Does the Bible call all Christians to abandon the enforcement of immigration laws?
The potential economic, cultural, and national security threats posed by illegal immigration fuel the common conservative conviction that all undocumented workers ought to be brought to justice. Yet often believers instinctively support a political view, assuming it is Biblical, before they test it against precepts laid out in Scripture. On closer examination, the question “Who Would Jesus Deport” does not have a clean three-point packaged answer but instead requires a nuanced and submissive practice of study and prayer.
The Old Testament says, “When a foreigner lives with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Lv. 19:33-4 Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Further, in the New Testament, Jesus refers to welcoming strangers in a parable where the king says “Truly I say to you, as you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me” (Mt. 25:40 HCSB).
Treating the foreigners amongst us like “native-born” citizens, let alone as we would treat Jesus Himself, is not the first thing you hear from most Christian conservatives discussing illegal immigration. These verses, and several others, seem to convict individual believers to stop lobbying, petitioning, or even fully enforcing immigration laws.
Beyond a humanitarian level, the Bible also addresses the practical threats posed by illegal immigration. Psalm 33 reads: “The Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations… The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (10-1 HCSB). Should Christians allow fears for national security instead of trust in God’s ultimate plan and will to drive their political actions?
But the thought of trusting God with the dangers of illegal immigration and abandoning any enforcement of immigration laws is alarming to many Christians; there are several arguments against the above interpretation of Scripture. One such argument is based on the word “foreigner” in Leviticus 19. Some claim that the word ger in Hebrew is translated into English in ways that confuse its actual meaning. Sometimes ger is written as “stranger,” and other times as “foreigner” or “sojourner” depending on the translation. However, these are unclear definitions. James Hoffmeier, a professor of Old Testament at Trinity International University, states that ger specifically is a newcomer in a country who has obtained a certain legal status and must obey the laws. While other scholars, including members of the interfaith organization Odyssey Networks, disagree with this interpretation, it is an academically respected view that Leviticus 19:33-34 is at peace with immigration laws.
Further, the Bible is clear in Romans 13 that Christians must yield to the laws of their government, so long as it does not contradict God’s law. Specifically, Paul states that “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves” (13:1-2 HCSB). Since scripture never expressly declares immigration laws immoral, many believe it is just to enforce and advocate for them.
While these arguments tend to give conservative Christians more wiggle room in their opinions, several gray areas remain. Jesus still tells His followers to realize that “as you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me.” Christians are repeatedly told to care for the sick, the poor, and the lonely without any regard to social status in the community (Mt. 10.8, Mt. 5:44, James 1.27). Caring for an illegal immigrant by tending to their health, lending them money, and establishing a loving relationship doesn’t seem to coincide with obeying the law and reporting someone to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
One possible solution to resolve these different positions is the concept of separate spheres of responsibility. On a macro level, a Christian must obey the just laws of the government. So then a Christian can vote or petition for more strict immigration laws, or even enforce the laws if they are a member of the appropriate government agency. These actions are all part of a duty to citizenship. Nevertheless, on a micro level a Christian must work to love and spread the Gospel to all people no matter their class or status. This requires an attitude of grace instead of suspicion. Instead of distancing oneself from the immigrant community, it means actively engaging with it and serving its members as individuals and fellow children of God.
Separate spheres of responsibility do not immediately resolve all conflict between these two views, but that 1makes considering these topics all the more important. In the first chapter of his book, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis writes, “…we all know now that this love [patriotism] becomes a demon when it becomes a god. Some begin to suspect that it is never anything but a demon” (22). Often Christians on both sides of the political spectrum become entranced with patriotism or pet political issues and find themselves clinging to those ideas more ferociously than the Word of God.
Although the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t include a subsection on undocumented workers, it is clear that political beliefs must not be held religiously. Ultimately, Scripture calls for prayerful reflection and submission of patriotism and politics to the one, true King.