A Biblical Case for Compassionate Border Policy

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In a recent press conference, Vice President Kamala Harris sent a frank message to Guatemalans thinking about crossing the Mexico-US border: “Do not come. Do not come ... you will be turned back.”

Immigration is a complex issue with good intentions on all sides of the debate. But how should the church respond? Is Harris’s warning to Central Americans to stay out of our country the message the church should also send to would-be immigrants? 

The most heart-wrenching question of America’s border crisis is how to treat immigrants with dignity. Christians should always be at the forefront of showing the world how to love as Jesus loves, especially when it comes to those on the margins, such as immigrants and their children.

The Bible has a great deal to say about how to treat foreigners. Scripture tells immigrant story after immigrant story: the people of Israel spent generations as foreigners in Egypt. Ruth was a Moabite who immigrated to Israel. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with baby Jesus for safety from Herod the Great. As an adult, Jesus identified with the immigrant and included the “stranger” as one of the groups whom he called the “least of these.” And this is just the beginning.

In Exodus and Leviticus, God instructs his people to afford foreigners equal legal rights to people who are native-born and to love them as we love ourselves. In Deuteronomy, God reminds Israel of its heritage as a people who were once strangers in a strange land and instructed that it would be hypocritical for them to mistreat the alien. Immigrants are worthy objects of our charity. In Job, an outward mark of a righteous man is that his door is “always open to the traveler.”

God warns of judgment for those who don’t heed these commands and “deprive aliens of justice.” In fact, widespread mistreatment of immigrants can lead to national judgment. Treatment of immigrants was so important to God that their just treatment was one of the conditions for Israel’s continuing to enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land. It’s quite clear that God cares how his people treat aliens.

When we consider all that the Bible says about immigration directly, as well as the very obvious way in which Christ-followers are to treat those on the margins, the Christian default on the issue of immigration should be to welcome more, not fewer, immigrants. This translates into policies that are far less restrictive and onerous than current immigration policy and administration practices. A restrictive border policy does not reflect biblical values nor the Christlike love for those on the margins (to speak nothing of the many immigrants who are also fellow Christians).

Most Christians agree that taking personal responsibility for one’s family is a virtue. But America’s current immigration policies prevent peaceful, willing workers from achieving a better life for themselves.

The unwillingness to accept more immigrants legally comes with many other negative outcomes: it encroaches on private property with a heavy-handed police state and leads to warrantless searches, disrupts the normal movement of labor and capital, forcibly separates children from their parents, and creates dangerous black markets in transportation, housing, and employment. Perhaps most importantly, a restrictive immigration policy interferes with our Christian duty to be charitable to immigrants and to reach all nations with the good news of the Gospel.

But the practical question remains: could our country handle an influx of immigrants? The answer is yes. Just look at our history. Immigrants account for a sizable portion of our economy, and upward mobility for their children is strong. Plus, let’s not forget the cultural enrichment that can come from diverse populations living in freedom together. Despite the anti-immigration rhetoric of doom and gloom that has plagued politics for centuries, America has proven that it can handle the adjustment many immigrants bring.

Indeed, this open and welcoming posture in American history has resulted in a robust, growing, and flourishing society. When we close our borders, we are at risk of abandoning that outcome. A return to an open and welcoming posture toward immigrants is not only quintessentially American, it’s reflective of the love of Christ for all people from all walks of life.

If Vice President Harris were reading her Bible and following the teachings of Jesus, she would easily recognize that the most consistent expression of this biblical view is to welcome more immigrants across our border, and believers should be the first to greet those who wish to immigrate peacefully with open arms.

Doug Stuart is the CEO of the Libertarian Christian Institute and co-author of Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers to Tough Questions. He has an MDiv. from Missio Seminary.

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