Following is the draft of the “Principles for Just Immigration Reform” White Paper being prepared for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. An effort is underway to recruit conservative evangelicals to support this document.
For reasons outlined below, I believe this document is inaccurate in both its understanding of the biblical principles that apply to the issue of illegal immigration, and also in its understanding of public policy relating to illegal immigration.
If your pastor or evangelical leader is thinking of supporting “comprehensive immigration reform,” please have him review my op-ed and comments about this “White Paper.” My comments are presented in italics.
In addition, I highly recommend a thorough analysis by James R. Edwards, Ph.D. entitled “A Biblical Perspective on Illegal Immigration,” — http://www.cis.org/ImmigrationBible.
**DRAFT ** A White Paper: Principles for Just Immigration Reform
By Richard Land and Barrett Duke
The time has come for our nation to resolve its immigration dilemma. It is imperative that we find an acceptable solution to the disposition of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in our nation. Currently, the two extremes of deportation and amnesty are being played against each other, resulting in a stalemate in Congress.
The stalemate in Congress is not because the two extremes can’t agree. It is because there is no political support for addressing the more difficult issue of how to handle those who are here illegally until we have stopped the ongoing flow of illegal immigration by securing the border. If they are sent back, they can cross again the next day. If we legalize those who are here now, millions more will cross and demand the same rights.
We believe that neither of the two extremes are appropriate, workable solutions. To force those who are here illegally to leave is neither politically viable nor humanitarian.
Many things supported by the ERLC that I support – such as passage of a constitutional amendment protecting marriage – are much less politically viable right now. Yet the ERLC to my knowledge has not used that as an excuse to oppose the federal marriage amendment. This is not a good argument. Whether it is “humanitarian” to require people to follow the law is another question.
To offer blanket amnesty to those who broke the immigration laws of our country and their own countries is disrespectful of the rule of law. What is needed is a solution that respects the rule of law while at the same time treats undocumented immigrants in the nation compassionately. Agreed.
As Christians, we acknowledge that we must think through the question of illegal immigration not only as offended, concerned citizens, but also as compassionate Christians.
This seems like a bit of a cheap shot at opponents of illegal immigration. It’s possible to be concerned about illegal immigration and also to be compassionate. “Offended” is a pejorative term – like we should be bigger than this and not so immature as to be “offended.” We are not off to a very even-handed start.
The Church has a duty to minister to all people in need. Jesus instructed His followers to love all men, even those who hate them (see Luke 6:27-38). He instructed His followers to meet the needs of those who are suffering (Matthew 25:31-46). The writer of the Book of Hebrews instructed his readers to “show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2).
Agreed – these are clear and specific instructions to followers of Christ. We should support those Christians in our community who minister to the alien. I have long reminded conservatives that the “all men are created equal” portion of our declaration is not limited to citizens, and that all people are worthy of being treated with respect and dignity, including illegal aliens. But these passages say nothing about what our government policy should be toward those who violate the law. Consider this — we are also supposed to “look after” prisoners and to visit them and remember them during their confinement. That does not mean we are supposed to spring them out of jail or ask for the laws they violated to be changed. This is the beginning of confusion for many Christians – not understanding the role of individual Christians and the body of Christ, compared to the separate role of civil government.
While we reject the law-breaking practices of the so-called Sanctuary Movement, we recognize that the undocumented immigrants in our midst are in need of our ministry. We acknowledge a two-fold responsibility in this regard. As Christians we must lead the church to engage in multi-faceted, human needs ministry on a massive scale to meet the great spiritual and physical needs of millions of men, women, and children living in the shadows of society. Since they are bearers of the image of God, fellow members of the human race, and people for whom Jesus died we can do no less for them. We pledge to help our churches develop these ministries.
I agree with all of this. We certainly must minister to the illegal alien. Meeting their physical needs is a given. But how exactly do we meet the spiritual needs of those who are violating the civil law? If we had church members in our midst who were embezzling, wouldn’t we have a spiritual responsibility to urge them to grow in obedience to the Lord by repenting? Wouldn’t we urge them to “steal no longer” (Ephesians 4:28)? I will go further — might we even have a civic responsibility, if they failed to repent and abide by the law, to notify the appropriate authorities? How would we be guiding the spiritual development of a known violator of immigration laws by tolerating and excusing his ongoing unlawful behavior?
