The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 9

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

This past week I was engaged by a person on Twitter who took offense to a post I shared. The post highlighted the biblical fact that God cares about all races of people and that His church will be made up of people from every tribe and nation. It went on to say we cannot lift one nation over other nations. The response was swift. A professing Christian told me:

You support illegals just waltzing in here playing dumb victims. They play the game for gain. I’ve been around these ppl. Been to El Salvador. These ppl have NO respect for our country. They’re racist and envious. The Bible says follow the law of the land. You are confused. And I can’t believe you run a church.

This response is not that far of a departure from the position I believe many Americans hold toward immigrants and immigration. We assume erroneously that the actions and attitudes of a subset are reflective and indicative of the whole. We think we’re better because we live in the United States. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your country. Lest I be accused, I am proud of my country. I volunteered to serve her and fight on her behalf. When it comes to the value of life, American lives are worth the same as the Honduran, the Guatemalan, the Mexican, the Chinese, the Turk, or the Iraqi. Because we live in the United States, we enjoy blessings these nations do not. Hence the desire and longing of millions to be a part.

You may ask why I chose to title this series, “The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners.” To demonize is to “portray as wicked or threatening.” Is there a demonization occurring today? I believe there is. The person who engaged me online used language portraying immigrants and as wicked and threatening. Mild language compared to much of what we hear and see printed every day about immigrants, refugees, and foreigners. It is difficult to watch as millions of non-native born people in this country are viewed as a step below everyone else. It is difficult to watch the same people who risk personal safety and possible imprisonment to provide a better way of life for the families treated with disdain, disrespect, and suspicion. It saddens and angers me to listen to our current administration refer to these people as “animals” and other derogatory terms in an attempt to portray them as somehow less than human.

The treatment of immigrants (documented and undocumented) and immigration policy reform are areas where I disagree with the tone, tenor, and direction of our current administration. Whether intended or not, the current administration is portraying itself as anti-immigrant, in my estimation. Steps have been taken, and threats have been issued to punish immigrants (documented and undocumented) and make their lives increasingly more difficult. Note the following:

  • In July of this year, the current administration tightened restrictions on asylum seekers at America’s southern border than were believed to be too far-reaching. 1
  • In July of this year, the current administration considered capping the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2020 at zero; in essence, ending the Refugee Resettlement Program. No decision yet. 2
  • In March 2018, the current administration ended DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA allowed undocumented children (Dreamers) who came to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to remain in the country while citizenship applications were processed. 3
  • This past month the current administration threatened to end birthright citizenship – protection guaranteed by the 14th amendment. 4
  • This past month the current administration advocated allowing migrant families to be detained longer than the previous 20-day period pending case review. 5
  • This past month the current administration announced a new “public charge” rule expanding the government’s ability to reject green cards for immigrants using or deemed likely to use food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid, and other forms of public assistance 6. This policy affects legal immigrants – those who did everything right.
  • This past month, the current administration eliminated protection that lets immigrants remain in the country and avoid deportation while they or their relatives receive life-saving medical treatments or endure other hardships. 7
  • This past month, the current administration issued a confusing update to US Customs and Immigration Service policy stating “some” children of U.S. government employees and service members who live abroad may not be considered to be residing in the U.S. for the purposes of automatically acquiring citizenship. This guidance replaced the previous language saying any child born of a U.S. government official or service member abroad would automatically acquire citizenship. 8

I understand there is more involved in the above policy decisions than I have covered. I also understand security was/is a likely factor in these decisions. When taken as a whole, a portrait emerges of an administration who appears impatient with, and increasingly intolerant toward those who desire to call America home. Our words, actions, attitudes, and decisions tell the story of our life. You may say, “You’re a Christian pastor. You shouldn’t criticize the president and other government leaders. You should pray for them.” I am. I’m not. I do. To disagree with is not the same as to criticize. As a Christian, I have a fundamentally different position on this subject than does the president. To openly disagree is a freedom we enjoy that many around the world do not.

