Friday, February 20, 2015

Immigration: A Christian Dilemma



    Should we build a wall at the border, or should we let everyone through?  As I scroll through my social media feeds, I see posts by friends that seem to support both extremes.  Some say that, as a matter of security, out nation must seal the border.  Others say that as a matter of Christian compassion, we must care for the foreigners among us and allow them in. 

So what should a faithful Christian believe?

Is there a “right” answer?

Honestly, I don’t know. 

    What I do know, is that both extremes miss the mark.  I recognize that both “sides” are represented by people of faith who believe in the message of the gospel.  But at the same time, each group ignores vital and valid points that are made by the other.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I am the product of an immigrant family.  My grandparents came here from Germany, as did my Mother-in-law.  Our family is certainly sympathetic to the cause of immigrants.  But even so, I understand that the discussion pulls us in different directions.

Here are some points of discussion worth considering:

1)      As followers of God, we are called to be the voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8) as well as to care for the foreigners among us (Exodus 22, Jeremiah 22, Ezekiel 22, Zechariah 7)

2)      There are limited resources with which to care for them and a limited number of volunteers who can provide care.

3)     Border crossings that avoid official checkpoints, cross deserts and other  inhospitable territory.  As a result, men, women and children die crossing the border.

4)      Unscrupulous people, who are hired to guide others across the border, often abandon their charges or sell them into various forms of human trafficking.

5)      Whenever the chance of success is higher, or the rewards for success become greater, more people attempt to cross the border.

6)      Is it fair, or just, to those who are following the law and applying for proper documentation, to allow undocumented immigrants to flow across the border?

7)      Is it fair, or just, for native born citizens to compete for employment against undocumented migrants?

8)      There are valid local and national security concerns related to some of the people who are crossing the border.  Is it justice to put others at risk by allowing known criminals into the country without a background check?

   Clearly, we are called to be compassionate and to care for the foreigners among us, but the most compassionate, caring, and just thing to do may not be found at either extreme.  Building walls and returning undocumented migrants results in injustice, but opening the floodgates and allowing everyone in creates a different kind of injustice.  Making it easier to cross the border will increase the number of people who die crossing it.  And the failure to regulate who is crossing, will drive migrants into the hands of human traffickers. 

    When the waiting list for legal documentation can drag on for years, how are those applicants harmed by migrants who are given such documentation after crossing the border in the dark of night?

    We have seen similar waves of immigration.  There were waves of Irish, Germans, Czechs, Chinese, Vietnamese, and others.  Perhaps with this wave of immigrants from Central America, we might reconsider an old idea.  What if we built a new “Ellis Island” on our border with Mexico?  It would be a place where migrants would be welcomed, cared for, and kept safe, but also a place where they could be documented, we could conduct background checks, and verify that they met other requirements. 

    At Ellis Island, migrants were tested for disease, and were required to provide documentation that they had employment and a place to live in their new country.  While most migrants passed through Ellis Island in a day or two, my grandfather was detained for a week because the man who was supposed to verify his employment was delayed.  He was finally approved for entry after that man sent a telegram which verified his status.

Once again, I don’t know what the answer is.  Most likely, there is no single answer.

But each extreme carries us toward injustice. 

Justice and compassion demand that we try to find a way between these conflicting demands. 






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