If I’ve not ever considered preaching on the topic of immigration before, where should I start?
The best place to start is in Scripture. The Bible has much to say about how God sees immigrants and how we are called to respond to the sojourners in our midst. Many of the heroes and heroines of the biblical narrative were at one time or another immigrants or refugees themselves: Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Ruth, etc. God tells us throughout the Scriptures that he loves and has a special concern for the alien (Deut 10:18, Ps 146:9), and he commands his people to do the same (Lev 19:33-34). God commanded the Israelites to treat the foreign-born the same as they treated native-born Israelites (Ex 12:49), but he also instituted special provisions for immigrants, along with other vulnerable groups such as orphans and widows (Deut 24:19-21, Mal 3:5).
In the New Testament, Jesus, who as a child was forced to flee as a refugee to Egypt, makes clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that God’s command to love our neighbor includes, specifically, migrants in need (Lk 10:25-37). He instructs us to welcome the stranger, for in doing so we are welcoming Christ himself (Mt 25:31-46). God’s heart for immigrants and refugees is one of compassion and justice (Deut. 10:18-19).
In the last 2,000 years since Jesus walked on earth, God has continuously used the migration of people to accomplish His Kingdom purposes. God’s call for His people to show compassion and justice to foreigners remains unchanged. God has brought the nations to the US and American churches have a tremendous responsibility and privilege to respond. According to the International Mission Board, there are more unreached people groups in the United States than any other country in the world except for China and India.
You certainly don’t need to be an immigration expert to preach on God’s heart for immigrants, nor do you necessarily need to engage in the political dynamics of immigration; let Scripture guide your message. And if you need any supplemental information and resources, please check out evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/resources.
Do you have a list of Bible verses and passages that might inform our thinking about immigrants and immigration issues?
1 Chronicles 29:14-16
1 Timothy 3:1-3
1 Timothy 5:8
Ezekiel 22:6-8 1 Peter 2:11
I pastor a primarily non-immigrant church, how can I make this information relevant to my congregation?
Immigrants who have come in the last few decades are not just settling in traditional immigrant gateway cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, but they are making home in rural and suburban areas in every state across the country. Even if members of your congregation are not immigrants, chances are that they work with, live in neighborhoods with, and/or go to school with individuals who are immigrants or refugees.
Even if your congregation and the surrounding community include relatively few immigrants, though, this is an issue that is impacting the Church as a whole, which certainly does include many immigrants. In fact, researchers find that the fastest growth in American evangelicalism is occurring in immigrant congregations. Scripture teaches us that “if one part [of the Body] suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26), which is why all of the Body must be concerned with this topic that is impacting many followers of Christ.
What should I do if someone from my congregation tells me that he or she is undocumented?
Many individuals without legal status are afraid to share such sensitive information with others. The fact that someone has opened up to you about their immigration status signals trust and confidence in you. Thank them for sharing and reassure them that this information will not be shared with others without their permission. As long as you don’t employ undocumented immigrants, you can minister and care for these individuals as you would legal residents without breaking any law. There is no legal requirement or expectation that you report this information.
You may want to encourage immigrants with status complications to consult with a specialized immigration attorney or with a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized non-profit organization to make sure they exhaust all possible solutions (see http://theimmigrationalliance.org/find-site/ for a directory of such sites). And, of course, you can pray with and for these individuals in challenging situations.
Who are these undocumented immigrants?
A lot of what we hear and read about undocumented immigrants is inaccurate. Of the approximately 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 40% entered lawfully with a visa, but overstayed, while the rest entered illegally. While about 56% of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico, there are also millions of undocumented Asian, African, and European immigrants—so this is certainly not just a Mexican issue. Most immigrants without legal status, like those with legal status, come to improve their economic situation (which is often very perilous in their country of origin), to reunite families, or fleeing persecution in their country of origin.
Why don’t these people come the legal way as my ancestors did?
It’s easy to romanticize the immigrants to the U.S. of a century ago, but in reality, the immigrants who came through Ellis Island and in earlier eras came for the same primary reasons that immigrants come today—and, at the time, they faced much of the same resentment from some native-born U.S. citizens. What has changed dramatically, though, and the reason that many immigrants today do not come legally, is immigration policy. Prior to 1882, no one came illegally to the U.S.—because all immigration was legal: there was no requirement of a visa and no federal restrictions on who could immigrate. That began to change with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and several gradual changes that, by 1924, nearly closed off immigration to all but a fortunate few. While immigration reforms passed in 1965 reopened the possibility of immigration for some groups, current policy provides most who would like to immigrate with no legal option.