The intent of this article is to highlight the person of the immigration debate. I hope I’ve done that. There is grave danger in the use of the word “all” in discussions like this one. To say, “all immigrants are criminals” and “all immigrants and refugees are here to take and steal jobs” casts an unfair shadow on those whose motives are pure and right. Regardless of a person’s government-issued status, they are first and foremost image-bearers of God worthy of respect. If professing Christians refuse to demonstrate concern, love, compassion, and common decency to someone because they may be undocumented, we say something to them the Bible does not. We need laws. We need borders. We need a new awareness of the human being. We need to look over the walls and through the detention facility fences and see each one as a human being created in God’s image longing to live free and pursue happiness.  Let’s start there.

__________________

1 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-administration-announces-major-crackdown-on-asylum-seekers

2 https://thehill.com/policy/international/453908-trump-admin-considering-cutting-number-of-refugees-accepted-into-us-to

3 https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/trump-dreamers-daca-immigration-announcement-n798686

4 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-renews-threat-birthright-citizenship

5 Ibid.

6 https://www.insider.com/trump-administration-public-charge-reject-green-cards-immigrants-government-aid-2019-8

7 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/immigrants-with-special-medical-status-ordered-to-leave-us/2019/08/26/8ba36488-c81c-11e9-9615-8f1a32962e04_story.html?noredirect=on

8 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/uscis-policy-citizenship-children-government-employees-born-overseas

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 8

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

My previous two posts have explored a bipartisan solution to the ongoing immigration problem offered by the Evangelical Immigration Table. Their Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform contains six principles believed to be necessary for meaningful immigration reform. So far, we have explored:

  1. Respecting the God-given Dignity of Every Person
  2. Protecting the Unity of the Immediate Family
  3. Respecting the Rule of Law
  4. Guaranteeing Secure National Borders

Principle #5: Ensuring Fairness to Taxpayers

Of the many concerns over immigration, the negative economic impact on U.S. citizens is one of the foremost. Meaningful immigration reform must be fair to U.S. taxpayers. Scripture teaches us to care for and provide for the most vulnerable of our society: orphans, widows, children, the disabled, the elderly, etc. Beyond this, everyone is expected to pull their own weight and provide for themselves. We would be correct in expecting immigrants and refugees to work and not depend exclusively on government programs.

About immigrants, it is common today to hear such things as “They’re only here to steal our jobs.”, “They’re only takers.”, “Why should we have to pay for them?”, “We should take care of our own citizens first.” Statements such as these assume the motive of the immigrant- both documented and undocumented. Comments such as these come from the place of anger, hatred, and ignorance and are inflammatory, misleading, and partially biased. In short, many believe immigrants of all statuses are a drain on the U.S. economy at the local, state, and federal levels. Simply not true.

Overall, immigrants have a higher labor participation rate than native-born U.S. citizens. 1 Matthew Soerens wrote, “Most immigrants are paying taxes- taken out of their payroll checks for Social Security, Medicare, and income tax, as well as sales tax and property taxes- thus their presence involves an input of funds into the governmental coffers. It is estimated that half of the undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, but because undocumented immigrants are not eligible for most federal benefits, undocumented immigrants have heavily subsidized Social Security without being able to benefit from it.” 2 Undocumented immigrants paid $12 billion more in payroll taxes into Social Security Trust Funds than what they were qualified to receive in benefits in 2010. 3 A Florida study found that the average immigrant paid about $1,500 more in taxes than they received in benefits. 4 Much of the attention is on the immigrant taking advantage of the system. It is the high point of hypocrisy to criticize the working immigrant who may utilize the few government services available to them and not criticize the able-bodied U.S. citizen who does not want to work and is dependent on government services.

