Illegal Immigration and Christian Values
Q: Illegal immigrants are flouting U.S. laws, but does affluent America (or Arizona for that matter) have a larger moral or spiritual obligation to help illegal immigrants who are trying to better their lives? What about religious obligations to welcome the stranger? Are we our brother's keeper?
In a perfect world, national boundaries and laws would have been respected. The United States would not have to deal with the problem of 11 million immigrants who came (or stayed) here illegally.
But in a perfect world, there would also not be such a profound gap between the attractive wealth of the United States and the abysmal poverty of much of the rest of the western hemisphere, a gap that for decades has drawn immigrants here in such of a better life. And the United States would not have the power to dominate the global economic order in such a way as to entrench its benefits for ourselves.
Focusing on one fact--the violation of U.S. laws on the part of those who got here illegally--misses other important facts, such as the reasons why desperate people so frequently have come here. And it also misses broader principles that must be contemplated as we search for a response.
Those of us who have advocated for some kind of comprehensive immigration reform are fully aware that it is not good that immigration laws have been broken en masse. But we are also aware that because America is not the kind of nation (thank God) that will deploy its military and police forces to embark on a Nazi- or Soviet-style forced deportation of eleven million people, we have to find a more creative approach that fits with our values.
The ingredients of such an approach are clear by now. It includes providing an earned path to citizenship for (otherwise) law-abiding immigrants, requiring the payment of back taxes and a modest fine for those who have been here illegally, requiring illegal immigrants to learn sufficient English-language skills to function well here, and improving both border security and enforcement of existing laws once this reform has been implemented.
It seems to me that Christian moral values can support such an approach. Its relatively humane provisions at least reflect in some small measure the compassion taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ. Its underlying spirit, in which an effort is made to redeem and welcome the visitor's presence among us, fits with the generosity of spirit and hospitality taught in Christian ethics. Of course, at the deepest and most radical level, Christian ethics raises serious questions about the ultimacy of the nation-state and its borders, as we know that God transcends all human creations and loves each person with an immeasurable love, regardless of their legal status.
But the immigration reforms being pressed today do not ask the United States for any such radical Christianity. Instead, the goal is a reasonably humane solution to a deep and longstanding human problem.
May 25, 2010; 10:37 AM ET
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