Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared as part one of a series on the author’s personal blog in September 2015.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. –Genesis 1:27, NIV
As far as I can tell, I am a fourth generation American. My great-grandpa Wilhelm Beck immigrated to the United States as a child with his family in 1908. Immigrating at a time when the only American immigration restrictions were imposed on the Chinese, my great-grandpa and his family’s greatest concern in the immigration process was being able to get to the U.S.
In the time that’s followed since their arrival, immigration to the United States has seen many changes. Laws were passed amending and restricting the immigration system, discussions have changed, different people groups have been viewed with suspicion, walls have been built (figuratively and literally), and disagreement about what the best policy is has been rampant.
Today’s debate has primarily centered on questions of legality. With an estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, this is not an unreasonable question to ask. Unfortunately, discussions about immigration tend to begin with this question, leading to a very short debate and leaving many questions unasked. Questions about whether our immigration system is appropriate, why people are coming to the United States, and many other necessary issues get left off of the table when the only concern is a person’s legal status.
Viewing immigration as a human issue is both the place where we should start the discussion about immigration and a major reason that we should be concerned about immigration. In the United States, a highly polarized political debate about immigration has led to the call by some to build a wall, with the intention of keeping others out. In this view, the United States is for Americans; you can become one of us if you do it the right way, but until then, we should only be taking care of our people. In his recent video discussing the Syrian refugee crisis, author John Green laid out the reason that a discussion about “our people” is misunderstanding the issue at hand: “…we are one species sharing one profoundly interconnected world, and humans, all humans, are our people.”
While I recognize that refugees and immigrants are not by definition the same, I would argue that discussions about both groups should begin with their humanity. As a Christian, I understand that all people have inherent value, and that this value comes from our shared creation in the image of God. In his book Christians at the Border, Dr. M. Daniel Carroll R. also begins his immigration discussion with the image of God, devoting an entire section to the topic and seeing the issue as foundational to any discussion about immigration. Through our creation in the image of God, humans are his representatives on Earth, with the ability and responsibility to care for all things on Earth (including other humans), created with intrinsically valuable attributes and the chance to have a relationship with the Creator. Ultimately, poor treatment of another image bearer is not only a violation against that person, but against God as well.
It can be very easy to gloss over when presented with statistics about immigration, and to forget the humans involved in the process. It is not difficult, however, to begin to find stories about immigrants and their journeys. One good resource in this discussion is the documentary The Stranger. Going through the stories of three different immigrant families, this 40 minute documentary provides more individual examples to help us begin to think about the people involved with immigration. Additionally, if you are an American, it is highly likely that your ancestors have immigrant stories of their own (stories that are almost surely free to access!)
With the shift from a question of legality to a question of humanity, the discussion about immigration broadens. While legality is a valid question, it should not be our starting point. Beginning with a discussion of immigrants as humans, we are able to more closely relate to immigrants through our shared humanity, understanding immigrants as “our people.” The new starting point also offers the possibility of a new discussion about legality and the entire system of American immigration. In the words of M. Daniel Carroll R., “An appreciation of immigrants as people can lead to laws that are compassionate and empowering for the immigrant and for the common good, instead of laws that at bottom are exclusionary and largely punitive.”
Erik Beck is a student at Denver Seminary pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Justice and Mission. He is a Minnesota native and graduate of Bethel University (B.A. Reconciliation Studies, B.A. Third World Studies). Erik is interested in and concerned with justice issues, and blogs about different justice topics. Read more of his posts here: https://mnmohawk.wordpress.com
 Quote beginning at 6:55, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVV6_1Sef9M
 M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border, 2nd ed., 45-51.
 A downloadable version of this documentary is available for free at http://www.thestrangerfilm.org/
 M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border, 2nd ed., 49-50.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.