The concept of self-deportation is one solution suggested by some politicians for dealing with undocumented immigrants in the United States. Their theory is that recent federal laws passed in the United States, such as the new E-verify program and Arizona-style state laws, will deter immigrants from continuing to live in the USA as there will be little or no hope for employment or education. I know four people who did just this: they were fed up with the current immigration system, so they voluntarily left this country to return to their native country. These decisions to return home put my friends in countries with unstable economic systems ridden with violence.
In the Old Testament, especially the Torah, God commands God’s people to care for the poor, specifically the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Sprinkled throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, God consistently references the immigrant and commands that they should be welcomed by the native-born. Although the Torah is the covenant between God and God’s chosen people, in many ways it is still relevant for Christians today. Leviticus 19:33-34 reads, “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God’” (NIV). This is to say that those who are citizens need to treat the sojourner with the same respect and care that one of their own would receive. Similarly, Deuteronomy 24:18 says, “‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.’” Thus, not only should the alien not be deprived of similar rights that the native-born posses, but God, as Moses spoke it, reminded the Israelites that they were once foreigners in someone else’s land. The same is true for us today. Somewhere down the line, there was a time in everyone’s family when their members were immigrants to the United States.
In the Gospels, the authors provide the reader with four pictures of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke is the gospel heavily laden with Jesus reaching out to the poor. The parable of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke. Right before the parable, in Luke 10:27, Jesus explains that the two greatest commandments are to “…‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus calls all of His followers to act like the Samaritan, to be compassionate towards and serve others. In the Gospels, Jesus interacted and dined with the least of these in the community. He reached out to those who were outcast by others, regardless of age, health, or legal status. Jesus loved all people, and as His followers, we are called to love all people.
As Christians, there are practical and attainable things we can do to support immigrants in our communities. First, I challenge us to change our rhetoric. The media uses the term “illegal” when referring to people without papers. This is a dehumanizing term because saying that a person is ‘illegal’ strips them of their identity as a human being. Regardless of how one entered the USA, visa or no visa, no human being is illegal. Instead, use the term ‘undocumented’ to refer to those who are here without the proper papers. Second, we ought to listen to the stories of immigrant people. Their stories shed light on the real issues surrounding the purpose of their immigration to the USA, our immigration system, and conditions in their home country.
Based on teachings in the Bible, we, as the Body of Christ, cannot support the idea of self-deportation—that the best way to deal with “illegals” is to push them to voluntarily leave the United States because their conditions are so unjust. Instead, the Church should welcome the stranger, as the Bible teaches. We must provide love and support to immigrants, as Jesus has loved us, and to fight for immigration reform so that honest, productive people who seek a better way of life for their families and themselves can live among us in peace.
Elizabeth Murray, a native of Johns Creek, GA, is a first year Master of Divinity student at Duke Divinity School. She graduated in May of 2011 from the University of South Carolina with a business degree. Elizabeth is a certified candidate for ordained elders orders in the United Methodist Church. She plans to go into social justice ministry.
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