As citizens, we also have a responsibility to help our nation respond to the plight of these millions of people in a manner that respects their dignity and value as well. This document is our effort to help our nation address the plight of the millions of human beings living here illegally.
There is a saying in the law that “hard cases make bad law.” The most difficult aspect of the illegal immigration crisis – the hardest case – is what to do with those who have lived openly in America for years, working hard and presumably not violating other laws. And this is where this “White Paper” starts, rather than starting by asking, from a biblical perspective, what principles should guide a nation’s relationship with foreigners who desire to live in the United States? Starting with the hardest case is exactly what leads to the “bad law” proposals that follow.
Their current experience is neither good for them or for our nation. They suffer as outcasts, without access to all this country has to offer to empower them to fulfill their God-given potential. Our nation suffers as it reels under the division caused by their dilemma and by the loss of their vast capacity to contribute more fully to the life of our nation.
Normally we speak of someone’s “plight” when we consider them a victim of circumstances beyond their control that are unfair. But aren’t we speaking of those who have knowingly violated our nation’s laws? Isn’t everything they are suffering in America a direct result of their decision to not “obey the governing authorities”?
As Christian citizens, we believe God has something to say to us about how our nation deals with this issue. We have turned to the Bible for spiritual principles to guide our thinking and policy suggestions. The result of that search has brought us to the place where we believe our nation must think about immigration from the perspective of justice. The kind of justice we are talking about, however, considers the impact of decisions from the perspective of all parties affected. We believe that God sought to teach Israel to think about justice in this way as well. He told His people, “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15).
I agree with this. The problem is that this “White Paper” does not consider “all parties affected” from the position of justice. If we are to “judge our neighbor fairly,” given the clear teachings of the 10 commandment, then “justice” would require us to consider penalties for a “neighbor” that breaks into our home and steals from us.
In our thinking about immigration policy, we believe the Old Testament provides some very clear guidance about how a nation should treat those who come to live within its borders. The Old Testament has two principal words, one mainly positive or neutral in its perspective and the other mainly negative, to refer to non-citizens living within the nation of Israel. The primary positive word is ger, commonly translated as “stranger” or “alien.” The term speaks principally of one’s civil standing. It refers to someone who has no inherited civil rights. In other words this person is not a citizen by birth. He has not inherited through any genetic relationship the rights and privileges of the descendants of Jacob who entered into covenant with God at Mount Sinai. Despite this lack of family connection, God gave many explicit instructions about appropriate treatment of these “aliens” or “strangers.”
These were spiritual instructions given to a nation based on its unique relationship with God. The modern-day parallel would be that these instructions provide guidance to the church and to Christians generally, not to a civil government that is not a theocracy like Old Testament Israel.
The Old Testament uses a different term to speak about non-Israelites from a negative perspective. In these instances, it typically uses the Hebrew term nokri, often translated as “foreign” or “foreigner.” This is the term used in Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 13 to speak of the “foreign women” or “foreign wives” some of the Jewish men in post-exilic Israel had married (e.g., Ezra 10:10, 17, 44; Nehemiah 13:23-27). Nehemiah also used the term to refer to the “foreign women” Solomon married who led him astray. It also refers to the “foreign” things Nehemiah removed from Israel (see v. 30). In these instances, the concern is clearly with threats to the cultural or religious purity of Israel. It appears, then, that the Old Testament distinguishes between non-Israelites who are not a threat to the spiritual or cultural vitality of the nation and those who are. In this context, the ger is welcomed; the nokri is not.
This is interesting, but I’m not sure how enlightening it is given the special spiritual relationship existing between God and the people of Israel.
When we bring this Old Testament perspective together with our nation’s historic attitude toward immigration, it is clear that we should think of the undocumented immigrants in our nation as ger (i.e., positively) not nokri (i.e., negatively).
There is absolutely no logical nexus between this conclusion and what was written above.
