As a Christian living in a democracy, I want an immigration system that reflects God’s compassionate heart.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any laws and borders.  But ultimately our laws should balance justice and mercy. This is particularly true when it comes to refugees.

One of the arguments I’ve heard some Christians make against allowing in or increasing the number of refugees and immigrants is that we don’t live in a theocracy.  They emphasize that God’s call to “welcome the stranger” and to “love [foreigners] as you love yourself” applies only to individuals and not to civic governments.  (Here’s an example of an article that espouses these views).

I find a number of flaws in this perspective.  The first is that laws in the United States are not set in stone.  As we’ve seen in Trump’s recent executive orders and in Congress’s process of creating new legislation, laws can be changed as the result of one person’s view on a topic or pressure from the public and/or lobbying groups.  As Christians living in a democracy, we have the opportunity to meaningfully “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Prov. 31:8), and advocate for laws that are in alignment with God’s heart. It seems that the call to “submit to governing authorities” in Romans 13 applies in a different way when our government is “by the people.” When it comes to issues like abortion, Christians are very vocal about the need for laws to reflect God’s commands.  I’d like to see the same level of advocacy for refugees as for the unborn.

The current refugee situation in Syria is the perhaps the largest humanitarian crisis in our lifetime.  By advocating for laws that allow the US to take in refugees, we have a chance to live out the call to care for the least among us, to feed the naked, to feed the hungry and to do all the good we can while we are able. To stay silent or support a ban on refugees is not only unconstitutional, but un-Christian.

The vetting system for refugees already does a sufficient job of balancing justice and mercy.  The process takes up to 18 months of background checks, interviews, etc.  The process refugees must go through can be found here.

I feel that we should take in as many refugees around the world as is sustainable.  The US has a history of taking in refugees and it has not destroyed our society; in fact immigrants have enhanced our society. Almost 120,000 Vietnamese people came into the U.S. at the conclusion of the Vietnam War.  About 400,000 Eastern Europeans came to the U.S. after World War II and 650,000 Cubans were resettled when Castro took power in Cuba.  All of these groups have contributed to our society and resettled well.  The 10,000 goal for Syrian refugees that Obama proposed is too low in my opinion, and taking 0 Syrian refugees as Trump has proposed is reprehensible.

Another flaw in the argument against taking in refugees from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia, is that it ignores America’s complicity in creating conditions from which people in those countries are now fleeing. The US has trained an armed rebel fighters.  This is not to say that the U.S. caused these wars.  However, we have played a role in exacerbating the conflict.  As the American Conservative reports, “By one not unreasonable estimate, as many as four million Muslims have died or been killed as a result of the ongoing conflicts that Washington has either initiated or been party to since 2001.” It goes on to explain, “the countries that have generated most of the refugees are all places where the United States has invaded, overthrown governments, supported insurgencies, or intervened in a civil war. The invasion of Iraq created a power vacuum that has empowered terrorism in the Arab heartland. Supporting rebels in Syria has piled Pelion on Ossa. Afghanistan continues to bleed 14 years after the United States arrived and decided to create a democracy. Libya, which was relatively stable when the U.S. and its allies intervened, is now in chaos, with its disorder spilling over into sub-Saharan Africa.”  The justice side of the mercy/justice balance counsels in favors of holding our nation accountable for the atrocities that have resulted from pursuing our national interests.

Like the Israelites of the Old Testament, we are a nation of immigrants.  Our ancestors fled unbearable situations of persecution abroad so that one day we would have a better life.  I believe that as God called the Israelites to remember that, so should we.  Indeed, in Leviticus the Lord told Moses “love your neighbor as yourself,” and “[w]hen a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

(Dissecting the entire immigration system is outside the scope of this blog article, but in general, I think reform is needed to make it faster for people to get to this country to be united with family and to not be in limbo.  We also cannot ignore the fact that many immigrants have ties to the U.S. because of labor programs that have benefited the U.S. economy.  I think its unconscionable to exploit laborers from other countries and then when they inevitably develop a life here, to close our borders to them.  Also, the amount of funding that is being diverted to build a wall could be better used to support the poor, education, mental health services and a plethora of other things that would increase the quality of our lives individually and collectively.  Finally, offering amnesty to immigrants already here seems to be consistent with the mercy that God bestowed on his people through such mechanisms as the Year of Jubilee for forgiving debts- but I need to study that issue more).

Further Reading:

Welcoming the Stranger Discovering and Living God’s Heart for Immigrants

Christian Ethics & U.S. Immigration Policy: A Guide for the Christian Policymaker

The Christian Case for Opening the Door to Syrian Refugees 

Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq

Evangelical Experts Oppose Trump’s Refugee Ban