Too often in immigration debates, Christians quote biblical passages about loving neighbors or the stranger as a proof text for supporting a policy of open borders — or at least a very generous immigration policy. This position starts from compassion toward the immigrant and proceeds to policy. Passages in scripture that counsel love and compassion towards outsiders and foreigners are pointed to. It seems straightforward that loving our neighbor in this situation means welcoming our neighbors south of the border. But that’s too simple.
The problems with this position, which are many, is that compassion and love for immigrants can take many forms for Christians which do not demand a policy of amnesty or open borders. Christian charity can take many forms other than letting in indefinite numbers of people into the country. Many people around this world live in tough circumstances and Christians should be doing all we can to help them, but it is by no means clear that the most just and charitable policy would necessarily require near limitless immigration, as most Democratic presidential candidates are now demanding.
Further, it flies in the face of the evidence that we have from the past two years. Todd Owen, Executive Assistant Commissioner for Field Operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, stated in a recent interview that the unprecedented surge in immigration on the southern border is due to a belief that the border will either be closed under Trump or that a Democratic president will grant amnesty, as with the Obama Administration’s DACA policy.
Immigration figures for this year are unprecedented and have gone largely unreported by the press. As of September, the number of apprehensions on the southern border were 926,000. To give perspective, apprehensions for the entire fiscal year 2018 were 521,000. By the end of this year the number will have doubled!
The system, as it currently stands, encourages immigration for reasons of fear or desire for amnesty. Securing borders through comprehensive reform would remove incentives that push the immigration system to the brink and exhaust resources that should be deployed elsewhere. Loving our neighbor means we should not encourage immigrants to break our laws by making an often treacherous journey across our border.
In fact, a Christian response to immigration would also take into consideration the effects of immigration on our neighbors within our own country. While it is true that immigration has had positive benefits for America throughout its history, there are also negative effects. Immigration on a mass scale, which we are experiencing right now, can have negative effects that disproportionately affect the less well off. Love for neighbors requires that we consider the needs and well-being of our communities, states, and countries before those outside of our borders. To advocate policies that are completely dismissive of the effects on other Americans in the name of compassion for others is failure of love, not its fulfillment.
The recent proposal by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) is one idea for securing our borders and upholding the rule of law while keeping families together and not inflicting draconian punishments on immigrants. By advocating for a restitution-based policy, the EIT proposal possibly would end the perverse incentives encouraging illegal immigration by securing the border while providing a way for illegal immigrants to secure legal residency without merely granting amnesty.
[Editor’s note: Others are more skeptical of the latest plan from EIT, which traditionally touts permissive immigration policies.]
If we are guided solely by compassion for the immigrant, we are not doing all that charity would require of us. How can we say that we are doing all that love requires if we only consider the needs of the immigrant whom we cannot see and do not take into consideration the needs of fellow citizens whom we do see?