- So is it right for the federal government to make certain that immigrants — even refugees — have no criminal history or otherwise pose no threat to the safety of the US?
Absolutely. It would be a failure of the government to protect its own people to be so naive or foolish as to assume that merely because someone is seeking asylum or immigration status that they are not criminals or otherwise dangerous. The government today sits in gates of the city, as it were, to judge such things. It’s what governments are supposed to do.
- So should we have open borders that allow millions to enter the country without any sort of clearing process?
Should Jerusalem have had no walls at all? Walls are good. Some way to police the borders is essential. (It doesn’t have to be a literal wall.) But this truth does not mean we should oppose immigration in general or be unwilling to be hospitable to those who come into our country.
But could the nation, consistent with scripture, come up with a rational system for allowing some immigrants in and keeping some out? Of course.
PS — There is presently no practical legal way for most Latin Americans to legally enter the US and work. Obtaining a visa and green card is no easy matter, and the reason so many enter illegally is we’ve given them no meaningful legal option. What the law ought to be is not an easy question to answer, but it’s frivolous to argue, “They should come in legally.” They can’t. You can argue, “They should not come in at all,” but then you have to face the moral weight of the brute fact that we have jobs that Americans won’t take (not everywhere, but many places) and no legal way for foreigners to enter to take these jobs, even though they live in desperate poverty and very much want to enter to work (not necessarily to gain citizenship). Yes, our immigration laws are that messed up.
- Should we be open to immigration?
Yes. Just as the Jews were once sojourners, we are all descended from immigrants. But just as the Torah imposed some requirements on the sojourners as a condition to living among the Israelites, we are right to require immigrants to live by our laws and to adopt certain key values.
But when they arrive as sojourners, we are obligated to show them hospitality — and to treat them as neighbors.
Sojourners in Israel had to honor the Sabbath (or else they’d have an unfair advantage in trade and would not enjoy the blessings of a nation that required periodic rest as a humane matter). It would seem reasonable to require that employers of immigrant labor honor US labor laws. No one should be taken advantage of because he’s not a citizen. (In fact, the labor laws apply to immigrants, legal or not, but illegal immigrants generally can’t complain to the government of inhumane treatment for fear of deportation. Many businesses take advantage of them for this reason. Nothing could be less Christian.)
Sojourners were required to honor the standards regarding sexuality and the eating of blood that applied to Israelites. Again, if you wish to live in a country, you should honor its values.
Sojourners were allowed to participate in gleaning the fields, an ancient form of welfare. Farmers were required to leave some of the harvest in the field so that the poor and sojourners could harvest the crop for themselves — because they had no land of their own. But they had to do their own harvesting, threshing, grinding, and cooking. They weren’t given handouts. They had to work for their food.
Sojourners were not required to worship YHWH, but they could not blaspheme. They had to be respectful of the beliefs of their hosts. It seems only reasonable that the Jews’ toleration of differing religions be reciprocated by the sojourners. In modern terms, Muslim immigrants must be tolerant of Christianity — even if Muslims become a majority in a given community.
The same law applied to sojourners as to Israelites, in general. Again, there’s no reason to except immigrants from the law of the land. Just so, Muslims should not enter the US and then demand that they be governed by sharia law. If you want to immigrate to our country, you live by our laws. The Torah did not give sojourners the option to opt out of Torah obedience — and anything else would lead to chaos.
In short, sometimes Moses seems to be a Republican. He makes the sojourners work for their food. He requires them to treat the Israelite religion with respect. They have to live under Israelite law and values, but they aren’t required to adopt the Israelite religion.
Other times, he seems more like a Democrat. He requires that the sojourners receive welfare, if they are poor and cannot support themselves. Joshua didn’t kick out even those who entered by fraud — but they had to live under Torah. And God, through Moses, strongly encouraged the presence of sojourners in the Promised Land.
On the other hand, sojourners could not become “citizens.” The Torah made no provision for sojourners to become Jews. The ability to become proselytes — meaning a change not only of religion but of nationality — came about much later, but it came about in response to the attitude toward sojourners found in the Torah. However, it remained controversial among the rabbis for centuries, even during apostolic times. It was not automatic or easy.
Some would argue that Rahab and Ruth were proselytes, as they were allowed to marry Jews. But marriage was not forbidden as to all foreigners at all times, especially marriage to foreign women. (It’s a complex bit of history.)
Although the duties and rights of proselytes were in some respects more limited than those of born Jews, in essentials proselytes were probably regarded by the rabbis as of equal status with born Jews and many rabbinic texts evince a positive attitude towards proselytes. However, some rabbis viewed proselytes unfavourably. In deprecating the admission of proselytes to Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud likens them to a sore on the skin of Israel (b. Yebamoth 109b) and one rabbi argued that proselytes delayed the coming of the Messiah, and so were presumably, therefore, not to be actively sought (b. Niddah 13b).
P. Trebilco and R. A. Stewart, New Bible Dictionary, 1996, 976.
The traditional path to US citizenship requires learning about American history and our values — our framing stories — the metanarratives that define us as a people. That made sense when it became the law, and it still makes sense — and it’s very consistent with Torah.
In short, we Christians don’t get to play politics with the immigration question. Our duties are to God, not our political parties. The Torah calls us to common sense — to a recognition that not all foreigners wish to do us good and that we have values and laws worth preserving. Immigration can be accomplished in ways that preserve our essential values, and it’s only right that we endeavor to do so.
Those values include compassion for those less fortunate — just as we’re glad our forebears had opportunities here. But nothing requires us to open our borders to all comers. Indeed, there’s a place in God’s order for walls. And a place in his heart for sojourners. And we can honor both principles — thoughtfully and lovingly in light of scriptural principles.
I forget where, but I’ve heard Rick Atchley quoted as saying that we failed to send missionaries to Latin America as we should have, and so God is now bringing them to us to be taught about Jesus. You see, the world looks very different when you think in terms of God’s mission, rather than which position provides power to your political party.
I don’t see the argument for unrestrained immigration without limit based on the Bible. It’s just not there. But neither is the attitude that we’ll be unwelcoming and protect what’s ours at any cost to the poor who surround us. Rather, hospitality includes generosity, especially to those who are least able to reciprocate. But the commands are to the church, not the federal government. The goal isn’t merely to pass kind and compassionate laws; it’s for Christians to treat sojourners as God wishes, because God loves the sojourner. So must we.