There are two important reasons why evangelicals should support immigration reform. Our current system is weakening immediate family units and the wide use of undocumented immigrants in certain industries results in their exploitation and unjust economic gains for others. I know that many evangelicals have not always been sympathetic to these issues and have instead advocated for strong anti-immigrant policies. For many years I was one of them. But as I have studied the Biblical history of migration (forced and voluntary) and scriptural mandates regarding the foreign born and justice for the vulnerable, together with the value of strengthening families and protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life, I have changed my views.
1. Undocumented workers, the rule of law and economic justice: To be sure, America has a problem of undocumented immigrants – most of them workers. Estimates range from 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants, and groups like the Pew Research Center report that more than 96% are employed in our economy. It is widely understood that the major attraction drawing undocumented immigrants to the US is jobs, and that they represent a significant portion of the labor pool in certain low-wage industries: domestic household service (21%), food manufacturing and agricultural production (14% and 13% respectively) furniture manufacturing (13%) and construction and textile production (12% each).
Many Christians claim the Biblical injunction to obey the rule of law and opine that because undocumented immigrants are law-breakers they should be summarily rounded up and deported. It is true that entering the US and obtaining a job illegally is breaking the law, and Christians should not condone unlawful behavior. However, we are placing the blame solely on the immigrant, when we must also hold accountable their employers who often knowingly accept falsified documents or improperly hire undocumented immigrants – and usually make healthy profits from their labors.
We must also hold our whole economic system – and nearly all of us individually – accountable as well, because while we may grumble about illegal immigration on one hand we are simultaneously benefiting from low-cost fresh food and other agricultural products, affordable – and ever larger – new housing construction and the furniture to go in it, and for some people the luxury of having domestic servants in their households or vacation spots.
The Bible speaks often, and clearly, about paying a worker fair wages, not taking advantage of the vulnerable or oppressed, and treating the foreign born fairly. Undocumented workers are often paid less than minimum wage, harassed, and forced to live in the shadows. Meanwhile you and I, and the US economy, benefit greatly from them.
So one of the aims of immigration reform needs to be a workable system to provide an adequate number of worker visas each year to meet US labor demands, and a system that ensures these workers are not taken advantage of unfairly.
2. Family unity: I place a high priority on healthy families as a basic building block of society. Loving, intact, nuclear families are God’s best design for nurturing and rearing children and passing on strong societies from one generation to the next. Throughout America’s history many immigrant families have sacrificed and endured long separation in order to move to this country, or provide an income for their families back home.
Today many immigrant families are faced with two difficult choices; either remain separated from spouses and young children for years waiting “in line” for their immigrant visa, or live in the US as an intact family, but in the shadows, knowing they do so illegally and always worrying that they could be caught and deported.
One of the current debates is what to do with millions of undocumented adult immigrants who now have US Citizen Children. The adults are subject to deportation, but most experts agree that these parents would rather be separated from their children and leave them in the care of someone else and give them hope for a future in American, than to take them back to live in poverty in their home countries.
The long term affects of such a policy would be devastating to American society. It would further weaken the deteriorating family structure in the US. So another parameter of immigration reform needs to be that any solution needs to protect the unity of the immediate family.
I admit that these parameters to do not make for easy solutions. Our economic engine is fueled by millions of immigrant workers. We want to support strong families, but removing millions of undocumented immigrants take away one or both parents from up to 4 million US citizen children. That is the reason why Christians should actively participate in this discussion. We need to openly discuss differing solutions, listen to and understand each others objections, and set aside the political one-ups-man-ship that gets in the way of workable solutions.
Carl Nelson is the President of the Greater Minnesota Association of Evangelicals (GMAE), a network of 165 churches that spans many denominations. GMAE has become the connecting point for hundreds of evangelical churches and faith-based organizations and is a regional member of the National Association of Evangelicals; Carl also serves as a member of the NAE Board of Directors.
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.
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