Seeking Biblical Principles to Inform Immigration Policy
Legislating by anecdote makes for bad public policy. While an illegal alien named Maria, whose story was related in a recent Christianity Todayeditorial, may put a sympathetic human face on the issue, her story of near-rape and apparent Christian faith isn't the end of the story that policymakers must consider.
Indeed, Maria's Christianity doesn't seem enough to prick her conscience over the very real wrongdoing she's done by coming into this country unlawfully. And the fact she's a fellow believer doesn't excuse what she has done or relieve her of a moral obligation to observe the laws.
For every Maria who unlawfully lives and works in America, there are many more would-be Marias back in the home country. And for every Maria, there are many times more Americans, including the native-born, whom Maria is hurtingcall them Patricias.
Patricia Morena is an American whose plight was reported in a 2003 Los Angeles Times Magazine story. Patricia, a U.S. citizen, is a single mother with three children, living in a one-bedroom California apartment. She earns pre-tax $300 a week as a motel maid.
The magazine profiled Patricia's life as a poor American whose greatest fear is being replaced by the ever-plentiful illegal foreign workersnewly arriving Mariaswho continually depress Patricia's wages. The Times Magazine put it, "Morena can't work her way up the economic ladder because the bottom rungs have been broken off by the weight of millions of new illegal workers."
The average Mexican worker earns 1/12 what the average American makes. But there are 4.6 billion people in the world who earn less than the average Mexican. That's a lot of "willing workers" whose immigration here, lawfully or unlawfully, will hurt the most vulnerable Americans: minorities, the disabled, recent legal immigrants.
The Bible's big pictures
Clearly, if a lawmaker focuses too much on the face of Maria, the face of a fellow American becomes blurred. So how should thoughtful Christians approach the immigration issue? What biblical guidance can guide sound immigration policy?
Several general principles from Scripture form a frame. First, two cornerstone commandments guide us in all things: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said these summarize God's moral law, the Ten Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40). They are timeless, eternally binding upon every person.
Second, God's principles don't contradict one another. Thus, his principles of justice, fairness, and equality not only don't contradict, but are complementary to his principles of mercy. Principles of justice and mercy require us to owe a greater obligation to some people over others.
This becomes clear from specific passages of Scripture. Elements of both sets of principles apply to us individually and corporately.
For example, Exodus 23:2 warns us "not [to] show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit," while James 2:1 says "don't show favoritism [to the rich]." James 2:9 cautions that "if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers."
In the context of the Golden Rule, a Christian's obligation to show mercy is greater for individuals than could rightly be expected by civil government. Luke 6:30-31 says, "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Scripture indicates certain priorities of our obligations. 1 Timothy 5:8 teaches, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Clearly, God organizes society around groups of people: families, clans, communities, tribes, nations. The priorities of allegiance are implied in this verse.