The fact still exists that some undocumented immigrants have not fully paid their taxes, which is, admittedly, not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. Meaningful immigration reform should address this issue on several fronts. First, a path to legal citizenship should ensure taxpayers are treated fairly through a process of restitution on behalf of the undocumented immigrant. I will share more about this in the next section. Second, employers who knowingly employ undocumented immigrants to gain an unfair labor advantage should face fines and penalties proportionate to their violation. These unscrupulous employers are the real disservice to the U.S. taxpayer.

Principle #6: Establishing a Path Toward Legal Status and/or Citizenship for Those Who Qualify and Who Wish to Become Permanent Residents

If it were possible today to stop all illegal entry into the U.S. through border crossings and overstaying visas, the issue remains – the fate of those already in the U.S. There are only two viable options for remedy. First, mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants. This draconian nuclear option would be the ultimate logistical nightmare, as well as an economic impossibility. Newsweek published an article in 2015 detailing the cost of deportation. The numbers are staggering:

Based on previous analysis from the Center for American Progress, a mass deportation strategy would cost an average of $10,070 per person, for a total of $114 billion to remove 11.3 million people. This figure includes the high costs that would be required to find each and every unauthorized individual. Finding every single person without legal status would be a logistical nightmare that would cause significant social and emotional damage to entire communities. CAP’s $114 billion estimate also includes the cost to detain these individuals while they wait for removal, to process them through the immigration courts and to transport them abroad. While $114 billion represents a startling sum of money, it is only the direct cost of physically deporting unauthorized immigrants. The cost to the overall economy would likely be far more. The conservative American Action Forum, or AAF, has argued that it would take 20 years to accomplish a mass deportation program, with a full cost between $420 billion and $620 billion. Beyond being prohibitively costly and morally unsustainable, removing so many individuals from the country—and from the labor force—would devastate the nation: The Bipartisan Policy Center calculates that deporting all unauthorized immigrants would shrink the labor force by 6.4 percent over two decades, which AAF estimates would decrease U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, by a full $ 1.6 trillion. 5

The second option is a pathway to citizenship for those who are already here. I am not referring to amnesty. Amnesty is the forgetting of an offense. To grant amnesty to the millions of undocumented immigrants who are in the U.S. would be pretending they had not broken the law. To do so would violate the principle of the rule of law. Meaningful immigration reform must include an earned legalization process that honors the law, is fair to taxpayers, and seeks to keep families together.

This earned legalization process should include some form of restitution. Immigrants who are in the U.S. without documentation should be allowed to come forward, acknowledge breaking the law, and pay a fine proportionate to the time in the U.S.  Having come forward declaring their desire to come out of the shadows and become a citizen, the next step would be a criminal background check. Those found having committed violent crimes would be deported. Immigrants successfully passing background checks should then be allowed temporary legal status for a period time while fines are paid and self-support is secured. If all requirements are met after a specified time, they would be able to apply for permanent citizenship.

For “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, the restitution should not apply since they did not make the decision to come to the U.S. illegally. According to a recent Lifeway Research poll, more than two-thirds of American Evangelical Christians support an earned legalization process coupled with improved border security. 6 In “Thinking Biblically About Immigrants and Immigration Reform”, the Evangelical Immigration Table wrote:

Were elected officials to pursue a restitution-based legalization process for qualifying immigrants, it would give these immigrants the chance to earn their way back into right standing with the U.S. government, which would be a tremendous relief to them and a reaffirmation of the importance of the rule of law. An earned pathway to legal status would legitimize the long-term presence of these immigrants in their communities. This process would invite the formerly undocumented to participate fully and completely in American society, finally being able to add their strands of colorful fabric to the great and beautiful tapestry that is the United States of America. 7

__________________

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, “Foreign-Born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics – 2017,” May 17, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/forbrn.pdf

Soerens and Yang. Welcoming the Stranger. p.129

Stephen Gross, et al, “Effects of Unauthorized Immigration on the Actuarial Status of the Social Security Trust Funds,” Social Security Administration Office of the Chief Actuary, actuarial n.151, April 2013, www.ssa.gov/oact/notes/pdf_notes/note151.pdf

Emily Eisenhauer, et al. “Immigrants in Florida: Characteristics and Contributions” (Florida International University, May 2007), 7,34

https://www.newsweek.com/how-much-would-it-cost-deport-all-undocumented-immigrants-364316

6 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.

