One of the stock arguments used by those against comprehensive immigration reform is that undocumented immigrants are a burden on national resources. Undocumented immigrants take “American” jobs, leach off the social welfare system, and drain tax dollars, they say. In other words, undocumented immigrants lower the national standard of living.
First of all, this is a faulty argument. I will not go into detail here, but many others have shown that undocumented immigrants are not a drain, but a boon, to the economy. Undocumented immigrants often pay taxes, usually more than they take out in public services. They are a much-needed foundation to many sectors of the national economy, including hospitality services and agriculture. In some cases, such as that of my parents, undocumented immigrants actually start their own businesses because they are unable to work for others without legal status, in the process creating jobs and stimulating economic growth.
However, let us just for a moment take the argument at face value. Is the possibility that undocumented immigrants (or immigrants in general) lower the national standard of living a good enough reason for Christians to be against comprehensive immigration reform and for closed borders? My answer is emphatically no. This reasoning smacks national self-righteousness, self-protectionism, and American exceptionalism. It directly contradicts the Biblical call to justice, generosity, and equality in Christ.
Throughout the Biblical story, God shows time and again his disapproval of those who hoard wealth and privilege as if it were their birthright. In the Mosaic law, God makes provisions for a year of Jubilee every 50 years when land would be returned to the families to whom it was originally distributed. This prevented the monopoly of land by a few and ensured that there would never be permanent upper class or underclass. God declares, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). God makes clear that people are just tenants on his land. When the Israelites begin to take their blessings and prosperity for granted, the priests and princes wallowing in their luxury while ignoring the cries of the poor and downtrodden, God’s wrath is fired up.
Many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament witness to this grossly unjust inequality and its consequences, namely the Assyrian invasion and the Babylonian exile. Isaiah, for example, declares, “Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away?” (10:1-3).
In the New Testament, too, Biblical writers warn the rich against hoarding wealth and withholding from the poor: “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:1-4).
I wonder how much those prophetic messages would apply to American Christians today. Do we consider it our birthright to enjoy the privileges and wealth conferred by American citizenship? What exactly confers upon us the “right” to have a better quality of life than people in the rest of the world? The simple fact that we were born on the right side of a human-drawn border? The fact that our ancestors worked hard as immigrants so now we are able to reap the benefits? Are we neglecting, in the process of supporting laws that protect our own standard of living, the needs of the undocumented laborers who mow our fields, whose cries have reached the ears of our Lord?
National borders are human creations, not God-ordained boundaries. God has endowed human governments with the authority to make laws and lead the people. However, this does not mean that the state’s laws and boundaries are God’s laws and boundaries. When a government proposes regulations that make it harder for underprivileged people from other countries to enter for the purpose of finding work and earning a living, Christians should think hard about whether or not to support those policies. Since when has it been our prerogative as Christians to keep blessing and wealth to ourselves?
I am not saying that citizens who work hard and find success shouldn’t be rewarded for their labors, or that we should all become socialists and communists. I am also not saying that the government shouldn’t protect its borders and national interests, or that we don’t need borders. Perhaps in today’s global economy, the only way for a nation to survive is to play by the rules of the national interest game (whether or not the perpetuation of this game is in humanity’s best interests is another story). Also, there are some noble reasons for stricter immigration regulation, such as ensuring that criminals and terrorists do not have free rein to do their business in this country.
I am saying that, as Christians thinking Biblically about how to approach the issue of immigration, we need to closely examine our rationale. We do not belong to this world, and our ultimate loyalty is not to the United States, or to whatever nation we find ourselves a part. National interest should not be our only driving concern when getting involved in political issues. If it is, then we are identifying ourselves more with the kingdom of America than with the kingdom of Christ Jesus. The Christian approach to national boundaries is different than that of the nation. We are called not to draw boundaries, but to cross boundaries – to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) and to be Christ’s witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Protecting the national living standard against working class foreigners is not what Jesus called us to do. He called us to cross boundaries, welcome the stranger, and in doing so seek His kingdom first above any earthly empire.
Liuan Chen Huska is a freelance writer and editor in the Chicago area. Liuan has shared her family’s undocumented immigration story with audiences across the country. She recently finished a Master’s thesis at the University of Chicago on immigrants in an ESL program in Chinatown.
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