The Upside Down World

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Christian Response to Illegal Immigration

Yesterday, I posted about illegal immigration and was rather harsh about the hardships which would be faced by many people and families if they were unable to work and support themselves here in the U.S. Basically I said, "that's life. Life is hard." Without the context of who I am and what I think about life outside of government actions, I suppose that seems really, really mean and uncompassionate. I had to think about this after reading this article on about how Christians engage in cultural issues. I agree with about 90% of what the article has to say - Christians should not be harsh, should demonstrate love towards those who are different than us, should understand the difference between Christian faith and the Republican Party, etc. However, I had to stop and think when the author turned to the current discussion of illegal immigration. Examples he gives of Christians comparing illegal immigrants to bugs and vermin, referring to them as "those people", and an excessive desire to protect "our lifestyle" are obviously out-of-bounds and not compatible at all with a Christian heart. However, then he says this :
"For Christians to say we should deny health care to immigrants can only grieve the heart of God. How can we be so selfish when we've been given so much? Have we missed the point of the Good Samaritan: that our neighbor is anyone in need? Certainly we need to help illegal immigrants become legal. But deny them health care to force them back across the border? The bible is clear: "Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex. 23:9)."
I pretty well advocated such a position in my post yesterday. Am I taking a position which as the author puts it, "grieve[s] the heart of God"? I had to think about that one. In the end, I don't think so and here's why.
First of all, I see a big difference between the role of the government in doing God's work and my role as a Christian in doing God's work. If it were suddenly impossible for illegal immigrants to find work here, I would expect that I and other Christians would set up ways to help feed those in need, counsel them, listen to them and help them make wise decisions about what to do. I can easily see situations where churches might choose to assist people in returning to their native homes and support their visa applications from there. However, I do not think that this sort of charity is particularly they job of government beyond what is necessary to maintain some sort of order in the country. I actually think that part of what is wrong with our society is that we are too comfortable with the idea that the government will take care of people when it's our job to take care of people. We don't look out for the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the elderly and disabled the way we should, in large part because we think the government should take care of it. I'm pretty sure that Jesus told us to do such things, not to set up a government system which we pay into which will do that hard work for us. So I don't think this is a case of being selfish or refusing the stranger help. I just think that the government has a proper and legitimate role in setting rules regarding access to our country. The person sneaking over the border is no more deserving of access to our healthcare system than a poor family struggling for survival in some other part of the world. If providing healthcare is our goal, we should seek to do this around the world, not just for those who happen to have been able to figure out a dishonest way to physically get here.
The other problem I have with illegal immigration, especially at the levels we see it today, is that it is depleting other countries of their best and brightest and helping to prop up corrupt governments. While it may seem to be compassionate to help someone who is here illegally, how compassionate is what they're doing to those in their native countries who could benefit from their courage, work ethic and smarts? What about the fact that many more in their home country are suffering from continuing poverty and lack of freedom because the money being sent back by expatriates masks the real effects of corruption, lack of opportunity, etc? We have this modern notion that people should avoid conflict pretty much no matter what. There are real changes which need to happen in the parts of the world which many illegal immigrants are coming from. As frightening as potential conflict is, wouldn't many illegal immigrant's homelands, families and future generations benefit far more if the sort of passion, organization and solidarity displayed in the demonstrations we've been seeing here was applied to forcing changes at home? Of course, the fact is that protesting and organizing here is not dangerous in the least, while the same actions back home could well get you killed. I do not mean to be callous to this fact, but I am the wife of a black man and we owe the very existence of our family to those who fought and died in the civil war and in the civil right's movement. There are things worth dying for. Many people die every year just trying to get across our border. Wouldn't their willingness to sacrifice be better spent on changing things in their native countries than in trying to cross our border? As it is, the possibility of a fairly easy pay-off for being in our country illegally is simply enabling corruption and poverty in parts of the rest of the world. There is a bigger picture at play here than just the individuals involved.
So, the bottom line is that I stand by my original position, although I see a need to flesh it out more fully. While I do not think our laws should enable illegal immigration, I do think what we as Christians are called to help those in need, including those for whom our laws cause hardships. I also think that there are issues far beyond the lives of individuals and even individual families which need to be considered. It has always really bothered me that I would be born in such a prosperous country facing my own problems, but certainly not matters of life and death while so many others live their entire lives with nothing. However, God didn't just say about me or my countrymen or people living in developed countries, "I know my plans for you. Plans for peace and not for evil." It wasn't only to the privileged he promised, "I will cause all things to work together for good for those who love me." This is His promise to a child who will live only days or months somewhere in Africa and to his mother as well. I do not understand it, but I trust God. C.S. Lewis makes an important point in The Boy and His Horse. Aslan is explaining to the boy Caspian why things which had seemed to have no purpose but misery had to happen to him. Caspian wanted to know about a servant girl who had been whipped, but Aslan told him, "that is her story. I am telling you your story." I don't know why so many people face such difficulties and have been born into corrupt countries where there is too much suffering. However, I do know that their lives are part of a story God is working out for His own glory. So, it's not that I am callous or selfish in supporting changes and better enforcement of our laws, but I do see things a little differently, I suppose.


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