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Recently there has emerged a faith-based coalition in favor of liberalized immigration. The National Association of Evangelicals has joined the Roman Catholic bishops and the mainline Protestant denominations in advocating higher legal immigration quotas as well as a plan allowing current illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens or legal residents.

With so many Christian leaders on one side of immigration reform, how could there be any doubt? But there is doubt. Polls show church members with deeply divided opinions. The issue is far more complicated than the rhetoric used by many who favor liberalizing current immigration law.

Here are some of the complexities:

  1. The United States is not analogous to ancient Israel. Biblical "sojourners" are not easily comparable to modern-era illegal immigrants. The "foreigners" in ancient Israel were non-Israelites who were permitted to pass through or reside in Israel. They were required to comply with Israel's laws and respect its customs.
  2. The oft-quoted command in Leviticus 19 that "you shall not oppress the alien" should indeed inform our attitudes. But this passage provides no clear guidance on how the United States should set limitations on immigration. It does not indicate whether 1 million "green cards" granted every year are too few, too many, or just the right number.
  3. Alongside the biblical teachings about hospitality to strangers also stand the teachings about the rule of law. The Christian point of view on immigration reform should also look at passages such as Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. They stress a clear responsibility to obey properly constituted human authorities when their demands do not violate conscience. U.S. authorities are well within their proper powers in controlling immigration. Christians on all sides acknowledge that power, but the question is how to balance justice against mercy toward those who have broken the law.
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