Loving Immigrants and the Rule of Law

The much debated Arizona immigration law signed by Governor Jan Brewer will take effect on July 29. It has created a fire storm of public debate, including the Justice Department’s choice to sue the state of Arizona. It will certainly be a hot issue in the fall mid-term elections.

On most moral and political issues, I’m normally a black or white kind of guy–rarely with shades of gray. My prophetic orientation contributes to this perspective, but also a high regard for God’s Word and His unshakable principles, which when practiced, bring great blessing to individuals and nations.

On the issue of immigration, I confess I have been torn between two opinions. I see two great principles in tension: On the one hand, God is gracious and compassionate to foreigners and strangers. On the other, he is the author of national boundaries and just societal laws.

So how can we be gracious AND just to the twelve to fifteen million currently illegal aliens living in the United States? Long-term, what should our national immigration policy be?

The compassionate portion of me has long been nurtured by Youth With A Mission and its commitment to the poor, needy, suffering, and displaced of the world. One of YWAM’s three prongs of global ministry is mercy ministries which came into its own in 1980 when Cambodian refugees flooded across the Thai border and were placed in large encampments. God used those circumstances to get our attention: He wanted us to minister to the needy and displaced all over the world. A good friend of mine–Steve Goode–is our international director for YWAM’s Mercy Ministries. We both joined the mission in 1974.

Another influence on the side of compassion has been serving on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals for the past few years. The NAE has emphasized the compassion side of the immigration debate for over fifteen years and produced numerous position papers on the subject. On May 7 the NAE published a fullpage advertisement in Roll Call calling for an immediate overhaul of our immigration system.

On June 9th we joined many leaders on Capitol Hill and at the White House to discuss the issue. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke for the group when he said: “Amnesty is what Jimmy Carter gave the draft dodgers after the Vietnam War. Anyone who calls a pathway to earned legal status ‘amnesty’ needs a remedial course in the English language.” NAE president Leith Anderson went on to say: “Many Hispanic, African, and Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are our fastest growing segment. This is another reason we care. They are us.”

The NAE frames the compassion side of the immigration debate in a 2009 Policy paper with this introduction:

“Discussion of immigration and government immigration policy must begin with the truth that every human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Immigrants are made in the image of God and have supreme value with the potential to contribute greatly to society. Jesus exemplifies respect toward others who are different in his treatment of the Samaritans (Luke 10:30-37; John 4:1-42).”

“The Bible contains many accounts of God’s people who were forced to migrate due to hunger, war, or personal circumstances. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the families of his sons turned to Egypt in search of food. Joseph, Naomi, Ruth, Daniel and his friends, Ezekiel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther all lived in foreign lands. In the New Testament, Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to escape Herod’s anger and became refugees in Egypt. Peter referred to the recipients of his first letter as ‘aliens’ and ‘strangers,’ perhaps suggesting that they were exiles within the Roman Empire. These examples from the Old and New Testaments reveal God’s hand in the movement of people and are illustrations of faith in God in difficult circumstances.”

“Migration was common in the ancient world. Outsiders were particularly vulnerable. They stood outside the kinship system that regulated the inheritance of property. They did not have extended family to care for them in case of need. The Law recognized their helplessness and stipulated measures that served as a safety net. The motivations behind this generous spirit were that the people of God were not to forget that they had been strangers in Egypt (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34) and that God loved the foreigner (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). The New Testament adds that all believers are spiritual sojourners on earth (Philippians. 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11). Christians should show compassion and hospitality to outsiders (Romans. 12:13; Hebrews. 13:2).”

“The Bible does not offer a blueprint for modern legislation, but it can serve as a moral compass and shape the attitudes of those who believe in God. An appreciation of the pervasiveness of migration in the Bible must temper the tendency to limit discussions on immigration to Romans 13 and a simplistic defense of ‘the rule of law.’ God has established the nations (Deuteronomy. 32:8; Acts 17:26), and their laws should be respected. Nevertheless, policies must be evaluated to reflect that immigrants are made in the image of God and demonstrate biblical grace to the foreigner.” 

I understand the compassion side of the debate. Many illegal aliens are brothers and sisters in the faith. They came here to escape poverty and seek a better life. Should they be punished for that choice?

On the other hand, I’m sympathetic to the justice issues involved. The genius of Western prosperity and stability, and especially of the United States of America, is a commitment to be governed by laws not  men. That rationale means that we the people form laws based on God-given rights and values for the good of the people, then adhere to those laws without acting emotionally of arbitrarily toward lawbreakers.

Hence I agree with the Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, and Ann Coulters of the world that since we have just laws in this nation regarding immigration, we should protect our borders, hold people accountable who violate their visa requirements, and deport people who enter this country illegally. If we don’t believe in and enforce the laws that we enact, why should anybody obey any law?

