Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, James K. Hoffmeier, author of The Immigration Crisis, and David Skeel is author of Icarus in the Boardroom, suggest the next steps in reforming immigration.

Assimilate Justly

Samuel Rodriguez

Immigration, like many of today's divisive issues, presents a biblical responsibility to American Christians. We must analyze the issue appropriately and work toward solutions that make genuine reconciliation possible.

Christians must incorporate an approach to reform that heals communities, ushers in peace, and exalts righteousness and justice. Many conservative solutions to immigration focus only on border protection and deportation. Many liberal solutions advocate an easy amnesty for undocumented persons. But Christians must offer a better way, one anchored in our Bible-based convictions.

A solution that emphasizes assimilation and justice reconciles Romans 13 (adherence to the rule of law) and Leviticus 19 (Israel's treatment of strangers). As Christians, we stand committed to the message of the Cross. However, that Cross is both vertical and horizontal, representing salvation and transformation, covenant and community.

Such a solution must include the following elements. First, we must put an end to all illegal immigration by increasing border protection, including using infrared, satellite, and other technologies, in addition to border patrols.

Second, we should create a market-driven guest-worker program that provides clear avenues by which millions of undocumented families can obtain legal status in a manner that reflects the Judeo-Christian value system this nation was founded on.

Third, undocumented residents without a criminal record who are earning citizenship status must go to the back of the citizenship line, admit guilt, and receive a financial penalty, while acquiring civic and language proficiency and serving the local community.

But here lies the challenge: Can we push back on the extremes from both the Left and the Right and come together at the foot of the Cross, where righteousness meets justice, border security meets compassion, and common sense meets common ground?

The answer requires two communities, immigrants and American evangelicals, to express the gospel message of reconciliation that transcends border politics.

Immigrants must understand that what makes one an American is nothing less than an allegiance to and covenant with the values of our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights. Internalizing and adhering to those values obligates the immigrant to embrace English as our language, focus on our commonalities, and respect the symbols of our republic, including the American flag, while assimilating into the fullness of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—the American idea.

Article continues below

On the other hand, American evangelicals must reject xenophobia and nativism, embracing a culture of righteousness and justice in which biblical truth trumps political affiliation, and where allegiance stands exclusively reserved, not to the donkey or the elephant, but rather to the agenda of the Lamb. Immigration reform will not happen overnight. But we must start now.

Watch Your Words

James K. Hoffmeier

The immigration debate is one of the most confusing issues facing our nation. Churches and individual Christians naturally turn to Scripture for wisdom on how to think about the dilemma. As a biblical scholar, I have been intrigued to see how the Bible is used to frame public policy.

For example, a few American cities have declared themselves "sanctuary cities" for immigrants, borrowing from the biblical practice of sanctuary. The ancient Israelite practice, however, was intended exclusively for one who commits involuntary manslaughter, to ensure that the person gains a fair hearing, not permanent avoidance of the law.

Another example: The website of a Christian organization that advocates comprehensive immigration reform offers verses from Leviticus 19 as its rationale: "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger … you shall love the stranger as yourself." I found this application of the biblical passage naïve at best.

The Hebrew word ger is translated variously as "stranger" (KJV, NASB), "sojourner" (RSV, ESV), and "alien" (NIV). A ger was a foreigner who lived in a land outside his homeland, but did so with the permission of the proper local authority. A case in point: When Jacob's family wanted to sojourn in Egypt, they said to Pharaoh, "We have come to sojourn in the land … please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen" (ESV). Royal permission was granted. The verb sojourn has the same root as ger. So the Hebrews became legal aliens in Egypt.

After the Exodus, God gave many laws to protect aliens in Israel. Aliens were not to be oppressed (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34). They were integrated into Israelite society, entitled to equal justice (Num. 15:15-16) and equal pay (Deut. 24:14-15), and could celebrate Passover (Ex. 12:48).