“Thinking Biblically About Immigrants and Immigration Reform” (Evangelical Immigration Table) ebook.pdf 27.

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 7

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

Principle #3: Respecting the Rule of Law

We are a nation of laws. Laws that are written, distributed, enforced, and amendable are the hallmark of a civilized society. They provide boundaries and allow for punishment when an individual or organization operates outside prescribed boundaries. Laws keep the train on the track, the plane in the air, and the ship afloat. Our society operates under a principle known as the rule of law. According to the United Nations, the rule of law is, “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”1

Laws should consistently be enforced and should apply to everyone all the time. No one is above and beyond the reach of the law. Without the rule of law, chaos resides. Without the rule of law, power can be bought and brokered. Without the rule of law, there becomes a hierarchy of laws – some will be enforced, and some will not. When applied to comprehensive immigration reform, this principle deals with the response to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

Conservative non-partisan estimates place the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. between 10.7 and 12 million. 2 A little more than half crossed a border illegally, while an estimated 4.5 million entered legally on temporary visas but overstayed their visas. 3 Is it possible for Christians to show love and compassion for the illegal immigrant while respecting and obeying the law of our land? That is one of the questions at the heart of the immigration debate.

Scripture speaks to the importance of the rule of law. Paul told the church at Rome that every believer is subject to the governing authorities God has ordained. He went on to explain how government should appropriately function, namely to serve the common good, maintain order, and punish those who do wrong. 4 Christians should be sensitive to the reasons why individuals/families choose to violate immigration laws. These reasons are often economical. Other reasons include physical safety and family reunification. Regardless of the reasons and means of entry (border crossing or overstaying a visa), intentional violation of the law is not the answer. What then?

When laws violate the conscience and Word of God, believers are admonished to choose God and not man. Scripture records the stories of Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego, Daniel, and the Hebrew midwives of Exodus who chose God over the government. To compare dysfunctional immigration laws to the call for idol worship in Nebuchadnezzar’s days is unfair. However, there are laws within the immigration system that could be considered unjust through the lens of Scripture.

Discussing federal law, in 1830, American lawyer, politician, and orator Daniel Webster wrote, “It is the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.” With ignoring the violation of law through amnesty a dismissal of the rule of law, reform is the only viable option. Few would argue that current immigration laws are sufficient and just. Respecting the rule of law includes advocating for the change of laws that are unjust and do not function properly. Every attempt should be made to deter illegal immigration (secure borders, clearer enforceable laws, etc.) and facilitate legal immigration (streamlined citizenship processes, clear pathways to citizenships, etc.) Respecting the rule of law should also include honoring the nation’s laws that offer asylum to those who possess a well-founded fear in their home country. The U.S. cannot admit everyone who comes to the border; I understand that. But, to respect the law and dignity of every person, each one with a fear of harm if returned to their home country should be given a fair hearing. This practice is in keeping with the best of the values of the United States.

Principle #4: Guaranteeing Secure National Borders

Christians want to be part of a nation that is compassionate toward and welcoming of immigrants. Christians also want to be safe. Comprehensive immigration reform must find a way to balance the two concerns. Citizens should expect their government to ensure the borders of our nation are secure; capable of keeping out those who would want to inflict harm. This position is consistent with the government’s role, as described in Romans 13. Immigration reform that secures our borders must include elements such as physical barriers and walls, funding for increased technology to track violent individuals, an increase in the number of border patrol agents, immigration judges and lawyers, and detention facilities. However, protection should not mean isolation. Those fleeing persecution and threat of loss of life should be allowed, as the law prescribes, to request asylum and submit to a rigorous vetting process. To arbitrarily declare an individual cannot seek asylum at our nation’s border is a violation of long-standing law, as well as an infringement upon the principle of the rule of law.