It would be inappropriate to think of them from either a theological or cultural perspective. Given that the United States is not a theocracy, nor does it apply a theological test for entrance into our nation or for citizenship, we should not apply a theological test to immigrants. Furthermore, our nation has not stated that cultural similarity is a prerequisite for immigration. Indeed, if cultural difference were used as a criterion for denying entrance into the United States, most of the world’s peoples would not be candidates for admittance. Of course, a nation has a right to expect that those who enter its borders would not seek to undermine its culture, and that those who seek citizenship would adopt its core cultural values.
I agree with this, but it seems to contradict the previous statements that we don’t need to be concerned about cultural similarities. A significant percentage of those who cross into the United States from Mexico are not from Mexico or Central or even South America. Some are from the Middle East and the Far East, and some may be tied to terrorist groups who want to disrupt and ultimately destroy our nation. I think we can agree that it’s not in our national security interest to assume that our unsecured border is only being crossed by hard-working Latino families.
Rather than taking a negative attitude toward the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in our nation, there is plenty of reason to take a positive perspective toward them.
Again, this is a conclusion without any basis in Scripture or reason. I would think we should take a welcoming but neutral perspective toward immigrants, until we know whether they are abiding by our laws or violating them.
The majority of them have proven their desire to work hard, provide for their families, and obey the law, except of course for immigration law. The main point is that the majority of these immigrants have proven their desire to live among us in peace.
Unfortunately, this statement is undermined by its lack of factual foundation. In order to work or receive other benefits in the United States, those who are here unlawfully have to daily deceive everyone around them and usually also violate other laws. Many of these “hard working” illegal immigrants also commit identity theft in order to have a fake Social Security number, through which they lie to their employer and violate employment laws. Many others collect pay in cash through a black market economy in violation of our state and federal tax laws. Almost never will an illegal alien “only” break immigration-related laws.
And this does not consider the high percentage – 20 percent of illegal immigrants have criminal records – of illegal aliens who are here not to work but to steal or to smuggle and distribute illegal drugs into the country. (Jack Cafferty, CNN.)
More importantly, how do we have any idea how many of them ‘desire to live among us in peace”? We are talking about between 400,000 and a million people per year! We don’t know who they are and where they are going. Almost certainly, a percentage of them want to commit crimes, and some of them may actively be seeking to attack the United States. This is an incredibly audacious and unwarranted assumption to make about our unsecured border. And it puts innocent lives at risk – maybe not the lives of members of the ERLC who live in the deep South or on the East Coast – but certainly the lives of those of us who live in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
If God instructed His covenant people to make careful distinctions between people in their midst, we would be wise to do the same.
We DO make careful distinctions – between those immigrants who are lawfully in the process of becoming U.S. citizens, those who are permanent legal residents, those who are temporary workers, and then there is another category – those who are here illegally. In many cases, we have no ability to make any distinctions with this group because we don’t know who they are or where they are. We just know they are here. We don’t even know, within 5 million people, how many illegal aliens are in the country, because they are hiding to avoid detection.
We acknowledge that the United States is not Israel. The nation of Israel was a theocracy. Its civil and religious components were intermingled. Many of God’s instructions were intended to help the Israelites maintain religious purity. God has not structured any other nation in this way. Therefore, the United States is not obligated to adopt the civil laws God laid down specifically and uniquely for Israel. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that these laws often reflect universal principles that God expects any nation to honor. Indeed, we find the New Testament, including many statements by Jesus, often reiterating and reapplying these principles to a broader context.
As we have sought biblical guidance on how to address our nation’s current immigration dilemma, we believe some core biblical values speak clearly. The recurrence of these values in the teachings of Jesus, assure us that they transcend Israelite national polity and are indeed universal in scope. The values we identify below apply to the civil relationships between any people living together in community, and so they apply in our nation’s context. Regarding the undocumented immigrant, we urge our nation to take the following core Biblical values into consideration.
• Neighbor love. God told the Israelites, “The stranger (ger) who resides with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). He instructed them, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus taught that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Again, there is no argument that followers of Christ are called to love their neighbor, including illegal aliens. But how does that translate into “government policy must change to accommodate mass lawbreaking?”
