Illegal Immigration: A Christian Perspective
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.
In my research for this column, I came across several great conversations/columns on immigration from a Christian worldview. (I've linked to some of them on my website.) While examining these conversations, one thing is clear: even within the Christian community there is a wide variety of opinion on how best to reform our immigration policy. This is even true, though to a lesser extent, in the more conservative evangelical community.
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 (go read them) 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 (IRD) noted nearly three years ago, "[t]he United States is not analogous to ancient Israel. Biblical 'sojourners' [aliens or foreigners] 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.
In addition, uninsured illegals cost American taxpayers over $4 billion a year in health care costs. This includes receiving Medicaid benefits. According to Kaiser Healthcare News, "[f]ederal law generally bars immigrants who enter this country illegally from being covered by Medicaid. But a little-known part of the state-federal health insurance program for the poor has long paid about $2 billion a year for emergency treatment for a group of patients who, according to hospitals, mostly comprise illegal immigrants."
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 (Some estimates place the current total at about 11 million. Others say the number may be as high as 20 million, while some put it at over 40 million.), there is little doubt that most hail from Mexico. In 2005, a Pew Hispanic Center report said that 56% were from Mexico. In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office reported that it was 62%.
Most of these Mexicans are poor, low-skilled laborers who are looking for a better life in the U.S. 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, "[t]he message of the Mexican government to its citizens is: You want a job, human rights and medical care, then go to the US 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 (food stamps, schools, Medicaid, and so on) in the U.S. Combine such state welfare with the billions of dollars ($25 billion in 2007 -- about 3% of Mexican GDP) 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?
It should be pointed out that, if we did not have the massive welfare state that exists (for citizens and non-citizens alike) in America today, it is unlikely that we would be having such a fierce debate over current immigration policy.
If within the Christian community we can't even come to a consensus on matters such as abortion, homosexuality, and marriage, it seems to me very unlikely that we will ever get to a clear agreement on immigration. What Christians should seek, 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. "No man will contend that a nation can be free that is not governed by fixed laws," said John Adams. President 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."
Though we are a nation of laws, those laws should not be 1,200 pages each! (Such volume alone should disqualify any bill.) Writing in the Federalist Papers, James Madison instructs us that "[i]t will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood."
Lastly, as well-meaning Christians debate immigration, we must remember that, 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: At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason. www.trevorgrantthomas.com