The best way to reduce illegal immigration is to replace our current failing, dysfunctional immigration system with a healthy, functional system capable of handling the numbers of families seeking entry into the U.S. and ensuring the safety of our citizens. I would dare say a long, dangerous, and expensive trip across the Mexican border would not be the first and best choice of anyone. Who willingly says, “I want to get caught by border patrol agents. I want to be confined to crowded and unsanitary detention facilities. I want to be away from my family for an unknown number of years.” Our nation’s current policies, systems, and under-staffed immigration facilities often make this the only option for a person seeking a better life. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying many in this position are left to make the best wrong choice.

A functional immigration system that streamlines the overall process, encourages legal immigration, and respects the dignity and worth of the individual while allowing our federal agencies to improve border security is the best answer for the safety of Americans.

__________________

1 – https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/what-is-the-rule-of-law/

2 – Bryan Baker, “Estimates of the Illegal Alien Population Residing in the United States: January 2015,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, December 2018, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/ default/files/publications/18_1214_PLCY_pops-est-report.pdf.

3 – Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin, “The 2,000 Mile Wall in Search of a Purpose: Since 2007 Visa Overstayers Have Outnumbered Undocumented Border Crossers by Half a Million,” Journal on Migration and Human Security, 2017, https://cmsny.org/publications/jmhs-visa-overstays-border-wall/.

4 – Romans 13:1-4

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 6

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

In my last post, I shared with you the statement put forward by the Evangelical Immigration Table – a six-point solution to immigration reform. Each principle considers a different nuance of the overall debate. Today I share my thoughts on the first two.

 

Principle #1: Respecting the God-given Dignity of Every Person

Any meaningful reform must include language and action which respects every person, regardless of nation of origin, immigration status, race, or religion.  Every person is made in the image of God and possesses infinite worth and value (Genesis 1:26-27). King David spoke of God intimately knowing him, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 138:16). People are not mistakes, nor are they problems needing to be solved. David’s words inform us that every person was fashioned before a first breath was taken outside the womb. Because all humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Creator (Psalm 139:14), each one is worthy of respect.

When applied to comprehensive immigration reform, the value of life should result in intentional protection of life. A portion of U.S. immigration laws deals with asylum seekers and refugee resettlement. These rules are intended to protect vulnerable people who possess a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The U.S. has a long history of extending a lifeline to those suffering in other countries through refugee resettlement. In 1948, 1953, 1960, 1968, and 1980, the U.S. passed notable immigration laws allowed resettlement beginning with those of post-World War II Europe and extending to those in war-torn countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.1 This protection also included the nations under the control of tribal warlords and revolutionary armies slaughtering their people (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, etc.). Footnote 2 The world sees the U.S. as a beacon of hope, liberty, and safety. To many around the world who live amid persecution, threats of violence, starvation, and the fear of human trafficking, the U.S. is the only hope for living a meaningful and productive life.

The number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. annually has a cap. Under the Refugee Act of 1980 (one of the laws mentioned above), the President consults with Congress to establish the overall refugee admissions ceiling at the beginning each year. In 2017, the refugee ceiling increased 29 percent from the previous year to 110,000.  The care for the plight of the refugee appears to be waning under the current administration. A pair of executive orders issued early in the year adjusted the 2017 admissions to 50,000. 3 The subsequent annual numbers have decreased: 45,000 (2018), 30,000 (2019). A distinct possibility exists that the annual refugee resettlement number for 2020 could be as low as zero. 4 While these numbers are not the single barometer of the administration’s care and concern for the welfare of persons in harm’s way, they do communicate a lack of overall concern.