Article continues below

Two other Hebrew words, nekhar and zar, refer to foreigners who came into or passed through Israel. But they were not given the same benefits and protections as the ger (Ex. 12:43; Deut. 15:3; 17:15). The "foreigner" and the "alien" did not have the same social and legal status. Unfortunately, the TNIV and TLV translate ger as "foreigner," which is erroneous and creates confusion, allowing the reader to think that these categories of people were the same. They were not.

Before we use the Bible to formulate a theological or political position on the status of illegal immigrants, we must first understand the difference between the ger, the nekhar, and the zar in ancient Israel. Based on my study of the Hebrew terms, I believe that the immigrant with a green card in the U.S. corresponds to the ger of the Old Testament, whereas the illegal immigrant should be equated with the nekhar or zar. Scripture does not offer an all-encompassing prescription for how to deal with immigration. It might be suggested, however, that a measure that balances law and grace should be sought.

Link Migration to Jobs

David Skeel

Perhaps it's anathema for a lawyer to question how far we can get with a simple legal change, but I think we need to be modest in our aspirations for legislative solutions to immigration.

If I were a lawmaker, I would focus less on trying to solve the current impasse, and more on legal reform that might unsettle both sides just a little. Here's my proposal: Why not adjust our levels of new immigration each year based on changes in the unemployment rate, or on the scope of our social welfare benefits, or on both? Under this proposal, new immigration would be reduced if unemployment goes up or Congress enacts new health-care legislation. In a year in which unemployment drops or Congress enacts welfare reform, immigration would automatically be expanded.

Immigrationists hate the suggestion that there's a tradeoff between immigration and entitlements, but they can't have both. Immigrationists need to acknowledge that immigration is a legitimate concern when unemployment is rising, and that a generous social safety net can attract immigrants even when there's no work. They also sometimes forget that a country's first obligation is to the health and welfare of its own citizens.

While restrictionists would no doubt ditto these points, they would balk at the possibility that immigration might increase from one year to the next. But restrictionists need to recognize that immigration will always be fluid, and that clamping down on immigration isn't going to stop the creative ferment that the recent tidal wave of immigration has brought. And not all of the changes brought by immigration are pernicious, as any evangelical whose church was once entirely white can attest.

Article continues below

In my view, our greatest mistake in the immigration legislation of the past several decades has been pretending to please the most passionate advocates on both sides. The most recent major reforms, in the 1980s and 1990s, gave legal status to several million non-legal immigrants, which pleased immigrationists. But the reforms also imposed tight limits on new immigration at the insistence of restrictionists. Both sides rejoiced, though few thought that the limits would be seriously enforced. And they weren't.

The disconnect between the laws and the reality on the ground has created a moral dilemma—call it a Jephthah's choice (Judges 11:30-40)—one that is wrenching for churches and Christian leaders. Jephthah had to decide whether to violate the oath he had sworn or to kill his daughter. While churches' predicament is not so dire, they must choose between flouting the law so as to be compassionate havens, or insisting that immigrant congregants comply with laws that are flawed and erratically enforced.

No one legal change will solve the immigration dilemma. The most we can hope for may be to change the symbols of the debate. If lawmakers can signal that immigration is dynamic and messy, and that there is no "comprehensive" solution, and if they can diminish the moral dilemma that the current laws create, they will have made progress.

Related Elsewhere:

Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and has testified before the U.S. Senate on immigration reform. James K. Hoffmeier, author of The Immigration Crisis, is an Old Testament professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. David Skeel, author of Icarus in the Boardroom, is a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Christianity Today articles on immigration include:

Evangelicals Endorse Immigration Reform | The National Association of Evangelicals' board overwhelmingly approved a resolution to seek 'faith and equal treatment' of immigrants. (October 9, 2009)
The Soul of the Border Crisis | Local churches are key in fixing the immigration mess. A Christianity Today editorial (June 8, 2009)
Interview: When the Stranger Knocks | The influx of immigrants to the U.S. means a new mission field for American evangelicals, says World Relief's Jenny Hwang. (May 11, 2009)

Previous Village Green sections have discussed Lent, premarital abstinence, aid to foreign nations, technology, and abortion.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.