Here is a reminder of where we are:
Week #1: Foundational Thoughts
Week #2: Immigration Policy
Week #3: Voices of Immigrants
Week #4: Refugees
Week #5: Engaging with Islam
Week #6: Bridging Barriers and Putting Ideas Into Practice
The title for the post comes from a line in the Tony Award winning Broadway musical Hamilton as Alexander Hamilton (Scotland) and the Marquis de Lafayette (France) celebrate the continental army’s victory at Yorktown. It is a reminder that immigration issues have been central to the American story from the very beginning. It is also a reminder that “getting the job done” is literally part of the challenge. From New England farms to frontier homesteads to the steel mills of Pittsburgh, immigrants have found new work opportunities in America. In the process they have often clashed with the people already there by threatening to take their jobs or their land.
I want to preempt this by framing the discussion in a couple of ways. First of all, this topic is so complex that it would require a year’s worth of writing to adequately address. Our goal is not to achieve comprehensive coverage in a week of short posts, rather, it is to expand our understanding and model a measured and reasonable dialogue. Not all of our contributors will agree on all points and it is not our intention to seek a single harmonized message. Secondly, we should recognize that there are a range of legitimate positions that Christians can take on this issue. It is reasonable for a country to limit immigration – every country on earth does this – and it is necessary for a nation to enforce border security. Third, the Bible does introduce some principles about immigration that can apply generally to this conversation, so we are not without guidance.
Here is what I am thinking about concerning biblical principles. There are repeated references to conduct towards immigrants in the Bible, with many using the language of “alien”, “exile” or “sojourner.” There are repeated warnings that we not take advantage of someone in this condition. (See Ex. 22:21, 23:9, Lev. 19:33, 25:35, Jer. 7:6, 22:3, Zec. 7:10, and Mal 3:5.) That does not mean that a country needs to have completely open borders. But it does remind us that immigrants are often particularly vulnerable and open to exploitation.
There is another passage that grounds this concern in a way that is particularly relevant. Deuteronomy 10:19 commands the people of Israel to “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” God tells Israel that their conduct towards outsiders in their midst should be rooted in their experience of having been an outsider. That doesn’t meant that this command only applied to the first generation to leave Egypt, but it was the collective experience of their people and part of their identity. Although immigration policy is a complex subject, we should always remember to ground our current policies in the right historical context. We can’t isolate the immigration discussion from our national history of immigration. Here are some ways that can be applied:
- Immigration in America has always been messy. (Think about our treaties with the Native Americans, or the hostility that Irish immigrants felt during the potato famine.) We should be wary of simple or self-righteous answers.
- While there are a wide range of reasonable approaches to immigration policy, we should always ask, “How would I want to be treated as an immigrant?” and “How can I share the opportunities that my ancestors had with others today?” (Dt 10:19 and the “golden rule.”)
- Just as we should not justify or dismiss the challenges (and injustices) that European immigration brought to the Native Americans, we should not dismiss the challenges that modern immigration can bring to the workers that are already here.
- While we may disagree on policies for admittance, we have clear commands to be merciful to those immigrants who are already here.