• Compassion and mercy. We should treat the weak and vulnerable with kindness (Micah 6:8, Malachi 3:5-6, Matthew 12:7). Agreed.
• Provision. Finding ways to meet the needs of others is a core Christian value (Leviticus 23:22, Matthew 25:31-46). Agreed.
• Dignity. God said, “You shall not wrong a stranger (ger) or oppress him” (Exodus 22:21). We are to “do justice” (Micah 6:8). We should treat all people as persons of worth and treat them in a way that respects their status as bearers of God’s image. This is the essence of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). I completely agree with this. We must repudiate any injustice, which would include any element of racism or racial profiling, directed toward any person.
Once again, with all of the above principles, there is a complete failure to recognize the difference between the role of individual followers of Christ, and the role of the God-ordained institution of government.
More importantly, here are basic biblical principles that are mostly ignored in this White Paper:
• “Obey the governing authorities” – Romans 13:1-4 – you have nothing to fear if you do good. Government is there to punish wrong conduct. Those who are here illegally live “in the shadows” not because they are being victimized, but because they fear legitimate justice.
• “Do not steal” – when violators of our immigration law take the benefits of U.S. citizenship – education, health care, welfare, etc. – without legally contributing to our society, it would appear they are violating this most basic requirement of the 10 commandments. The commandments as they relate to coveting and stealing from neighbors seem to have application here. If we consider those who cross illegally as our “neighbors,” one could argue that in many cases, they have come into our house uninvited, as trespassers, and begun to eat our food, use our facilities, sleep in our bed and in some cases borrow our identities and steal our jobs.
The issue of immigration must also be considered from the perspective of the core values of the welcoming nation. God ordained civil government (Romans 13:1-7). Here is a brief reference to Romans 13 with no explanation and no mention of how this passage is being ignored and violated. He charged it with the responsibility of providing for the security, wellbeing, and protection of the people under its authority. As such, the civil authority has a responsibility to assure that its policies honor this charge from God. From this perspective, we must consider the following core values, at a minimum.
• Constitutional obligations. Citizens have a right to expect the civil authority to fulfill its constitutional obligations. Including providing security and order in a community.
• Covenantal obligations. The civil authority has a responsibility to make sure that its citizens are free to pursue the blessings of life, liberty, and happiness. This has been impossible for many of our citizens who live along the border.
• Fiduciary obligations. A civil authority should not take on more financial obligations than the citizens can afford. Everyone suffers if a nation experiences financial collapse. The law enforcement, health care and educational cost of millions of illegal aliens is well documented.
• Cultural obligations. Nations tend to thrive when the citizens share a certain set of core cultural values. These values should be honored and followed by incoming people to help maintain the values of the welcoming nation. In America’s case those core values are embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Those who legally emigrate are required to learn these principles and swear allegiance to the United States. Those who sneak across illegally are not.
While we are certain that many details must be addressed, we offer below what we consider to be the primary features of a just immigration policy. We believe these features incorporate our nation’s core values and God’s guidance for the treatment of immigrants in a way that respects both the rule of law and the dignity of the millions of men, women, and children who are currently living here illegally.
Secure Borders. This is indispensable for any immigration policy to succeed. We must be able to control who enters this country. To simply address the situation of the millions who are here illegally without securing our borders is inviting another repeat of our dilemma. Border security must be actively maintained. We do not require fencing the entire borders north and south, but we expect any system that is put in place to be able to prohibit illegal entry. Many of us have emphasized this point for years. Those who have been pushing “comprehensive immigration reform” typically shortchange this requirement. Indeed, this is the first principle upon which all should agree. This should be the starting point, rather than this paper’s starting point of addressing the “hard case” of what to do with millions of illegal aliens.
Paths to legal status. A one-size fits all legal status is not constructive. The nation should offer multiple forms of legal status with appropriate requirements for each. Some undocumented immigrants likely desire citizenship. Others may only desire to remain here for a while and then return to their home countries when they have achieved certain goals. Others may desire to work here indefinitely but retain citizenship in their countries of origin. We see this as especially true, but not exclusively true, for highly skilled workers. We propose that our nation pursue all these avenues simultaneously, such as citizenship, permanent or temporary legal residency, temporary worker, etc.
