Nearly everyone seems to agree that we have an immigration problem in the United States. The exact nature of the problem, though, is heatedly disputed. From one perspective, our nation is facing an unprecedented invasion of “illegal aliens,” who violate our laws upon entry and then become a drain on social services and public education systems, depress wages and displace native-born American workers, and then contribute to increases in poverty, crime rates, and even terrorism…Others see the current state of immigration as a problem for very different reasons. They see millions of people who have, usually for economic reasons, accepted displacement from their home countries to pursue a better life for themselves and their families in the United States, just as generations of immigrants have done before them. Tragically, from this perspective, these people are not welcomed into our society, but are scapegoated and forced into a shadowy existence by broken immigration laws, even though they contribute to our nation’s economy by performing a host of jobs, most of which few native-born Americans would be willing to do.
Since the first edition of Welcoming the Stranger, another category of “stranger” has become particularly controversial: refugees, who have long come to the United States with legal status at the invitation of our federal government, have joined immigrants without legal status as a uniquely suspect category of “foreigner” in the minds of many Americans. As with the debate over illegal immigration, the refugee debate seems frustratingly simple to those on either side: to some, it is foolhardy to admit anyone into our country from nations plagued by terrorism, lest we welcome terrorists themselves. To others, welcoming the persecuted and oppressed is an unqualified good, integral to our national character. The two sides have a hard time understanding the other, as evidenced by harsh words shared over social media and even over family dinners and church potlucks.
Those of us who seek to follow Christ, in particular, face a challenge in sorting through the rhetoric to understand how we can reflect God’s justice as well as his love and compassion in designing a national immigration policy, and in the ways we relate individually to the immigrants in our communities. On first glance at the issue, we recognize that immigrants are people made in God’s image who should be treated with respect; at the same time, we believe God has instituted the government and the laws that it puts into place for a reason, and that as Christians we are generally bound to submit to the rule of law. Many are left convicted, unsure of what our faith requires of us on this pressing issue.