What I Think About When I Think About Immigration

An acquaintance of mine on Twitter asked if I would be addressing the current controversy over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and illegal immigration here in the United States. My initial reaction was, “Are you trying to get me in even more trouble?” This is a touchy subject to say the least, and I have no intention of offering a firm solution to something so complex and nebulous. Instead, I will briefly mention some of the factors that I tend to weigh when considering such issues, in no particular order. This is not going to be based on in-depth research, but rather the kinds of things I would say to you if you put the question to me on the spot. Therefore, you should take all of this with a shaker of salt. It is just one person’s opinion. It is not the gospel.

  1. That we have an immigration problem in this country is as plain as day. We have far more people who want to move here than we can reasonably accept without causing a massive strain to the system. A number of factors have been used historically to choose who will be admitted: racial, religious, socioeconomic, etc. It is my opinion that the people who should have the first right to be made U.S. citizens are those who are highly skilled in fields where we are lacking workers, who are suffering religious or political persecution in their native lands, or who have family members here already. In general, I believe that our system of legal immigration favors these sorts of people.
  2. There is a legitimate concern regarding the number of persons who enter this country without any proper documentation or who come here legally but overstay their visas. Allow me to clarify what I mean. I do not believe that the majority of these people are hardened criminals or guilty of significant anti-social behavior. My concern is two-fold: 1) Allowing lots of peaceable people to slip in could also provide an opportunity to those with less honorable intentions. We live in the age of ISIS, after all. 2) Allowing people to come in without going through the proper channels could be seen as deeply unfair to those who are attempting to do things the right way and waiting for years and years.
  3. We certainly need to take steps to reduce the amount of people entering this country illegally, but it is not entirely clear to me what would be the best solution. There seems to have been a decrease in the number of illegal immigrants in the past decade or so, but this is one area where our statistics will probably never be 100% accurate. Some have suggested building a bigger wall, a longer wall, or some other kind of super-dee-duper wall. I know of three potential problems with that idea: 1) It is my understanding that walls already in place or those that are planned will actually cut off certain portions of American land, leaving them south of the wall. 2) The costs of such a wall, and how it can be built without further increasing our government’s debt, must be taken into account. 3) I used to work for Egypt, where people regularly tunnel under the walls that surround the Gaza Strip and smuggle all kinds of things back and forth. No wall is ever perfect. Now, there may be other options for securing the border, such as increasing the number of armed border guards, monitoring equipment, etc. I would have to conduct further research on what methods tend to be most effective.
  4. Having said that, we must also address the other side of the coin: Why do people want to come here in the first place? It seems that the chief motivating factor for most of those who come here illegally – the majority from points south of the U.S. but some undoubtedly slipping in elsewhere – is greater economic opportunity. The only thing that will really put a stop to this flood of illegal immigration is an improvement in the living conditions of Mexicans, Central Americans, and South Americans. I sense that there are many Americnas who are very concerned about illegal immigration but have little understanding of or compassion for the plight of these people. I do not say that about everyone who favors a tougher immigration policy, but it is certainly true in some cases. Just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, a drug war has been going on for years. Who buys many of those drugs? Americans. Our nasty habits are funding the misery of these people. Our hands are by no means clean.
  5. I’ve talked about preventing new people from entering, but what should we do with those who are already here? Well, since they do not have the proper legal documentation, the first step is to simply identify them, which may not be as easy as it sounds. I have seen estimates that there are around 12 million illegal or undocumented persons living in the United States, but we should perhaps doubt the accuracy of a count of people who are attempting to hide. One complaint I often hear is that these undocumented immigrants are using government services without paying any taxes. I find this argument to be somewhat flawed for the following reasons: 1) The amount of services that an illegal immigrant can receive varies somewhat by the state. 2) Illegal immigrants do pay taxes. Some have it taken out of their wages automatically, but more importantly, they all pay sales tax on many of the things they buy. The majority of benefits received by illegal immigrants are paid for by state governments, and the majority of the revenue a state would ever get from them would probably come from sales tax. 3) I frequently hear complaints that illegal immigrants can go to the emergency room and they have to be seen. This is certainly true if they have a life-threatening condition, and I would like to think that most of us would support a hospital treating such conditions regardless of the person’s legal status. Let me ask you this question though: If you were living in fear of being discovered by the government and knew that you could be deported at any time, would you risk putting yourself in a situation where you could be identified unless you were really doggone sick? I doubt it. Therefore, I also doubt that this is the biggest waste of the taxpayer’s money.
  6. The question of what to do with children brought here illegally by their parents is a particularly difficult one. If the children are born on U.S. soil, then they are U.S. citizens according to our Constitution, and I fully support that. (I would, however, require their non-citizen relatives to go through the same process as everyone else in order to gain legal status, though I would exercise charity in allowing them to stay here while they wait.) It gets more complicated when the child is not a legal citizen. On the one hand, I do not want to blame them for something that was not truly their fault. On the other, simply making them citizens automatically might encourage more people to bring their children here illegally. I would favor treating these non-citizen children in much the same manner as I would the parents of so-called “anchor babies”: let them remain in the country while they go through the process of applying for citizenship. Of course, going through the application process means that if the government were to discover something that is a red flag, such as previous criminal activity, then they would be denied citizenship and deported. I would also be hesitant to provide much in the way of government services – such as Medicaid, federal student loans, or the like – to those who are not yet citizens. However, I would not simply round them up and kick them out. I would go for something a bit more middle-of-the-road.
