Every year we issue a million green cards to foreign nationals from all the countries of the world, but we do so without regard to whether that applicant has demonstrated the skill that can add to the US economy, whether they can pay their own way or be reliant on welfare, or whether they’ll displace or take a job from an American worker. – Soerens and Yang (2018) quoting Stephen Miller, Sr. Advisor to Pres. Donald J. Trump in, “Concerns About Immigration,” Chapter 6 in Welcoming the Stranger, p. 102.
Chapter 6 Summary
While in Chapter 5 Soerens and Yang discuss what the Bible says about “welcoming the stranger,” in this chapter they present some of the concerns that many have when it comes to extending more generous immigration policy. The concerns fall into several broad categories:
- Immigration and caring for the poor already among you
- Immigration, terrorism, and border security
- Family immigration—“Anchor babies” and “Chain migration”
- Immigrants, crime, and sanctuary cities
- Immigration, identity, and cultural homogeneity
Some Christians are concerned that allowing more immigrants to enter legally may have a negative impact on those US citizens who are already living in poverty. Those who have this concern feel that immigrants compete for many of the same jobs as the poor who are already here. In addition they feel that we are neglecting a primary responsibility to those poor born in our country. Those who hold this concern based on a Scriptural point of departure find support in 1 Timothy 5:8 (by failing to care for our own family members we are worse than unbelievers).
Some are concerned that increasing legal immigration can potentially admit terrorists to enter our country, putting us at risk for further attacks. Soerens and Yang affirm the concern that we take appropriate caution to avoid further attacks; however, they do point out that i.) the vast majority of immigrants are not terrorists and criminals; and, ii.) in a globalized society we could not conceivably exclude everyone on the grounds of self-protection. [In fact, it is precisely because we live in a globally interconnected, increasingly mobile world that countries around the globe—industrialized and underdeveloped—are wrestling with the issues of borders, migration, and citizenship.]
Others are concerned that immigrants illegally enter the United States simply to have children born in the United States, who, as US citizens by birth, will be able to help their parents. Some fear that our immigration laws’ focus on family reunification allows one individual who gains (or is born into) legal status to sponsor an uncontrollable number of new immigrants. The idea of birthright citizenship has recently come under increased scrutiny due to the idea that children of undocumented parents should not automatically acquire US citizenship and all its benefits.
There are also concerns about immigrants who, if they become citizens, will be able to vote. Some have expressed concerns that they will not elect people that Christians may be able to openly support. Since it is not the authors’—Soerens and Yang’s—objective to evaluate the partisan arguments related to this concern, they present them but do not enjoin them in debate in their book. As Christians, our concern is primarily to know the will of Christ, not prosecute partisan issues.
Two more categories remain—immigrants, crime, and sanctuary cities; and immigration, identity, and cultural homogeneity. Soerens and Yang point out, importantly, that unlawful presence in the United States is not a crime—it is a violation of civil, not criminal, law. This is distinguished from unlawful entry to the United States, which can be a violation of a criminal statute. However, it is important to make this distinction since nearly half of US undocumented immigrants entered the country legally and overstayed their visas. In addition to concerns that undocumented immigrants may have violated the law by being present unlawfully, some Christians are concerned that immigration, broadly, causes an increase in crime. Others are concerned that the increased presence of immigrants may change the cultural, ethnic, and religious makeup of the United States.
You will have noticed at this point that I have refrained from presenting Soerens and Yang’s engagement with each of these concerns. I have done so intentionally, in order that you might read their excellent analysis in order to study their arguments—and discover the roots of the concerns—on their own merits. Please take me up on this so that I don’t bite my tongue in vain! [However, I do provide a long reflection after identifying the discussion question I thought was most interesting from the appendix.]
Key Discussion Question
- Which argument of those against a more generous immigration policy—poverty already in our communities, national security, cultural identity, etc.—is most persuasive and compelling to you?
By now, if you’ve read for 8 weeks into this series, you may be aware that I do not believe there is any Scriptural support for a more restrictive immigration policy to the United States. In my opinion, the rationale for restricting legal immigration and enforcing immigration law is almost entirely extra-biblical. This should not be interpreted as saying that there are not good reasons for restricting legal immigration or enforcing borders. What I am saying is that the good reasons for strict enforcement of immigration law derive from social, economic, or political concerns, not biblical teachings. It is my firm opinion that we should attempt to address these social, economic, and political concerns within the framework of a more generous immigration policy, as far as possible.
For example, one political concern that should drive a strict enforcement of immigration policy is security concerns. Consider that there is, in fact, legitimate concern that human trafficking and drug trafficking routes do traverse our borders. However, in enforcing immigration policy, we should make it easier to traverse the border legally so that there would be fewer disincentives to do so illegally. This might possibly increase security by making it more likely that non-citizens would have been screened before entering the US. By attempting to keep immigration levels unreasonably low, we may be inadvertently incentivizing behavior that destabilizes communities and families who may not have the option of returning home and waiting for visas to enter the country legally. Since this particular political concern is addressed in greater detail in Chapter 8, I will not elaborate further on this line of thinking.
