Immigration is a very controversial and emotional issue. I haven’t seen too many articles expressing a Biblical world view concerning this topic, so in this post I will endeavor to present a Biblically balanced worldview on this issue that is so dominant in our society. While the Bible doesn’t pointedly address the specific immigration issues we are currently facing in 2018, it does lay down general guidelines on the treatment of foreigners, and the role of government in a society. As uncompromised followers of Jesus, we need to know what these Biblical principles are regarding this issue, understand what they mean, and then apply them to our situation. While I am aware that everyone won’t agree with me, it is hoped that this discussion will encourage Christians to take a deep dive into Scripture in order to look at the issue.
Both the Old and New Testament mention foreigners and the treatment of them. In terms of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, this was usually in context of non-Jews living in their midst.
When the Jews were redeemed out of Egypt by God many foreigners went with them (Exodus 12:37-38, Numbers 11:4, Joshua 8:35). These folks were accepted by the Jews and received special protection (Exodus 22:21, 23:9) and were to be loved by the Israelites (Leviticus 19:34). Additionally, they were granted privileges conditioned on their obedience to certain regulations. For example they were not to blaspheme God’s name (Leviticus 24:16), engage in idolatrous worship (Leviticus 20:2), participate in acts of sexual immorality (Leviticus 18:1-26), work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), eat leavened bread during the Passover remembrance (Exodus 12:19), and eat blood or flesh from animals that had been ripped apart by other animals (Leviticus 17:10, 15). As long as the foreigners followed these laws they were to be protected and were given the same civil rights as Israelite citizens. Additionally, they could even own property (Leviticus 25:47) and offer sacrifices to God (Numbers 15:14, 22-29).
If a foreigner desired to be a citizen of Israel, he had to undergo circumcision, which then bound him to observe the entire law. He was then identified with the nation and included with it (Exodus 12:48), and then would enjoy the privileges of the covenant that God made with Israel.
It must be noted, however, that there were certain people who were excluded from fellowship with the nation of Israel: the seven Canaanites nations that lived in the Promised Land were destined to destruction and thus excluded permanently (Exodus 34:12-17, Deuteronomy 7:1-4), the Edomites and Egyptians were excluded until the third generation (Deuteronomy 23:7-8), and the Ammonites and Moabites were excluded until the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3; the tenth generation could symbolically mean forever).
In the New Testament, Jesus constantly interacted with non-Jews, and came to declare God’s love for all people (John 3:16). In Jesus there were no longer racial or ethnic divisions (Galatians 3:26-29), but all humanity had the privilege of participating in the New Covenant of grace through faith in Jesus. Additionally, followers of Jesus were to treat all people, including foreigners, aliens, and strangers with love and respect (1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2).
Interestingly, believers in Jesus are, in a sense, considered aliens and strangers in this world as our true citizenship is in Heaven (1 Peter 2:11). However, even though “foreigners” here on earth, we still must obey the laws of the land we live in unless these laws contradict God’s moral absolutes as seen in Scripture (an example is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image in Daniel 4) just as the non-Jews were expected to obey the laws of Israel and the Jews of Jesus’ day were expected to obey the laws of the Roman empire (again, obviously, unless they contradicted God’s commands). For example, Jesus said that we need to pay taxes (Luke 20:20-26), which was reiterated by Paul (Romans 13:6-7).
The next topic we need to look at is the Biblical teaching on the role of government in society. Civil governments are established by God to preserve order in society and to protect its citizens. Governments have been empowered by God for this task, and have the mandate to punish those who break the laws of country (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17). Citizens and, yes, aliens and strangers, must obey the laws of the land. Without this, chaos and anarchy abound. Additionally, the government has the right to exclude certain people from immigrating into the country if they pose the potential of doing harm to the citizens and residents of the country (refer to the exclusion of the Canaanite nations and the Moabites and Ammonites mentioned above).
To summarize our points so far, all people are to be treated with respect, and thus we are to welcome everyone, even foreigners (aliens and strangers) and treat them with love and respect. However, all people, even aliens and strangers, must be subject to the governing authorities and must obey the laws of the land. If not the government has the mandate to punish those who break the law.
Now that we have our Biblical foundation, how do we apply it to the illegal aliens, DACA individuals, and others who want to immigrate to the United States today?
First off, all people are to be treated with respect and dignity regardless of ethnicity or country of origin, and we welcome all of those into our country who enter legally, who will not be a potential threat to our safety, and who wish to participate in our society. Secondly, we are a nation of laws, and our laws must be obeyed. If not, the government has the responsibility to punish those who break the law because there must be consequences for illegal behavior or chaos will reign. (As an aside, there are some churches today that harbor illegal aliens from the government. I believe that this is wrong because abetting those who are lawbreakers is rebelling against God’s command to obey government. Remember, we obey the governing authorities as long as they don’t cause us to violate God’s commands. Our immigration laws are not in violation of God’s moral laws).
In regards to illegal aliens in our country today, they have broken the immigration laws of the United States and there must be consequences. But what about those who have been in this country for many years, have worked hard, been law abiding citizens, and have assimilated into our society? That’s a tough question, but I believe, using a Biblical world view, that there could be an approach that balances the spirit of the law with human compassion. For example, in cases like this for such illegal aliens a possible solution might be as follows:
- If an illegal alien has committed a crime or has just used the welfare system they would be deported
- For the others, allow them 60 days to start the process for a obtaining a one year temporary workers visa
- For those who obtain such a visa, and when the one year is up, they must appear before an immigration official and prove that during the year they held the temporary workers visa they held a job, did not committed a crime, and learned enough English to be able to converse with the immigration official without an interpreter
- if they pass these, they would be given a five year provisional visa
- after the five years, they must show that they have held a job and not committed a crime
- if they pass they would be given a permanent resident alien card
- they could never become naturalized citizens because they initially entered the country illegally, and there must be consequences for breaking the law
Obviously this isn’t a perfect plan, but it is just an example of a solution that would keep consequences for breaking the law (by not allowing illegal immigrants to be naturalized citizens) while still showing compassion (by allowing them to stay permanently in the U.S as a legal resident). It would take some concerted effort to go through the process and learn English, but if they really want to stay in America and enjoy the opportunities that exist here, one would think that they would be willing to do whatever it took to see this through.
For DACA individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents, the same procedure mentioned above (including the time line) could be used, with the exception that they could earn citizenship instead of a permanent resident status. Since they didn’t have a choice on whether to cross the border illegally, citizenship could be obtained..
For those who want to immigrate to the U.S. in the future, a thorough vetting procedure must be set up and only those who don’t appear to be a threat to our country should be let in.
What about a wall on the Mexican border? I see nothing inherently evil in this. There is nothing immoral about a country clearly defining its borders.
I know that my discussion on this issue is far from the ultimate solution, but I pray that it will help followers of Jesus get a better understanding of the issue and compel them to search Scripture for the questions they have. The Bible is always the final authority on all magters of theology and life. Christians must not be led by emotions, but must build a Biblical worldview on the moral issues of our day. A Biblical world view always brings the best solution.