one side are those who feel the country is adversely affected by immigration. They believe the children of undocumented immigrants are an added financial burden on local school systems, requiring the development of new programs to meet specific needs such as English as a second language. Expenses related to teacher salaries, classroom supplies, utilities, meals, and transportation add up. Others are concerned that immigrants who are willing to accept below-average wages tend to drive down the income of native-born citizens. Still, others point to the added financial burden to an already taxed healthcare system. Hospitals cannot turn away patients from emergency services regardless of their ability to pay. Hospitals and state governments, in turn, must absorb this cost. From this vantage point, the immigrant family/refugee family is nothing more than a drain on society; leeches, takers, and non-contributors. The validity of these arguments may exist on one level, but on another level, is the financial contribution that immigrants/refugees make but from which they cannot draw any personal benefit.
A presentation by the Evangelical Immigration Table offers some insight into the push-pull argument that immigrants/refugees are takers.
- Forty% of Fortune 500 companies were founded or co-founded by an immigrant or their child.
- Twenty years after arrival, the average refugee adult has contributed approximately $21,000 more in taxes than they have received in governmental assistance and services at all levels.
- Almost all economists believe that the net economic impact of immigration on the United States is positive, including 96% of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal who believe the net economic impact of illegal immigration is positive.
- While undocumented immigrants cannot receive federal means-tested public benefits, they can and do pay taxes: In Texas, contributing $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010; Federally, contributing billions of dollars annually—from which they cannot benefit—to Social Security.
- Immigrants account for approximately 14% of the overall U.S. population but are 95% of victims of labor trafficking and 17% of sex trafficking victims in the nation, according to an analysis of the U.S. Dept. of Justice Prosecution Data by the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking.7
Soerens highlights the real issue related to wage disparity among immigrants and native-born Americans:
The possible slight negative impact of immigrants on native, low-skilled workers should not be glossed over. Instead, policymakers have a responsibility to make sure that immigrants who are here in the shadows are regularized in a system so US workers can compete fairly. Having immigrant workers is not necessarily what hurts native-born workers: what may hurt native workers in some cases is the fact that these workers are here illegally. Having undocumented immigrants, who do not have equal rights and protection under the law, allows employers an unfair competitive advantage in hiring cheap immigrant labor over native workers. This is unfair to US-citizen workers and law-abiding employers and puts immigrant workers at risk of exploitation by unscrupulous employers. 8
1 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/ uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.
2 Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 108.
3 Brett Snider, “Is Illegal Immigration a Crime? Improper Entry v. Unlawful Presence,” FindLawBlotter, July 9, 2014, http://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2014/07/is-illegal-immigration-a-crime-improper-entry-v-unlawful-presence.html.
4 Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 115.
5 Michaelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowrasteh, “Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin,” Cato Institute, March 15, 2017, www.cato.org/publications.immigration-reform-bulletin/criminal-immigrants-their-numbers-demographics-countries.
6 Walter Ewing, Danile Martinez, and Ruben Rumbaut, “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” American Immigration Council, July 2015, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/the_criminalization_of_immigration_in_the_united_states.pdf.
8 Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 132.