Few nations on earth oppose immigration by principle, but rather want to control and direct immigration. There is no country on the face of the planet which does not have immigration laws and restrictions, and there are several nations on earth that are dealing with those who break those laws. None have more of an illegal immigration situation as prevalent as the United States.
Since the US was founded by an immigrant people and for many years had no restrictions or limits whatsoever on immigration, it seems odd to many that the country is having a struggle over the concept of illegal immigrants.
Some consider the opposition to illegal immigration racist, others think it is fear of people taking jobs and changing culture. Most who are on this side of the issue tend to drop the word "illegal" from the discussion, so it becomes a debate over immigration, period.
These arguments can become quite heated, and people who are immigrants, legal or not, can become confused or angry when the topic comes up. Things are said on both sides that are unfortunate and uncharitable both about each other and immigrants.
And behind it all are forces interested not in the immigrants but what they can get out of them. Some want the cheap labor, others want the votes they are confident they can get out of immigrants. In the UK, for example, the Labor Party sent a memo around (later revealed to the public) stating that it would "rub the right's noses" in diversity and increase their electoral chances. Others claim that food and labor prices would skyrocket if cheap illegal immigrant labor was ended. "They're doing the jobs Americans won't do" is the argument.
So how do Christians respond to all this? What is a Christian's reaction to the immigration debate?
The first thing Christians should do is react with compassion for those who want to come to the United States and other nations. Many times, these immigrants are from places of terrible economic and political situations. People flee countries like Venezuela because there is no freedom and little chance of a job or regular needs. People flee countries like Mexico because of criminal violence and corrupt governments combine for continual misery and economic trouble.
They want to come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. Immigration is always an attempt to make a better life and a better future. For all its faults and the generally negative portrayal of the US in popular media, it still is viewed as the "city on the hill" that Ronald Reagan spoke of in the 1980s. It is seen as a place you can be free and achieve whatever your ambition and strength can get you. It is seen as a rich, free, and safe place to live, for good reason.
So our first response should be is to recognize this longing and this desire, not first condemn for lawbreaking and distrust immigrants, legal or otherwise. Whether they break the law or not, their longing is reasonable and shared by all of us: we want a better place for our families and selves.
I am friends with people and have worked with people who are almost certainly illegal immigrants, or children of illegal immigrants. They aren't bad people for it, in fact most are hard working productive members of society, often more so than legal citizens who take what they were born into for granted.
And certainly no honest Christian can throw the first stone at someone else for doing wrong. We're Christians in part because we know we do wrong. We all stand condemned before God and worthy only of punishment. If our sins aren't identical to another person's, they're just as wicked and at least as numerous.
Secondly, we need to recognize that compassion does not trump right and wrong. We can be sympathetic toward those who do wrong for what they consider good reasons, but recognize their wrongdoing. Someone who steals to feed their children deserves sympathy and help, but they still have stolen and that is wrong.
That means we have to recognize that breaking the law is breaking the law, even if it is for a noble or understandable goal. What someone was hoping to achieve with their actions is largely irrelevant to the fact of their lawbreaking.
Now, it may be true - and certainly is in this case - that the laws are flawed and almost designed to encourage lawbreaking. But that doesn't make the lawbreaking go away. There are times when Christians must ignore and break laws, but this is not one of them. The only time it is acceptable for a Christian to deny or reject the authority of someone God has placed over us is when they are directly and specifically telling us to do something against God's laws.
Telling us we must turn over Jews to be killed is against God's law. Telling us we must go through a process - however expensive, slow, complicated, and idiotic it is - to become an immigrant does not. It is a stupid system, but not an immoral one.
As Christians, we should further take our compassion and work through the system to make the laws better, if possible. Immigration reform should take the form of streamlining the immigration laws to make it cheaper, faster and easier to get into the country thus negating much of the pressure to come in illegally.
And, as Christians, if we're looking to get into the country, we should stop and think about what we're doing and why. We're never to make any decision based on emotion or pragmatism, but only on whether it glorifies God and is right. Yes, the system is slow and expensive, and yes it is byzantine and stupid. But that does not justify breaking the law.
Arguments such as "the Indians probably didn't like your illegal immigration, whitey" doesn't make breaking the law acceptable (in fact, the Native American tribes didn't have an immigration policy or laws, did not have organized national boundaries, and most didn't even consider land something any one person could own, only a place they hunted and lived on Oh, and they immigrated to the Americas as well).
Arguments such as "you can't own the planet, its God's" have some validity (all of everything is God's) but don't justify your breaking the law. The truth is, we can own land, and all that is on it. We can own the resources and the territory we live on. That is a very Biblical concept, one which was strongly endorsed in the Mosaic covenant with all those laws for the children of Israel, and explicitly stated in the fifth commandment: you shall not steal. If nobody can own anything nobody can steal anything, either. If you can steal and violate God's law, that means God has declared that people have private ownership of property.
You have to stop and think when you are considering immigration: what am I doing and why? You want to come to this nation because it is a land of plenty and opportunity, a place of liberty and safety. Good, I don't blame you. Being the grandchild of immigration, I recognize and embrace that concept.
But you're also looking for a new home. And when you do that, you are recognizing and agreeing that this is also home for the people who live there already. And as it is their home, you should respect that. Part of what you want in the country you're going to is there because of their laws and culture, and you should not want to violate or ignore that in your desire to have a better place for yourself and your family.
You would not care for someone to show up in your house and stay there, then argue you're a jerk for saying they should ask first. After all you have nicer stuff than they do and they were living in a box. Your home is a place they envy and admire, how dare you say they should be polite and proper about it, instead of presuming.
What if you're here already illegally? Then you should start up the process to come legally. It doesn't matter how long you've been here, time does not erase wrong. If you did something wrong five minutes ago or fifteen years ago, it still was wrong. Being established and having time in the country does not make it all okay.
I understand that you just want to be in this new country and feel it is wrong to stop you. I understand you want to be away from that lousy place, I would be too. But this is the wrong way to go about it, and it does not glorify God to violate the law and be obstinate about it.
If you truly want to be part of a new country, you should also want to be part of its laws and culture and heritage, and that means doing so legally. And then, as a citizen, you can work to make the system better to help others who come after you.
Because ultimately how right is it for you to break the law, gain the benefits of a new home, then do nothing to help others that want what you have? And how right is it for a citizen who grew up with all those benefits to want to deny or limit others from having them more than is absolutely necessary and proper?
May God forgive us all, in whatever situation we are in, for our selfishness, fear, and bitterness toward others.
*This is part of the Christian Response series.