Not only should the dignity of life be protected, but it should be apparent in the way we speak to and about others. James told us there is a propensity for our tongues to, “bless our God and Father, and with it curse men who have been made in the similitude of God” (James 3:9). Anti-immigrant rhetoric is not helpful or God-honoring, nor is it a positive way forward. Immigrants are not “animals”, “killers”, invaders”, “criminals”, or “scum.” Soerens wrote, “If we forget, obscure, or deny that any particular group of people [are fully] human, we lose the ability to imagine ourselves in their circumstances and to act with compassion. We dehumanize them, but we also pave the way for action that ultimately dehumanizes us.” 5

Principle #2: Protecting the Unity of the Immediate Family

It is the firm and fixed belief of Evangelicals that God intended the family unit to be the bedrock of society. It would serve as the primary place of nurturing and instruction for children. God established the family unit (Genesis 2:18-24) before He ordained the church (Matthew 16:18) and the government (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1). The story of the Bible and its people moves through families. God made a covenant with Abraham and His descendants (Genesis 17:7). The Old Testament is replete with exhaustive genealogies utilizing the phrase, “…begat…”, denoting generations of family units. The Gospel writers Matthew and Luke include genealogies tracing the path of Jesus from heaven to human flesh – through family units.

We have all seen the pictures and read the stories in recent months of children separated from parents and husbands separated from their wives at border checkpoints. The media has educated the public as to the extent of family separation at border-crossing facilities allowed by current Customs and Border Patrol policies. When applied to comprehensive immigration reform, the importance of the family unit should move the government to prioritize it as often as is applicable. Families should be able to stay together except when a child’s physical or emotional well-being is in jeopardy.

I understand that the preservation of the family cannot be the top priority for CBP agents. Without a doubt, they are overworked, overburdened, and likely frustrated with ever-changing rules and guidelines. Whether at initial arrest or deportation hearings, the preservation of the family should be a factor balanced among laws and policies. Ultimately the victims of any government-sanctioned separation policy are the children of the undocumented immigrant. For a moment, put yourself in the place of the undocumented immigrant detained at the border for only wanting to make a better life for his/her family, knowing full well that their actions are illegal. Language, crowded detention facilities, shortages of immigration lawyers, overworked courts, an administration who appears at times to be anti-immigrant, and extraordinarily long wait times for court hearings are just a few of the barriers facing those who survive the journey to this country.

Upon arrest, detained immigrants may be refused the opportunity to properly ensure a safe place for their children with the foster care system a likely result. Hearings to determine the immediate future of the child will likely take place away from the detention centers where parents are held. Distance makes it more difficult for caseworkers to maintain contact and reduces the parent’s ability to care for their children who are likely in foster care. Unable to care for their children due to detention, undocumented immigrants face the risk of permanent separation through the termination of parental rights. 6

To say that I am over-simplifying this is like saying the Titanic is big. Many have spilled gallons of ink covering the issue of immigration – yet we are still without meaningful reform. I guess I am just one more voice, a few more drops of ink spilled hoping to bring the seriousness of this matter from 30,000 feet to ground level.

__________________

1 – https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Refugees_Asylees_2017.pdf

2 – Ibid.

3 – Ibid.

4 – https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/17/politics/pompeo-trump-refugee-asylum-levels/index.html

5 – Soerens, Matthew. “We Must Speak With Care on Contentious Issues,” The American Spectator, Jan 15, 2019, https://spectator.org/we-must-speak-with-care-on-contentious-issues/.

6 – http://nbclatino.com/2013/03/12/opinion-immigration-reform-must-keep-families-together-protect-children/

 

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 5

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

Few would argue the legal quagmire that is the current US immigration system needs meaningful reform. Any reform should accomplish two things. First, it must uphold the country’s right to protect itself and establish laws for entry and residence and provide appropriate punishment for violators of the law. Second, it should encourage legal immigration, streamline the process in terms of waiting periods for hearings, restructure the immigration fees, and promote the humane treatment of immigrants and refugees.

