Monday, August 9, 2010

On illegal immigration

How should a Christian counsel and help someone who is here illegally?

This is a good question and a very timely one, too.

The Lord mentions immigrants in quite a number of passages. In Exodus 22:21, for instance, he says, “You shall not wrong a sojourner [i.e., an immigrant] or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

The Lord, then, does not allow us to take advantage of the vulnerability of immigrants. And I must say that this is true of both those who are here legally as well as those who are here illegally. We may not steal from them, harm them, or in any way abuse them.

In addition to this, their disadvantaged position, along with widows and orphans, is recognized in Scripture as deserving compassion in the gleaning laws of the OT.

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees [to harvest them], you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this (Deut. 24:17-22).
God commanded Israel to show compassion to sojourners (immigrants) because Israel knew what it was like to be aliens and to be mistreated. It is simply the right thing to do to be compassionate toward them. After all, they too are made in God’s image.

Under normal circumstances immigration is a sign of a nation’s health and prosperity. People want to live where there is freedom and opportunity. And in our nation’s history some of those who have made some of the greatest contributions to our country in science, art, medicine, business, and many other fields, have been those who didn’t have the freedom and opportunity in their native lands and so have come here. They have tended to be people who have shown a great deal of initiative and personal responsibility. They have been enterprising, and by their enterprise they have been a great blessing to our country.

The problem with immigration today, however, is the fact that we have become a welfare nation so that we are attracting not only those with initiative and responsibility and a good work ethic—in other words people who will be productive; but also those who simply have their eye on receiving American welfare. And this is putting an unsustainable stress on our system.

Nearly one half of all immigrants receive government assistance of one kind or another. And the percentage is even higher for illegals. It is estimated that uneducated, low skill immigrants (which is the majority of illegals) cost U.S. taxpayers $22,000 each per year. It is estimated that state governments alone spend $11 billion to $22 billion to provide welfare to immigrants.

Each uneducated immigrant, whether legal or illegal, will cost American taxpayers about a million dollars over the course of his lifetime. This represents the difference between the amount the immigrant pays in taxes versus the amount in welfare benefits he receives. A one million dollar deficit per low-skilled, uneducated immigrant over the course of his lifetime. There is no way we can keep doing this.

A nation has to have laws controlling immigration for security reasons, if for no other. And those laws must be respected. Many immigrants do respect our laws. They come into our country and establish residency through the proper channels and they should be warmly received. But those who do not respect the rule of law should be deported.

How should we counsel and help someone who is here illegally? Well, we can give personal assistance in terms of food and clothing and shelter as we are able, but at the same time we should strongly encourage him to obey the law and seek to gain a legal immigrant status, even helping with legal fees if possible. But if he delays or refuses, we should cut off the help, and perhaps even report him to immigration officials.

All of this changes of course if the illegal immigrant in question is here because he is a Christian fleeing persecution in his native country. We should render as much aid as we possibly can, even if it means breaking immigration laws to do so, because in such a case there is a higher law that trumps the law of the land.

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