Why don’t immigrants just wait their turn in line?
There are four basic ways that a person might obtain Lawful Permanent Resident status in the U.S:
Employment-Based Immigration—but these visas are almost exclusively reserved for those with “advanced degrees” and “extraordinary abilities,” not for those content to do low wage labor.
Diversity Visa Lottery—but the odds of winning are about 1 in 300, and it’s only a possibility for individuals from “under-represented” countries, not for those from Mexico, the Philippines, China, India, and other “over-represented” countries.
Refugee or Asylee Status—for some of those fleeing persecution, but not for those fleeing poverty, natural disasters, or environmental degradation, and only a fraction of one percent of the world’s refugees are allowed to be resettled to the U.S.in a given year
Family-Based Immigration—but backlogs can be as long as twenty years, and many others do not have the requisite relative in the U.S.to sponsor them
Many individuals who come and find work in the U.S.do not fit into any of these categories, so there is really no “line” in which they could begin to wait; there is no legal way for them to come under current law.
Aren’t undocumented immigrants a drain on the economy?
Actually, almost all economists (44 out of 46 of those surveyed by the Wall Street Journal) agree that undocumented immigrants are good for the U.S. economy. Contrary to popular perception, most undocumented immigrants do pay taxes. The Social Security Administration estimates that 3 out of 4 undocumented immigrants has Social Security, Medicare, and income taxes deducted from their paychecks, and the Social Security Administration has taken in as much as $15 billion annually in recent years in contributions that do not match a valid Social Security number—but those immigrants will not be eligible for any Social Security benefits under current law, nor are they eligible for public benefits such as welfare or food stamps. Undocumented immigrants are responsible for certain costs to the economy—particularly at the local and state levels for education and emergency healthcare—but, overall, the economic benefits they bring outweigh the costs.
But what about the fact that these people broke the law?
Romans 13:1-4 makes very clear that Christ-followers are to submit to the governmental authorities that God has established. While there may be situations when “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29), we should not lightly brush aside this biblical command. However, we can uphold the importance of the rule of law without necessarily deporting 11.5 million people; we could insist upon other penalties, such as a significant fine, for entering or overstaying a visa unlawfully. It is also important to recognize that there is no conflict between the submission to authority mandated in Romans 13 and serving undocumented immigrants: we can minister to immigrants’ physical needs, help to teach them English, share the good news of the gospel, and advocate for just policies that would better their situation—all without violating the law (at least in most states). Since we live in a democracy, we can advocate for immigration policies that are both welcoming of immigrants and maintain the importance of the rule of law. We can also seek justice—as God commands (Micah 6:8)—by addressing the structures of poverty that create the situations from which immigrants feel they must flee.
How is immigration affecting the church?
Demographers tell us that immigrant churches are the fastest growing segment of evangelical churches in the U.S. Increasingly, when we talk disparagingly about “those people,” we are talking about ourselves, because the Church is one Body of which each of us is an interdependent part. When one part suffers—as many undocumented brothers and sisters are, as individuals are forced into the shadows and families are divided by current laws—every part suffers (1 Cor 12:12-26).
Beyond preaching on God’s Heart for Immigrants, what else could our church do?
Prayer—for wisdom as your church engages with this issue, for immigrants in your community, and for your political leaders
Listening—to immigrant brothers and sisters’ experiences, as well as to what the Bible has to teach us about how to interact with the foreign-born; the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge is a great discipleship tool to help us to listen to what Scripture says
Education—help others in your congregation to understand the issue; preaching a sermon (series) on the issue or dedicating a Sunday School class to the topic is one great way to help educate the congregation or small group. Other churches have created opportunities for interaction between immigrants and non-immigrants within the church, such as shared meals, service projects, cultural celebrations or other congregational events.
Advocacy—your legislators need to hear the moral voice of churches and their leaders; some churches have created or signed on to a statement in support of immigration reform; others have visited, written to, or called their legislators to share their opinion. Evangelical leaders across the country have come also generated a list of six principles to guide a bi-partisan immigration legislation consistent with biblical values. To see or sign the EIT Statement of Principles, please visit: evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/principles.
Service—there are many needs in immigrant communities that local churches can help to meet. Some such needs include English language instruction, academic support and mentoring for youth, authorized and affordable legal services, and job skills training.
Evangelism—while many immigrants bring a vibrant faith with them, others will encounter the transformative message of the gospel for the first time in the U.S. Immigration provides a missional opportunity to make disciples of all nations—right on our doorstep.
Please submit any additional questions to the Evangelical Immigration Table’s Liz Dong: firstname.lastname@example.org.