Illegal immigration in America is perhaps the greatest hot-button topic of the present day. The subject dominates the television news channels and editorial pages. People from different cultural and religious backgrounds all have strong opinions on the matter. Very few (I only know a handful) have a shrug of the shoulders or “live and let live” attitude about it.
Perhaps the greatest problem is the lack of meaningful dialogue in the present discussion. Many of us would like to have a civil discourse about the basic facts, the law and the consequences. However, we are generally dismissed or shouted down as racists, bigots or xenophobes by those on the left of the issue. This has become the go-to or fall back position when people don’t like to be challenged with facts that don’t fit their narrative or worldview.
Among Christians, (I am using the term in a general and not the true biblical sense), one often hears the old adage, “What would Jesus do?”, or “I want to be like Jesus!” This is all well and good. The problem is, no one seems to be able to identify or articulate, much less agree, what it means to be like Jesus in the matter of illegal aliens.
Is God Concerned about Borders?
I believe a good starting point would be to discuss God and His appointments for autonomous civil governments. Does God recognize the rights of civil government to establish and protect its borders?
In Joshua 1, as Israel is about to embark on her campaign to take control of the Promised Land, God gave this initial statement concerning the land:
“Moses, My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving them – the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of our foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory.” Joshua 1:2-4 NKJV
Thus we see God setting a boundary for the inhabitants of what would become the nation of Israel. As we continue reading, beginning in Joshua 10:28 and continuing through the end of Joshua 19, we see detailed boundaries given not only for the nation as a whole but also for each of the individual twelve tribes.
Moreover, there were even specific family borders within each particular tribe. Upon Joshua’s death, it is written that “they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Heres…” (Judges 2:9).
The borders of Israel remained intact up to and even after the division of the kingdom in 1 Kings 12. A century and a half following the division, the wicked Jeroboam II is noted as restoring the land of Israel to its former and original borders once ruled by his namesake (2 Kings 14:23-27).
Finally, in regard to physical kingdoms, Romans 13:1-7 grants to civil government the right to make and enforce its own laws and condemns all who resist that authority (cf 1 Pet 2:13-14).
From a spiritual aspect, the nation of Israel was a shadow of the church in the same way that the law of Moses was a shadow of the gospel (Heb 8:5, 10:1; cf Gal 3:24).
The church may be rightfully called spiritual Israel today. Not in the sense of God’s promises to physical Israel (which were all fulfilled – Josh 21:43-45) or the demands of the Law (which was replaced by the new covenant/gospel – Heb 8:6-13), but in the sense that the church is comprised of God’s covenant people, whom Paul likened unto Jews in Romans 2:28-29.
Like any kingdom of this sort, the church has a king (1 Tim 6:14-15). The church has defined borders (Isa 2:2-4, Luke 16:16, Acts 2:36-47). The church has a law (James 1:25, Heb 8:6-13). The church has specific citizenship requirements (Eph 2:11-21). The church is required to protect herself from all threats foreign (Rev 2:2) and domestic (Acts 20:29-31; Rom 16:17).
Are Border and/or Immigration Laws Contrary to the New Testament?
We have already established that God recognizes the authority of civil government, but we should add that Romans 13 identifies God as the giver of civil government and that civil government exists for the protection of those who do good and to punish those practice evil.
In Acts 4:29 and 5:29, we see the apostles resisting direct orders of the Jewish authorities. Though Israel was ultimately under Roman dominion (John 18:31), the Roman government allowed conquered peoples like Israel to handle their own daily affairs. The Jewish rulers had their own soldiers at their disposal (Matt 27:65-66). To resist these duly appointed officers would be to resist the governing authorities.
However, most of us understand that this open resistance to governing authority was not only justified but demanded by their obligations to God and the gospel of Christ. Jesus had commanded the apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person” (Mark 16:16). Thus, the command “not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus” was in direct conflict with the command received from the mouth of Jesus. The apostles had to make a choice, be true to their Lord or obey the government. The choice was clear and their decision was declared, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Now the question must be asked, “Does a nation’s decision to control its borders and immigration violate the law of God?” Given what we know about government and its Divinely- given authority, I can find no prohibition in the biblical text.
Additionally, everything we can read about national autonomy leads us to believe that border security and immigration control fall under the purveyance of governing authorities. For example, the nation of Israel was not totally homogenous. There were strangers and aliens who resided among the people of God. In Exodus 12, we see where these non-natives were subject to the laws of the Passover. Like Israel, they were forbidden to eat leaven, but unlike Israel, they were not permitted to eat the Passover without meeting certain criteria.
Is Illegal Immigration Really Harmless?
Speaking of illegal aliens, a dear friend of mine opined, “Their being here doesn’t affect me, my life (or yours) in any way at all. As a matter of fact, I don’t have a friend or family member who has been affected by their presence in this country!” I don’t think this statement is well thought out or true.