Family Research Council in a 5-20-10 communique shares the justice side of the debate:

“Second only to Mexico City in the entire world for kidnappings, Phoenix has a responsibility to defend its citizens–not to adhere to some unwritten rule of political correctness. Americans understand that, which is why an overwhelming majority (73%) support the state’s new law. President Obama, on the other hand, believes our country is just another neighborhood in the global village. But a nation without borders is not a nation. And despite his arrogant objections, even Felipe Calderon knows it. He vilifies Arizona–yet his immigration laws are even more severe. In last night’s “Situation Room” with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the Mexican President said that Arizona’s law is an affront to “human rights”–to which Blitzer asked, “If people want to come…into Mexico, they can walk in?” “No,” Calderon said. “Do Mexican police go around asking for papers of people they suspect are illegal?” Blitzer pressed. “Of course,” Calderon replied, exposing his own double standard.”

“Meanwhile, our President seemed all too eager to side against his own country…Rather than question Mexico’s interference in American policy, President Obama joins in its condemnation–even going so far as to say that the Justice Department will launch an official challenge of the law. What an incredible diplomatic turnabout. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of our nation’s closest allies, is denied even the most basic hospitalities during his visit–but a man like President Calderon, who is openly critical of the United States on the White House lawn, is treated to a lavish state dinner. Regardless of how other dignitaries may perceive it, immigration is a matter of national sovereignty. Yes, Scripture calls us to love and welcome strangers. But the Bible is quite clear that we “are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born” (Leviticus 24:22). And those laws are designed for the safety of U.S. citizens–not the satisfaction of global tolerance.”

I also resonate with the justice side of the immigration debate. The United States government has laws on the books making it illegal to enter this nation without permission (worker’s permit or visa). The federal government is not enforcing its own laws causing many people to disrespect  and abuse it. So the state government of Arizona decided to pass a law mirroring the federal statutes that would give them the authority to guard and defend their borders.  Arizona, like other border states, is being overrun by drug smugglers, illegal entrants, and the economic costs of law enforcement and social services associated with illegal immigration.

America’s two political parties haven’t helped matters. For years the Republicans have winked at illegal immigration because of the benefits of providing cheap labor for many industries. The Democrats, on the other hand, have seen immigration as an opportunity to provide social services for new arrivals as a means of securing their votes.

The Rs want cheap labor and the Ds want dependents. Their ambivalence has exasperated the situation.

Even Ronald Reagan, a president whom I admire, passed an “amnesty plan” in 1986 that was supposed to cure the illegal immigration problem. Instead, it opened the flood-gates for millions of foreigners to cross the border in search of their fortunes. It is now considered one of the failures of his presidency. So what is America to do in 2010?

I believe we need to live in the tension of both loving immigrants and treating them with respect while loving justice and believing in the rule of law. Both are essential to biblical obedience for us as individuals and as a nation. What does that mean in terms of practical policies? I would suggest the following three actions:

1. We need to secure our borders by every means possible.

I learned a long time ago if something doesn’t work at home it won’t work for a nation. Those who believe in open borders or sanctuary cities need to come back to reality. None of us in a fallen world leave our open at night. If we did, we’d be violated, abused, or maybe killed. There is evil in this world and we have an obligation to protect ourselves and loved ones from it. God is the author of human borders (Acts 17:26), and only Heaven won’t need them. 

I believe we need to commit the resources over two-to-five years to secure our southern border. This is our most vulnerable point. It means erecting hundreds of miles of fencing, using other aspects of technological surveillance, and also rotating in units of the National Guard from all fifty states to deter lawbreakers. This would be a practical on-the-job training assignment for the US National Guard.

2. We must strive to be the most immigrant-friendly nation in the world.

Somewhat lost in the US immigration debate is the reality that the United States has always been an immigrant-friendly nation, and currently one-fifth of all the world’s immigrants come to the United States. Glenn Beck rightly points out that the Statute of Liberty is not about immigration–it is about freedom–which has brought more people to the US in that past two hundred years than any nation on earth.

My maternal grandparents and paternal great-grandparents were immigrants. This is the American story. We need to increase our number of worker permits, family visas, student visas, and religious visas to continue to allow America to remain the most hospitable nation on earth.

3. We should allow current illegals to stay in the United States, but drop all privileges of citizenship and go to the back of the immigration line.

We don’t want to deport millions of people and we don’t want to separate families and cause unnecessary upheaval in their lives. On the other hand, we don’t want to reward disregard for good laws and encourage more lawbreakers. I believe this is the healthy balance between compassion and justice.

My plan boils down to this: Fence! Come! Back of the line!

This is a balanced approach to loving immigrants and the rule of law.

Got any better ideas?





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