Another important reason to enforce immigration law is national sovereignty. Lax enforcement of immigration law provides perverse incentives to other countries in enforcing their own immigration laws and improving social and economic conditions at home. This is a principal way the complexity I alluded to in an earlier post enters the immigration debate. Is the United States fully responsible for conditions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras? It is naive to say that the US bears no responsibility, and it is flat-out irresponsible and dishonest to deny our country’s role in destabilizing the politics and economies of these nations. However, is the United States fully responsible for the continuing violence that pushes their citizens northward? Is the United States responsible for Mexico’s failure to enforce their own immigration policies and strictly control their own borders? Obviously not. For example, in Tell Me How it Ends, Valeria Luiselli describes the anger and shame that she felt when listening to the stories of some of the unaccompanied minors who had crossed the border and were being interviewed at the non-profit she worked for. As a Mexican citizen, it was clear that there were significant problems that were not the responsibility of the American government that were inescapable by citizens of her home country, Mexico. Even Barack Obama wrestled with how best to enforce our borders and handle the crisis of unaccompanied minors:
During our meeting with DREAMers and veteran immigration advocates about the growing number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, Obama told them he hadn’t slept well the night before. “I’m not just worried about these kids but also in Sudan and other places… It’s very unfair that kids in El Salvador live in a very different situation than a kid born in the United States. [But] we live in a world with borders. And I’m president of a country with one, and I need to enforce these borders.” – Laura Wides-Muñoz (2018) quoting Barack H. Obama in The Making of a Dream, p.257.
Contrary to common mischaracterizations of the Obama approach to immigration, Obama strictly enforced borders and greatly intensified deportation of undocumented immigrants present unlawfully in the United States. One of the key drivers of the Obama administration’s approach to immigration enforcement was national sovereignty. But enough on this.
As a Christian, however, the position on immigration that is most difficult to talk about is the objection that immigrants will change the cultural, ethnic, and religious makeup of the United States. First and foremost, on the religious objection I have to ask the question: “What have we done to preserve our own Christian culture and worldview?” The failure of discipleship in the American church has been extensively documented by many authors, including Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, and we have to ask ourselves in all seriousness, “What can immigrants do to the religious makeup in the United States that we have not already done to ourselves by failing to be faithful to Christ within the church?” Many Americans simply do not realize that currently, immigrants to the United States may be at least as likely to be devoted Christians as native-born Americans.
On the cultural issue, there’s little I could say outside the context of an in-person conversation that wouldn’t be more divisive than productive. Let me just say that this objection rightly foresees some difficult changes that will need to be wrestled with for those who feel immigrants will change the culture. Although I have great difficulty trying to define, exactly, what American culture is—even having never known any other nation as my home—it is nonetheless true that all Americans share some distinctive cultural traits and perspectives. In very important ways, I share much more in common culturally with a white man from Overland Park, Kansas, than I do with a black man from Lagos, Nigeria. However, I am constantly reminded that the culture I have been socialized in is certainly not the dominant culture in the United States. Maybe I feel like this since I have always been a minority, and have never lived—and do not now live—in a situation where I can safely assume that the cultural worldview and unspoken assumptions I was was socialized into are shared by the culture I work in and send my children to school in. I have never known a time in my life—with the exception of my undergraduate years spent at Howard University—where my natural idiomatic expressions did not need to be explained, the literary images and cultural metaphors I used and understood did not need to be decoded, and where I could expect that my assumptions about societal power structures and authority would be shared.
Those who object to immigration on the basis of cultural change may see that if things change dramatically they would have to navigate life as a minority in neighborhoods and places they’ve always felt were familiar. Eric Kaufmann describes this challenge in his excellent essay in Foreign Affairs. They anticipate the difficult choices that they might have to make as they renegotiate their lives as the culture changes. For example, as a minority, there are many ways that one can respond. Some retreat into their own communities and do not leave those safe spaces. They limit their worlds, their possibilities, the experiences available to them. Some who are more adventurous than me take the risk of continually re-creating themselves as they appropriate, not assimilate, from their experiences features of the majority and sub cultures in the United States and abroad. Others simply assimilate to the dominant culture. All of these choices are compromises, and none of them are easy. I think that the reason that many folks bristle at the allegation of racism when someone challenges opposition to immigration on cultural grounds is because they may be starting to realize all of the ways in which their lives will get more complex, and object to the fact that acknowledging this complexity could be labeled as racism. At the same time, I’m not sure that it is racism when someone expresses opposition to immigration on cultural grounds. Instead, I think we might find it more productive to understand these concerns as part of the difficult work of identifying those things that might make it difficult to accept that God is once again using migration do do his sovereign work.
This post was much longer than I’d liked, and ventured into areas I’d rather not touch on a blog. However, I’m glad you stayed with me this far. I’ll see you next week.
Peace and Blessings,
Editor’s note: Pray for Royce’s training as he prepares to run the Baltimore Half Marathon in support of World Relief. Stay tuned for updates. Go Royce!
About the author:
Royce is an associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering at the George Washington University. He conducts and teaches under the broad theme “SEED”: Strategic [urban] Ecologies, Engineering, and Decision making. His research and teaching interests include infrastructure sustainability and resilience measurement, risk analysis, and drinking water systems analysis. Royce is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA).
Gerry Rau says
Thanks for being willing to wrestle with this issue. There is definitely a need for greater understanding and discussion of the complexities that make it so difficult, rather than pretending there is an easy answer.