Illegal aliens are a drain on our public education resources, as many children of illegals do not speak English and require additional support staff to educate them. Monies that should be spent on the children of citizens and those who are here legally is diverted to other unnecessary programs. The school lunch program could also be included here.
The vast majority of illegal immigrants receive various forms of government-sponsored welfare. The number is estimated to be as high as 87%.
The rate of illegal aliens who commit crimes is 250% higher than those of American citizens. Our prisons are overflowing, and many of those incarcerated are illegal aliens. One-fourth of all federal prisoners are immigrants, and 90% of these are illegals.
Our education, welfare, judicial, prison and public service systems are all suffering due to the presence of illegal aliens. This hurts all Americans whether they feel it directly or not.
Other Americans are feeling the direct effects of illegal immigrants. Imagine if you are a roofer, a painter, sheetrock hanger, or construction worker. Imagine if you own such a business and are trying to work within the confines of the law. Do you think illegal immigration affects your ability to work or your business? How many Americans can’t find work because illegal immigrants are working for below market value wages and/or for cash? How many businesses are suffering because their competitors are employing illegal immigrants and are thus able to undercut their costs or bids for work? Enabling illegal immigrants hurts millions of Americans, their families, their communities, and their churches.
What about the Children?
Unlike many who share my general political views, I am not opposed to a path for citizenship for children brought to America illegally by their parents. My position is also based on a basic principle of Scripture, namely, that children do not bear the iniquity of their parents (Eze 18:20). In no other area do we as a nation directly punish children for the illegal actions of their parents. Why would anyone argue for such in the case of children brought here illegally? These children did not break the law, neither did they consent to break the law.
Creating a path for citizenship based on clearly defined terms seems to me to be reasonable. For example, fluency in English, a high school diploma or equivalent, and a work history wouldn’t be out of order. I don’t know why anyone would oppose it. However, I believe within this path there should also be an accounting of those who brought them here. Unless the parents are willing to be deported and re-enter legally or are deceased, there should be no path. “Go and sin no more” applies to those who have committed sin, not those who are innocent.
What Does it Mean to be Like Jesus?
Some might ask, “But what about being like Jesus, the golden rule, and helping the poor?” These are appropriate questions. An equally appropriate and enlightening response is, “To whom is the golden rule given? And who did Jesus tell to help the poor?” The answer is the individual, not the government. The Old Testament, and specifically the Law of Moses, was both a religious and civil law given to guide and govern Israel. The New Testament is nothing of the sort. The New Testament is given to guide and govern the church and the hearts of men.
All men should be treated with dignity and the love of Christ. Christians are not exempt from helping the poor who may be here illegally. Christians must make every effort to carry out the Great Commission, regardless of the prospect’s immigration status. In my twenty two years as the preacher at Burleson, we have helped people regardless of immigration status. Through the assistance of my daughter, we have helped non-English speakers. Immigration status is not a consideration. Additionally, we have attempted to evangelize the Hispanic community through House to House – Heart to Heart. I suspect that many recipients were likely in the country illegally. No matter. They still need the gospel and we still tried to teach them. I believe we have acted in a way consistent with the character and example of Jesus.
But we are not at liberty to disregard some biblical principles in order to uphold others. Neither are we permitted to “do evil that good may come” (Rom 3:8). Doing good and teaching those who are in America illegally of necessity must include the demands of repentance. Repentance is a change of mind leading to a change of life. We cannot aid and abet those who live in open rebellion to the laws of our country when those laws are not contrary to the law of God.
Contrary to what many in the media tell you, it is a crime to enter the United States unlawfully. It is also illegal to overstay one’s visa. Thus, those guilty of either of these are subject to deportation.
Moreover, those who work as illegals are also breaking the law. It is a crime to use someone else’s Social Security number or to use a false number for the purpose of employment. It is illegal for employers to hire illegals and pay them in cash for their labors.
When Jesus was confronted with the woman taken in adultery, His final words to the woman were “go and sin no more.” He showed compassion for her in His defense against her accusers, but I believe He fully expected her to stop being an adulteress.
If a man conducts a lot of business in cash and fails to report it to the government, is he hurting anyone? Of course he is! He is hurting his entire community by failing to pay taxes that are necessary for public works and the public good. Just because I may not directly or significantly feel the impact of his deeds doesn’t mean he is doing me no harm. If I teach that man the gospel, and I know he is a tax cheat, should I encourage him to properly report his income and pay his taxes like the rest of us? Of course I should! Would I be justified in allowing him to continue as a tax cheat without encouraging him to repent?
The rhetoric of the left notwithstanding, it is not un-Christlike to instruct men to obey the laws of the land. In the words of Peter, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14). “Speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) requires striking this delicate balance.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I believe what has been given here is consistent with the character of Jesus and teaching of Scripture. If I am mistaken, and especially if I have misrepresented Jesus and His word, I welcome your correction.