Stories involving immigration, refugees, asylum seekers, deportation, detention facilities, and calls for reform permeate the nightly news. People on both sides of the aisle are frustrated and readily acknowledge reform is in the best interest of everyone. People on both sides of the aisle consistently misrepresent, malign, and mischaracterize the other. People on both sides of the aisle have strong convictions shaped by factors such as experiences with immigrants (good and bad), Scripture, rule of law, fear, economic, and political gain.

For decades, immigration reform occupied congressional agendas. Reform packages made their way through the Congress and to the president’s desk but have unfortunately found their death at the hands of partisan politics. All the while, leaving millions of immigrants with little to no relief as the immigration structure collapses on itself.

In addition to the comprehensive congressional reform packages not signed into law, non-profits, religious institutions, and immigrant/refugee advocacy groups have offered possible solutions to one of the most complicated problems facing this country today. Election season has brought a flurry of reform packages from candidates vying for the Oval Office. Suffice to say the options for improvements are there. The need is to embrace reform that protects the interests of the parties involved- namely immigrants and the country of destination.

One such organization advocating for reform is the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT). Formed in 2012, EIT is a movement of evangelical Christians from various denominations, ethnicities, and political perspectives who came together to encourage biblical thinking about immigration issues and in the public square. A few of the organizations comprising the EIT include the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, World Relief, World Vision, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.  In 2012, a number of these leaders drafted and publicly affirmed an Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform. These leaders recognized two things. First, the Bible does not provide a detailed immigration policy for the United States. Second, there is room for Christians to disagree on the best legislative remedy for repairing the current national immigration system. Their statement reads:

Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic, and political crisis in America. Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name-calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other’s positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportation of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost. We urge our nation’s leaders to work together with the American people to pass immigration reform that embodies these key principles and that will make our nation proud. As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:

  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protecct the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Estabishes a path toward legal status or citizenship for those who qulaify and  who wish to become premanent residents

I have affixed my signature and affirmed my support of this statement along with thousands of other pastors, denominational leaders, seminary presidents, and parachurch ministry leaders. Over the next few posts, I will explore these six principles in more detail.

 

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 4

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

For Evangelical Christians, our final and binding authority on all areas of faith and practice, whether it be moral, civil, political, or social is the Bible. It is not the court system. It is not the president of the United States. It is not conservative or liberal radio and cable news programs. It is not the political pundits with an agenda to advance. It is not any social media platform. It is not a Republican, Democratic, or any other mainstream, extremist, or left-leaning political party.

Too often, Christians do not look to the Scriptures to inform their views, opinions, and convictions on day-to-day matters such as relationships, finances, forgiveness, human worth, and the family unit. Immigration too is a subject that suffers from the lack of biblical scrutiny and understanding. In a recent survey conducted by a Lifeway Research poll commissioned by the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief 1, 1000 evangelicals answered this question, “Which one of the following has influenced your thinking the most on immigration?” The results:

  • 17% – Immigrants you have interacted with
  • 16% – Friends and family
  • 16% – The media
  • 12% – The Bible
  • 11% – Immigrants you have observed
  • 5% – Position of an elected official
  • 2% – Your local church
  • 1% – Your teachers and professors
  • <1% – National Christian leaders
  • 21% – Not sure

Two areas of concern emerge from the results. First, when it comes to the source of influence regarding immigration, more evangelical look to the media, their local church, and national Christian leaders combined than they do the Bible. Second, more than 20% are unsure – meaning it is likely a subject to which they give little thought (my conclusion).  I found the results shocking and disturbing. Why would the Bible rank so low as a source of information for evangelicals? I have two possible reasons.

First, perhaps the Bible says what we do not want it to say because it does not align with other already-formed opinions. Second, maybe we believe the Bible is silent about this issue. Yes and no. If you approach the Bible in search of a narrow, specific one-size-fits-all, hard-and-fast, all-questions-answered, not-too-messy immigration policy easily applied to our nation, then yes, the Bible is silent. However, if you approach the Bible allowing the canon of Scripture – the Old Testament principles, commandments, instructions, and nuances, along with the New Testament imperatives, doctrines, and from-the-mouth words of Jesus Christ to provide a comprehensive view on how to treat immigrants and view immigration in its entirety, the Bible is certainly not silent.

