As immigration dominates our political discourse, operating from a Christian worldview, as I always seek to do, it has been rather difficult for me to get my mind around what is the mind of Christ on this issue. It becomes even more difficult when attempting to apply the Christian worldview to what amounts to a secular political solution.
What makes the issue of immigration more challenging than topics like abortion or marriage is that there is not clear-cut biblical direction on the matter. Some who favor a more liberal position on immigration often point to Leviticus 19 or Deuteronomy 24 when making their arguments in favor of an open-borders type policy.
However, as Alan F. H. Wisdom, then vice president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy noted nearly three years ago, “The United States is not analogous to ancient Israel. Biblical ‘sojourners’ are not easily comparable to modern-era illegal immigrants. The ‘foreigners’ in ancient Israel were non-Israelites who were permitted to pass through or reside in Israel. They were required to comply with Israel’s laws and respect its customs.”
Wisdom adds, “Weighing the costs and benefits of immigration is complex. Immigrants often have valuable skills. Their cultures enrich our national life. The Christians among them can renew our churches with their fervent faith. At the same time, large-scale immigration imposes burdens. Taxpayers bear new expenses for education, social services, health care and law enforcement.”
Weighing the cost of illegal immigration must be an important part of any discussion on immigration reform. A 2010 study says that the cost is $113 billion annually. According to the report, the single largest cost — about $52 billion a year — comes from educating the children of illegal immigrants. “Nearly all those costs are absorbed by state and local governments,” the report concludes.
This is significant because, although illegal immigrants do contribute to the tax base (through sales taxes and the like), they rarely are property owners and local property taxes are the chief source of funding for public education.
One often neglected aspect of this debate, especially within the Christian community, is the role of the Mexican government in the matter. Whatever the number of illegal immigrants is, there is little doubt that most hail from Mexico. In 2005, a Pew Hispanic Center report said that 56 percent were from Mexico. In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office reported that it was 62 percent.
The government of Mexico seems very content with the status quo when it comes to the virtual open-border policy that currently exists within the U.S. As a column in FrontPage Mag recently noted, “The message of the Mexican government to its citizens is: You want a job, human rights and medical care, then go to the U.S. if you can’t afford it here.”
Of course, to a great extent, illegal immigrants don’t have to “afford” things in America. As I already implied, they have significant access to a myriad of government services in the U.S. Combine such state welfare with the billions of dollars earned by Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal) and sent back to their homeland, and it seems that Mexico is reaping quite a financial benefit.
However, as FrontPage also notes, with so many Mexicans able to leave their country for work and welfare, the Mexican government has little incentive to improve conditions there. And despite decades of illegal immigration, economic and living conditions for poor Mexicans have improved little, if at all.
Thus, the current immigration policies of the U.S. have made us an enabler, hurting not only the American taxpayer, but the millions of poor who are still living in Mexico. Is this very Christ-like?
The goal for Christians, says Dr. Daniel Carroll Rodas, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Theological Seminary and author of “Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, “is a moral compass from the Bible, not a blueprint for policy. To imitate how an ancient people dealt in its laws with foreigners in that agrarian peasant context does not make sense ... But this legislation was seen as judicious and as a pointer to the God of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). In other words, the law contains a set of enduring principles that can be carried across borders and across the centuries.”
And just as was ancient Israel, we are a nation of laws. President Bill Clinton, in his 1996 State of the Union Address declared, “We should honor every legal immigrant here, working hard to become a new citizen. But we are also a nation of laws.”
Thus, along with the obvious call to be compassionate and forgiving, as Mark Tooley, the current president of the IRD puts it, we must remember “Christianity’s understanding of the state’s divine obligation to enforce laws and protect its people.”
Trevor Grant Thomas is a Hall County resident and frequent columnist.