  7. If an adult comes here illegally or stays here illegally, and there are no other mitigating factors, then I do favor deportation. I understand why people would disapprove. After all, we have all sorts of historical images of people being rounded up and evicted, and it just seems utterly terrible. However, there is a world of difference between taking away legal rights and giving legal rights. To deport someone who is here legally is taking away a right. To allow someone to stay who is not here legally is in essence granting them a right they did not previously have. When it comes to immigration, I prioritize people who follow the rules to the best of their ability and fall under the categories I mentioned earlier: skilled workers, asylum seekers, and relatives. Keep in mind that every time we grant legal status to someone who broke the rules, we are essentially taking away the opportunity of someone who followed the rules. The number of people going through the legal process is quite high, and they are waiting a painfully long time. What do I say to the refugees fleeing for their lives when my quota of asylum seekers is already full? How will they feel about the fact that I have granted asylum to people who broke my country’s laws? Now, I do not think we should view illegal and/or undocumented immigrants merely as law breakers, but denying that they have broken the law is not helpful either. It is false to assume that only those who immigrate here illegally are worthy of our compassion.
  8. At the same time, I think there is a conversation to be had about what gives someone a right to live here in the first place. We have laws in this country, and we must abide by them. However, we must realize that our concepts of sovereignty and citizenship are very much based upon European ideals brought over by those who colonized this land. I have frequently joked that Native Americans ought to say to me, “Go back to your country!” You see, my ancestors were not American at all, but European. Consider also that many black people in this country are descendants of persons who were brought here against their will. Therefore, the question of who has a right to live here is more complicated than it might seem on the surface. Now, history has both victors and consequences. I am not suggesting that we should tear up our Constitution, abandon notions of private property, and sing kumbaya. However, the fact remains that many of the people who have immigrated to this country illegally over the past few decades have at least some Native American ancestry. They are the descendants of native peoples and European colonizers who intermarried, or in some cases of only native peoples. I myself have no Native American blood. The people who lived here before the coming of European settlers were more nomadic on the whole in their understanding of life. Many of us have heard anecdotes about Native Americans who “sold” land not really understanding the concept. Of course, they also signed treaties that were not honored by the U.S. government. Therefore, when I talk big about American laws, I need to realize that in the greater scheme of history, my rationale may not be as strong as I think. I am not going to arrive at a conclusion here, but I do not think that any discussion of immigration (particularly from Central and South America) can take place without considering the very concepts of citizenship, ethnicity, and ownership.
  9. I have heard plenty of people claim that the Bible has nothing to say about immigration policy. I have heard others declare that it has very specific things to say on the topic. I think the correct answer is somewhere in between. The Bible certainly gives us principles that can be applied to the present situation. Genesis tells us that all human beings are created in the image of God. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as our self and even to love our enemies. The ancient Israelites were told to show compassion to aliens and strangers living among them. The Apostle Paul said that the dividing wall between racial groups (in his case, Jews and Gentiles) had been torn down in Jesus Christ. None of this tells us exactly what we ought to do with regard to legal or illegal immigration, but it does help to shape the way that we as Christians think about these issues. We must always view human beings as full persons worthy of dignity and respect. We must always leave room for compassion in our hearts, even as we also seek to uphold the law. I know many Christians who minister to refugees in all sorts of ways, and I think that is some of the greatest practical work that the Church can do. God does command us to care for the vulnerable. I do not believe that a person’s opinion on the height of our border wall is a matter of biblical orthodoxy, and I could see biblical arguments for both looser and stricter immigration policies. However, our hearts must always be in line with what God commands in scripture.
  10. I will say this as my closing thought: Racism is abhorrent in all its forms. Throughout my life, I have heard many people talk negatively about Hispanics and/or Mexicans, often assuming that any Hispanic or Latino person must be from Mexico. I have heard them claim that these people are stealing all of our jobs, when in fact many of the jobs being done by illegal immigrants are the kind of things that American citizens are not particularly interested in doing. (For example, I have come across documentary evidence that farmers struggle to find workers to legally harvest their crops.) I have heard the current president of the United States refer to illegal immigrants as rapists and murderers, painting them with a very broad brush indeed. I have witnessed the way that people assume Hispanic persons are stupid if they are not fluent in English, when the Spanish language has its own glorious tradition and most white Americans would be hard pressed to speak fluently in a second language. There is racism lying behind many of these false assumptions, and it has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ. Would I much prefer that these people come to the U.S. on migrant worker visas or through a legal citizenship process? Yes, but then again, I am not sure how much the average person coming here illegally knows about our legal processes. I know that they want a better life for themselves and their family. That is not so different from my own ancestors. Some of the concerns about our immigration policy are entirely valid, but I reject entirely anything that arises out of racism. What we really need is for Congress to reform our immigration system, but given the current political climate, I do not see that happening in the near future.