Scripture is rich with stories of real people with clear instructions as to how the Israelites were to treat foreigners who would live within their borders. In his book, Christians at the Border; Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, evangelical Old Testament scholar David Carroll asserts that many of the most prominent characters of the Bible were themselves, at one point or another, immigrants, crossing borders to reside in another land.

Reasons for the migrations of people throughout Scripture strike a similar chord to the migrations of people today. The movement was, at times, hunger driven by famine. Such was the case with Abraham (Gen. 12:10), Isaac (Gen. 26:1), Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:1). Others moved against their will: Joseph, the Northern and Southern kingdoms into exile, and Daniel. Some migrated due to God’s providential calling, specifically Abraham and the Israelites out of Egypt. In many ways, the reasons that forced people of the Old Testament to migrate to other lands are similar to the factors that move people from country to country today: displacement by war, famine, opportunities for work, a better way of life and livelihood, and the reunification of families, to name a few.

In addition to the real stories of real people moving between nations, the Old Testament paints an unambiguous picture of the character of God toward the vulnerable. Immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers are vulnerable today. In their native land, they are vulnerable. Political corruption, crime, hunger, human trafficking, genocide, and poverty reduce family stability and increase the likelihood of suffering, family separation, and death. In this country, they are vulnerable as well. Immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers face unsafe working conditions, inhumane living conditions, family separations, exploitation by unscrupulous business owners, mock and scorn by the native-born, and politicians who use their plight to bolster poll numbers and fuel fear and hatred. Scripture is clear on God’s view of the vulnerable. During harvest season, Israel was only allowed to glean the fields once to leave the remains for, “the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). God’s concern for these groups is repeated many times on the pages of Scripture. The Psalmist writes, “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9).

God’s directive for Israel to show concern and compassion to the immigrant and foreigner comes with a reason. Moses wrote, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). God’s people are told to love immigrants as themselves because they knew firsthand what it was like to dwell in a land that was not their own. While the instructions of the Old Testament are not binding on Christians today and its law are not de facto immigration policy, they do show God’s unchanging character and love for His creation. If the Old Testament can inform our decisions and beliefs on matters such as marriage, sin, evolution, family, government, and worship, it must inform our decisions and beliefs on immigration as well.

The Old Testament instructions to consider the foreigner are in line with the New Testament instruction for Christians to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Jesus interacted with the foreigner and the outsider during His earthly ministry, most commonly the Samaritans. In John 4, He recognized the worth of the Samaritan woman at the well who was one of the first to recognize Him as the Messiah. He recognized it was a foreigner, a Samaritan, who was the only one of ten who returned to give praise and thanks for healing. He was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” by a lawyer and responded with a story whose protagonist was a Samaritan. Jesus’ answer affirmed that a neighbor is anyone with a need. Jesus did not qualify “neighbor status” as the one who looks, speaks, acts, believes, and behaves as we do. Neighbor status is not limited to economic feasibility, absence of risk, or legal determinations.

If the reader gleans only one thing from these articles, I hope this truth resonates — the person trapped in the spider web that is our current immigration system matters. The person who decides to risk everything to provide a better way of life for their family was created in God’s image and should be treated with respect and not caged like an animal or left to die in a canal or detention facility. Rondell Trevino, the founder of The Immigrant Coalition, said it succinctly, “Immigrants are not problems to solve, they are people to love.”  The immigration issue facing our country is not black and white; it involves many shades of gray. However, for the Christian, the directive to care for and love all people as fellow image-bearers of God could not be any more black and white.

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1 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/ uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 3

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

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. 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

 

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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.

7 https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/other-opinions/commentary-immigrants-refugees-why-care/

8 Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 132.