I had an intense reaction to Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press) because my great-grandfather, born in England, may not have informed the U.S. government that he had arrived on American soil. He traveled by Conestoga wagon to Texas and became a successful rancher. And some years later, my dad assigned me to work alongside Mexican illegals on a farm crew.
So how could I not love this book from Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, who are involved in immigration work through World Relief? They advocate a generous, biblically based invitation to all immigrants to take part in America. Most evangelicals are leery of doing anything to encourage immigration lawbreakers. This book will not persuade all Christians to support liberalized immigration laws, but even the skeptical should find the authors' approach useful.
The book asks, who are "undocumented immigrants"? Don't let the politically correct term undocumented put you off. The personal profiles of different types of unregistered immigrants offer readers a helpful baseline of understanding.
Christians who want tougher limits on immigration prefer to use the term illegal immigrant to emphasize lawbreaking. But the authors point out that the overwhelming majority of "illegal" immigrants are otherwise law-abiding. Others prefer the term unregistered to acknowledge that the immigrants have broken civil, not criminal, statutes.
Welcoming the Stranger also examines the immigration narrative of God's own people: Abraham, an immigrant; Joseph, a slave, then an immigrant success story; Moses, the emigration advocate; Jesus, the immigrant from heaven and refugee to Egypt; and the migrating apostles, traveling at will and getting into trouble.
From a biblical point of view, Soerens and Hwang argue cogently for greater immigration. Unfortunately, they do not represent their critics' viewpoint fairly. The authors do not offer compelling evidence for the claim that it is impossible to stop illegal immigration. The anti-immigration forces claim that the government has not stopped illegal immigration because the pro-immigration forces have blocked effective enforcement.
The authors conclude that Christians and their churches must focus energies on the goal of achieving wise justice for the immigrant. In this respect, they echo "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," from the National Association of Evangelicals. But this challenge is not solely concerned with enacting better laws; we also need more just law enforcement and legislators able to set aside partisan goals.
Ultimately, immigration is not an abstraction; it is about families' hopes, dreams, and sufferings. Down in Texas's ranch country, unregistered immigrants are heading home because there is little work due to the recession. In New York City, far from the cotton fields of my youth, I will discuss the book over cappuccino with a neighbor couple, immigrants from Naples, Italy. Giovanni will probably say, "Maybe a miracle will solve this debate." I will reply, "If both sides read this book, that would be a miracle, and a nice one."
Tony Carnes, a ct senior writer who studies ethnic congregations in New York City.
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Welcoming the Stranger is available at ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
Christianity Today also posted an interview with Jenny Hwang. CT also has a special section on immigration.
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