As someone who vocationally works on behalf of the fatherless I believe it is my duty to think critically about the issues affecting the fatherless around the world and do my best to critically work through a Biblical approach to these issues. Having lived in Latin America, having worked with migrants in the States, and now working with the fatherless via advocacy inside of the foster care system in the States and programmatic approaches to battle the epidemic of fatherlessness globally, I believe I bring a perspective with intimate knowledge of the people who are in the midst of this debate.
First, lets take a look at the policy.
The Department of Homeland Security says, “If an adult is referred for criminal prosecution, the adult will be transferred to U.S. Marshals Service custody and any children will be classified as an unaccompanied alien child and transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services custody.” (www.dhs.gov)
Under the new “Zero Tolerance” Policy instituted by the current administration in April 2018 the amount of individuals who are “criminally prosecuted” has gone up and more children are being separated and held in facilities away from their parents.
What is the reality of Central American violence?
The Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) consistently rank as some of the most violent countries in the world. The realities of drug trafficking, extortion, gang recruitment, and poverty have created cycles of despair and misery for many individuals caught in the crosshairs. As well according to The Washington Post, “Latin America is home to just 8 percent of the world’s population, but 33 percent of its homicides. In fact, just four countries in the region — Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela — account for a quarter of all the murders on Earth. Of the 20 countries in the world with the highest murder rates, 17 are Latin American, as are 43 of the top 50 cities.”
What does the Bible say about immigration?
In looking at the idea of the nation-state and the ideal as instituted by God we must begin by looking at the nation of Israel. As God’s chosen people, Israel was called to be a light in the darkness, a tangible example of Yahweh’s heart to a pagan society. Thus, as we look to the institutions set up by God for Israel in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) we see the creation of a society centered around certain ideals that were inherently close to the heart of God.
In Leviticus 19:33-34 we see Yahweh specifically address the role Israel was to play as they approached the “sojourner” living among them. It says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (ESV)
As we continue to look through the societal structure that Yahweh expected from His chosen people, we see a specific heart in the approach from Israel towards the vulnerable and marginalized living among them. Consistently we see the “sojourner” or “foreigner” lumped in with the widow and orphan as the most vulnerable members of Israelite society and individuals that Israel was required to care for in a more intimate manner. Deuteronomy 27:19 says, “‘Cursed by anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.'”
As well from a missiological perspective we constantly see God’s heart for the nations, that they will worship Him, and in Solomon’s dedication of the Temple we see immigration play a role in God’s missiological approach to the nations surrounding Israel. In Solomon’s prayer of dedication he says, “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.” (1 Kings 8:41-43) Israel’s missiological approach had immigration at the center, it was not only a “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a) but a “come and see the greatness of our God.”
As we continue to track through the story of God and His people we see prominent Immigrants playing center stage in the story of redemption. We see Jospeh, a Israelite slave in Egypt who rises to the highest of ranks to protect the story of His people, Moses, a fostered Israelite baby who left his adopted home of Egypt only to return to lead his biological nation out of captivity, and Jesus, the central figure in the entire story of Redemption who not only immigrated from a Heavenly home to earth, but again immigrated to Egypt to flee an unjust regime and violence.
Finally, as we look towards the end, the culmination of this beautiful story of redemption, we see God’s people coming together in unison, from every nation and tribe and people, singing “Salvation belongs to our god who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9) God’s people are multicultural and multilingual.
How do I respond as a Christian born in the United States?
First, my response must be based in the inherent worth of all people. As is clearly shown in the creation account, we were created in the image of God and thus bear, as humans, the mark of our Creator.
Second, I must understand that our God is a God who identifies with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed and as His follower I must also seek the well being of those who are not being treated with the dignity of which they are worthy. I must seek to model the Gospel to my neighbor, whatever my neighbors documentation status might happen to be.
Third, as Christ modeled compassion and empathy throughout his time on earth, we as His followers must seek to embrace that same compassion and empathy. We see Jesus seek out the children (contrary to social norms), embrace the Samaritan women (crossing social class) and push back against the political structures at play in first century Israel (socially and politically radical) in order to model justice and compassion.
I must seek to put myself in the shoes of those who are so often relegated to being pawns in a political agenda. It is so easy to demonize and create a self-serving stereotypical image of those we don’t agree with, but how often do we consider what we would do if relegated to a situation of desperation like many who are fleeing to the borders of the United States for the safety and livelihood of their families.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to think theologically through the issues at hand and formulate and educated response to those issues. I encourage you if you are reading this to do your homework. If you agree with the “Zero Tolerance” policy, so be it, but I pray that you have come to a conclusion from an educated stance to know why you agree. It is not enough to align ourselves solely along party lines, we must be able to formulate an understanding that prioritizes what Scripture says and comes at the situation from a position of education and knowledge.
Finally, talk to your immigrant neighbor. You might just come to the realization that they aren’t that different from you. Most of us are worried about the same things; health, safety, prospects for our children, our marriages, work, etc. and when we can come to that realization people cease to be images or stereotypes, they become real, with names, faces, dreams, and hopes. I pray as Christians we can live into that model and be the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors who may come from different countries of origin.