Why and how is a path to legal status required by biblical ethics? We seem to have skipped over that argument. How do you get from “government is ordained to provide order” to “we need to provide a path to legal status?” This seems to be a pre-ordained political conclusion, not a well-reasoned application of biblical principles to reach a policy conclusion.
We recognize that applying this approach to those who have come here illegally is not fair to those who have followed the law and have been waiting for long periods of time to gain legal entrance into our nation.
Finally! We have finally come to a real issue of “social justice.” And the conclusion – what we are proposing is “not fair.” Or to use another term – what we are proposing is “unjust.” And remember, “justice” is the main issue, according to the authors of this White Paper.
We regret the additional frustration this creates for them.
What is our solution to this obvious injustice? “We’re sorry.”
But we would point out that our proposal puts those who are here illegally behind those who have already applied for permanent legal status to enter or remain in this country.
How does it do that?
The primary benefit undocumented immigrants will derive is the opportunity to remain in the United States while they wait for their legal status to be conferred.
But that’s the whole point – getting to live in the United States! That’s like saying – we recognize that the thief made off with $1 million, and under our proposed reform will get to keep the $1 million and the victims won’t get their money back. We are sorry about this.
Of course, this is a considerable benefit. No kidding. Nevertheless, we currently have millions of people who are already here and we must find a just way to bring them out of the shadows.
So here is the logic: we must consider immigration issues from the perspective of justice. Letting people who cheated stay here while those who have followed the law wait in line is unjust. We are sorry about that. But at least their paperwork will be behind yours.
Appropriate and adequate penalties and requirements. Those who are here illegally broke our laws and those of their own nations to get here. These laws were put in place in order to help the nations adequately manage the flow of people in and out of their borders. Immigration law in the U.S. is driven primarily by the national interest in assuring the ability of our nation to absorb and assimilate the influx of people.
Yes! And this national interest has been completely violated by millions of people who ignored our right to adequately manage the flow of people in and out of our borders.
These laws are necessary. Those who came here illegally were aware that they were circumventing the process. If they desire to remain here, they must undergo a criminal background check, pay a fine, agree to pay back taxes, learn to speak, write, and read English and get in line behind those who are legally migrating into this country in order to apply for permanent residence after a probationary period of years. They must also acknowledge and pledge allegiance to America’s governmental structure, the duties of citizenship and our core values as embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
This is not amnesty. Amnesty is what President Carter gave the draft dodgers who came home from Canada with no penalties, no fines, and no requirements whatsoever.
Financial penalties must be just, not only from the perspective of our nation’s sense of justice but also for those who will be required to pay them. In other words, the penalties should seek restitution, not retribution. People who fail background checks or who refuse to comply with this generous opportunity to earn legal status, should be deported immediately.
Here is where an analogy paints a better picture. You and your family are waiting in a long line to get into Disneyland. The line is moving very slowly. You may not get in at all today. Meanwhile, a bunch of families snuck in through the back fence. They are riding the rides, eating the food, watching the shows while you wait in line. At some point during the day, the owners of Disneyland learn that dozens of families are in the park without paying and waiting in line. Their solution? “We probably can’t find them. So here’s what we’ll do. We will make an announcement in the park that everyone who snuck over the back fence needs to step forward, admit they were wrong, pay a small fine, and promise not to do it again. In the meantime, they can keep riding the rides while others wait outside the gates.” Now, keep in mind, these people are terrified of the possible consequences of coming forward. They have been hiding from park security all day. Some of them don’t even get the message. But, no worries, no one is really chasing them and besides, they can still ride the rides, eat the food and watch the shows! So most of them decide to just stay quiet and keep enjoying Disneyland. Meanwhile, the people who want to pay their fee and get into the park by following the rules and standing in line, continue to wait outside.