Those are just some of my scattered thoughts on these issues. If you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

2 thoughts on “What I Think About When I Think About Immigration

  1. Amy, I haven’t had time to read through the entire post but I skimmed it specifically looking for how you would deal with children born in the US to illegal alien parents (#6) as a kind of “litmus test” as to whether this post was going to live up to your normally high standards. You make the assertion that these children are US citizens according to the constitution. You are mistaken, they are not. The 14th amendment has the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” and supreme court rulings have made it clear that illegal aliens are subject to the jurisdiction of their country of citizenship, not the US, therefore their children who are born here are not US citizens. I will read through more of your post later but when I see this assertion being made, it cause me wonder how much of your post is based on misconceptions and feeling rather than facts.

    • Jerry,

      As I stated at the outset, this was not meant to be a piece of in-depth research, but rather a brief summary of some of the things I consider when approaching this issue. I admit that it does not, as you say, fit my usual high standard. However, on the particular point you have raised, I believe I am in line with the common practice here in the United States. I would refer you to this article: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/18/432707866/3-things-you-should-know-about-birthright-citizenship
      As the law stands now, I do not believe that the children of foreigners should be excluded from citizenship if born on U.S. soil. Some may disagree with me, and further court rulings could revers the current policy. I was merely referring to the way things operate at the present time rather than making a technical legal argument.

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