What is a Christian response to illegal aliens/illegal immigrants?
The issue of illegal immigration is a big one in America, and several other countries are struggling with it as well. It is beyond the purview of CompellingTruth.org to dictate what policies a nation should enact regarding immigration, beyond that any law should be just and compassionate. The Bible does give Christians general guidelines, however, that can easily be applied to illegal aliens.
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The first that comes to mind is that Christians are called to obey the law of the land (Romans 13:1-7). If it is illegal to hire immigrants who have no proper documentation, we should not do so. If it is illegal to help aliens come across the border, we should not do so.
Things become sticky, however, when the government expects private citizens to act as law enforcement. There are states that hold citizens accountable if they provide aid to an illegal alien or do not report those who do. This is counter to the spirit of what the Bible teaches. The law of the Old Testament was that aliens were to be treated with respect and given aid. If things were so desperate in their home land that people would rather move to Israel and live under Israel's strict judicial and ceremonial law, the Israelites were to honor that desire.
Modern countries with a significant population of illegal aliens often enact policies that are counter to the biblical way of living. Illegal aliens are vulnerable to abuse, including unfair wages and blackmail. The Bible teaches that we are not to take advantage of aliens among us (Exodus 23:9). For one, God is impartial to birthplace and He demands justice for everyone (Deuteronomy 10:18). But to take advantage of aliens by giving them unfair wages for work is not only unbiblical (Deuteronomy 24:14), it hurts both the immigrants and the citizens. A fairly-paid alien will provide more in taxes, rely less on social services, and avoid competing unfairly with workers who are legal residents. This is something to bear in mind when Christians over-value cheap goods and services under the guise of "stewardship" and neglect to take those who provide the goods into consideration. We should be good stewards of our money, but we should first be fair and compassionate to others.
It is also dangerous when immigration, or any issue the Bible speaks on, becomes sharply politicized. Christians should stand up for those social issues that best reflect the gospel, not that best reflect the political party that gives them the attention they want in other areas. Christians are first and foremost citizens of heaven, not members of a political party. When we identify ethical issues with politics more than we do with Jesus, we lose who we are in Christ. The Bible says to be kind to aliens in the land (Leviticus 19:33-34). This directive is to all Christ-followers. If a believer finds value in a particular political party, he or she should do what they can to encourage that party to promote biblical justice in all areas that matter to Christ, not only issues that matter to other party members.
The Bible gives an example of how the church can act as a liaison between the law and the illegal alien who breaks it, although the story does not directly refer to immigration. It is the story of Philemon and Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave who ran from his master Philemon. In Jewish law, this was allowed since the difficult life of a runaway slave acted as a deterrent (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). But Onesimus was under Roman law. A runaway slave or anyone who harbored him could be subject to extreme punishment, or even death. Somehow, in the course of Onesimus's running, he found Paul.
Paul was also a Roman citizen and he knew the law. He knew that the Roman government had the right to punish him and that Philemon had the right to brand Onesimus's forehead. When Paul wrote to Philemon, he was working on two different levels. On one, he was a Roman citizen who was harboring a runaway slave on legally shaky ground; soon after this time, the punishment for harboring a runaway slave became crucifixion or labor in the mines. On another level, he was Philemon's spiritual authority who could have, within the context of the church, impelled Philemon to forgive and free Onesimus. Instead, Paul humbly submitted himself to Philemon as a representative of Onesimus and offered to be responsible for any debt Onesimus may have incurred.
There is a church in California that hears this call and follows Paul's example. Their community is filled with immigrants who need help with naturalization. They are directly showing justice to the alien; many immigrants came to the U.S. for legally valid reasons, but don't have the language skills or the legal knowledge to communicate their situation to the authorities. Immigration laws are confusing, but the church can help immigrants wade through the paperwork. One way is by helping victims of human trafficking understand that they and their immediate family are eligible for a "T nonimmigrant" visa; they can stay in the U.S. for three years and apply for permanent residence. For those who are ineligible to become citizens, the church provides immigrants with other options to help them follow the law.
Another option the church is uniquely equipped for is to help illegal immigrants return home with skills and resources to resolve the issues that drove them to a new country in the first place. Christians in well-off countries have the resources to help communities in poorer countries become safe places with employment and education opportunities. It requires a sacrifice of time, money, and effort. But it also provides an opportunity to share both Christ's love and His gospel. Missionaries give far more effort for far fewer opportunities. And, as 1 John 3:17 says, "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"
This does not apply to those aliens who enter a country for the purpose of crime or violence. The caveat God gave the Israelites regarding aliens is that they needed to obey the laws of the land (Leviticus 24:22), and the Israelites needed to make it possible for them to obey the laws of the land by giving them opportunities for sustenance (Leviticus 23:22). Aliens who came in to steal, fight, or draw the Israelites to other gods were to be disposed of quickly.
How should Christians influence their governments when it comes to immigration policy? The Bible doesn't specifically state. Will there be abuses to the generosity of Christians toward illegal immigrants? Inevitably. In everything we should be led by love, justice, and concern for the poor. It is not loving to grant those who are violent or unwilling to work free access to our resources. But it is not loving (to the illegal immigrants or to the citizens who are competing for the same jobs) to prevent those who want to work from earning a fair wage. It is unloving to encourage someone to continue to break immigration laws. But it is unloving to say "be fed and clothed" without providing the means to do so (James 2:15-16). How these issues should be answered will depend on the community and the situation. But they will be best answered by Christ-followers inspired by Scripture and the righteous and loving nature of God.
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