Cut-off date for application for legal status. The offer for legal status for those who are here illegally must have a cut-off date. We recommend that this be one year after the passage of appropriate legislation. After that, anyone who is still here illegally will be deported and any employer who hires someone here illegally will suffer stringent penalties.
At this point, the White Paper launches from confused and inconsistent to downright silly. Why is this silly? Because we were told at the beginning that it is not possible to deport the millions of people who are here illegally. There are too many, and they are too hard to find. Now we are hoping they will all come forward, even though they fear immediate deportation, even though they are terrified of law enforcement. Plus they will have to pay a fine. If they have any other criminal offenses, they will be deported. How many do you suppose will come forward under these circumstances? Out of 15 million, I would be shocked if anywhere near 1 million took this deal. So what do you do with the other 14 million after the one-year cutoff date? Deport them! We can’t deport 15 million, but if they don’t take our generous offer to pay a fine and learn English within a year – while we are filing lawsuits to make sure we can’t really pursue and find them if they don’t come forward – then we will suddenly develop the ability to find and deport all of them … which we already said we couldn’t do. Oh, and by the way, we were also told, rather self-righteously, that deporting millions of people was inhumane. But now it’s OK.
Limits on chain migration. Chain migration, the process of bringing extended members of one’s family to the United States once one family member is settled here, is a significant concern to us and many people in the nation. If we are to allow millions of people to remain here, we must find a way to limit the influx of extended family members so that we leave room in our nation for future immigrants who have no family here. We propose that chain migration be limited to spouses and their natural or adopted children. We recommend that hardship exceptions be part of the limits to enable children to bring elderly parents to the U.S. who have no means of support in their home countries. In order to maintain our commitment to bringing in additional immigrants, we recommend that the number of family members who can be united with family members in the U.S. be subject to an annual cap.
We are now so far removed from anything relating to biblical ethics that this proposal could be coming from anyone. These may or may not be good ideas. But to pretend these specific proposals are somehow biblically-based, rather than anything other than warmed-over congressional talking points, is laughable.
Incentives for highly skilled immigrants. Our nation is in a competitive situation in a growing worldwide economy. In order to remain competitive and maintain our economic leadership in the world, we must encourage immigration of highly skilled workers in needed fields. This number should also be capped, but it should be sufficiently high to enable businesses to attract these highly skilled workers to the U.S.
Again, it is hard to find a clear biblical principle in the notion that we should encourage highly-skilled immigrants to come in, subject to a cap, so we can remain economically competitive.
Adequate penalties for those who hire undocumented immigrants. Businesses that hire workers illegally do so for profit. They think of undocumented immigrants as vulnerable and exploitable. Consequently, they give them lower pay and fewer, if any, benefits. Such businesses should be penalized for their own participation in the encouragement of illegal immigration and breaking the nation’s employment and labor laws. Penalties should be sufficient to remove any financial incentive to hire people illegally.
We have that law in Arizona, and most supporters of “comprehensive reform” opposed it and said it was racist.
A dependable worker verification system. Businesses are not the only ones to blame for their hiring of undocumented immigrants. Our nation has not provided any dependable worker verification system. Undocumented immigrants with false or stolen social security numbers can easily subvert a company’s safeguards. The government must provide businesses with a responsive, up-to-date system that enables them to verify a worker’s status within one week. If the system fails to notify the employer in that period, the employer should no longer be held liable for hiring an undocumented immigrant if it has taken appropriate steps to verify the legal status of its employee.
Again, these are interesting policy ideas. They have nothing to do with biblical principles, and don’t pretend to.
And that’s how it ends — with a laundry list of generic policy proposals that don’t even pretend to be rooted in any biblical ethic. I understand that it is just a draft, but here’s hoping the ERLC will go back to the drawing board and provide a more balanced and comprehensive analysis of this issue. While I admire the ERLC and agree with many of its policy proposals, this White Paper is not only disappointing, but fundamentally flawed in its analysis.
CRITIQUE OF EVANGELICAL “PRINCIPLES FOR JUST IMMIGRATION REFORM”
Following is the draft of the “Principles for Just Immigration Reform” White Paper being prepared for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. An effort is underway to recruit conservative evangelicals to support this document.