Relevant Magazine, February 27, 2017
We’re Called to Serve Immigrants Regardless of Their Legal Status
By David Platt
Across this country, it seems everyone is up in arms about immigrants and refugees. Mostly, this is left as a political issue. But for Christians, how to care for outsiders is much more than a policy question.
The gospel not only affects the ways white and black Americans view each other in our culture, or the way we may view people in different countries, but this gospel also affects the way followers of Christ view migrant men and women who are living around us in our country.
A cursory reading of the Old Testament, combined with a clear understanding of Christ’s cross in the New Testament, calls into question the contemporary approach to immigration among many Christians in our culture. In addition to practical ignorance on this issue in the political sphere, our personal lives often reflect little concern for the sojourner in our midst.
Russell Moore writes that the Christian response to immigrant neighbors has been akin to saying, “You kids get off my lawn,” in Spanish. But if the God of the Bible possesses particular compassion for the immigrant, even equating him or her with the orphan and the widow, and if the cross of Christ is designed to compel outreach across ethnic divisions, then how much more should we as the people of God care for immigrants from other countries in our midst?
Consider the story of Sam and Lucas. Sam and Lucas live in Mexico in the midst of desperate poverty, unable to provide for their wives’ and children’s basic needs. One day, a friend tells them that he has found a way for Sam and Lucas to get jobs in the United States. There they can make money and send it back to sustain their families. Sam and Lucas see no other option and agree to go. They say good-bye to their wives and children, and they leave with their friend.
Weeks later, they find themselves lying down in the back of an old SUV, covered completely by a blanket as the truck bounces down the road. Finally, they arrive at a back entrance behind a popular restaurant, where the proud owner steps out. After speaking to the driver in a foreign language, the owner gives him some cash, then opens the back door of the SUV. He uncovers the men and tells Sam and Lucas to get out quickly.
They go inside the back of the restaurant, where the owner sits them down and serves them a quick meal. As they eat, the owner introduces Sam and Lucas to what will be their job: busing tables and washing dishes. After they’re finished eating, the owner escorts them by van to a decaying, shuttered, split-level home that they will share with a host of other workers like them. “I’ll pick you and the others up at 10 a.m.,” the owner says, and off he goes. Sam and Lucas have arrived at their new home.
Sam and Lucas now have a new life. Every day they are shuttled back and forth between the place where they sleep and the restaurant where they work. It is a well-known restaurant, getting all sorts of great reviews and attracting all kinds of different people—people like you and me. But amid all the crowds that surround Sam and Lucas, absolutely no one knows them. No one even notices them. They are destitute, sending as much money as they can back to their families while resorting to alcohol and prostitution to curb their loneliness.
It is not my aim here to stereotype migrant workers—although this story is true, it obviously doesn’t mean that all Latino dishwashers in restaurants have the same story. It is also not my aim to oversimplify either the plight of immigrants in our country or the predicament of how to provide for them. Finally, it’s not my aim here to propose comprehensive political answers for the practical legislative quagmire that illegal immigration presents in our country.
It is, however, my aim to show that the gospel message has implications for the issue of immigration, and particularly for illegal immigrants like Sam and Lucas. Amid necessary political discussions and inevitable personal disagreements, first and foremost the gospel reminds us that when we are talking about immigrants (legal or illegal), we are talking about men and women made in God’s image and pursued by his grace. Consequently, followers of Christ must see immigrants not as problems to be solved but as people to be loved.
The gospel compels us in our culture to decry any and all forms of oppression, exploitation, bigotry or harassment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status. These are men and women for whom Christ died, and their dignity is no greater or lesser than our own.
Likewise, their families are no less important than our own. Many illegal immigrants, like Sam and Lucas, are in the United States for understandable reasons, fleeing brutal economic and political situations in their own countries as they fight for the survival of their own families. Others came to the United States years ago and have now begun families here.
I think of Ricardo, a follower of Christ and the father of five children, three of whom are U.S. citizens. Ricardo entered the country illegally more than 20 years ago, and for the last 20 years he has worked to support his family while serving in his community. However, if Ricardo were to go back to his village in Mexico now, he would be resigning himself and his family to abject poverty.
His other option would be to split up his family, leaving his three “legal” children behind with a neighbor. Surely, just as the gospel compels us to respect the personal dignity of immigrants regardless of their legal status, it also compels us to protect their familial unity regardless of legal status.
All of this is obviously complicated by out-of-date legislation that is out of sync with the current labor market in our country. Add to this our selective enforcement of immigration laws, and it becomes clear to us all, regardless of personal political persuasion, that our system needs reform. And the gospel is not silent even here. The Bible clearly teaches that government exists under God to establish and enforce laws for the good of people. See Romans 13:1-7.
We have a responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to establish and enforce just laws that address immigration. Among other things, such laws should involve securing our borders, holding business owners accountable for hiring practices and taking essential steps that ensure fairness to taxpaying citizens of our country.
Likewise, we have a responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to refute and remove unjust laws that oppress immigrants. Failing to act in either of these ways would be to settle for injustice, which would put us out of sync with the gospel.
I don’t presume easy answers to any of the above, but I am proposing that the gospel requires Christians to wrestle with these questions. Regardless of personal or political views, none of us can escape the reality that we’re talking about our neighbors, and Jesus’ command regarding our neighbors is clear. As long as immigrants, documented and undocumented, live around us by God’s sovereign design—see Acts 17:26-27, we’re compelled to consider how to love them as we love ourselves—see Luke 10:25-37.