There has been a rush in the evangelical community of late to baptize illegal immigrants. Leaders such as Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church have spoken out in favor of immigration reform that would essentially give amnesty to millions of people who came to the United States illegally. They have joined with the Roman Catholic bishops, mainline church leaders, and evangelical leftists such as Jim Wallis to advocate for what is called “comprehensive” reform.
Personally, I’m split on this issue. On the one hand, I was once an ardent supporter of open borders–allow anyone to come to the United States who didn’t have a criminal record back home. The prospect of terrorism gave me pause, but I’m still for more immigration rather than less. On the other hand, the idea of rewarding law-breaking doesn’t strike me as the best way to foster good citizenship, either in immigrants or the native-born.
More than anything, the thing that bothers me the most about the debate, I think, is the way those in favor of “comprehensive” reform glide over the moral issue with a glib “Christians should welcome the stranger!” slogan based on Old Testament injunctions that have little to do with the subject under debate. At the same time, they assume that anyone who opposes “comprehensive” reform is either a racist, a business shill, or a xenophobe. So I’d like to inject a bit of moral reasoning from the other side, specifically from Victor Davis Hanson, who poses moral questions that can’t be so easily evaded:
But what is often left out of the equation is the moral dimension of illegal immigration. We see the issue too often reduced to caricature, involving a noble, impoverished victim without much free will and subject to cosmic forces of sinister oppression. But everyone makes free choices that affect others. So ponder the ethics of a guest arriving in a host country knowingly contrary to its sovereign protocols and laws.
First, there is the larger effect on the sanctity of a legal system. If a guest ignores the law — and thereby often must keep breaking more laws — should citizens also have the right to similarly pick and choose which statutes they find worthy of honoring and which are too bothersome? Once it is deemed moral for the impoverished to cross a border without a passport, could not the same arguments of social justice be used for the poor of any status not to report earned income or even file a 1040 form?
Second, what is the effect of mass illegal immigration on impoverished U.S. citizens? Does anyone care? When 10 to 15 million aliens are here illegally, where is the leverage for the American working poor to bargain with employers? If it is deemed ethical to grant in-state-tuition discounts to illegal-immigrant students, is it equally ethical to charge three times as much for out-of-state, financially needy American students — whose federal government usually offers billions to subsidize state colleges and universities? If foreign nationals are afforded more entitlements, are there fewer for U.S. citizens?
Third, consider the moral ramifications on legal immigration — the traditional great strength of the American nation. What are we to tell the legal immigrant from Oaxaca who got a green card at some cost and trouble, or who, once legally in the United States, went through the lengthy and expensive process of acquiring citizenship? Was he a dupe to follow our laws dutifully?
And given the current precedent, if a million soon-to-be-impoverished Greeks, 2 million refugee North Koreans, or 5 million starving Somalis were to enter the United States illegally and en masse, could anyone object to their unlawful entry and residence? If so, on what legal, practical, or moral grounds?
Fourth, examine the morality of remittances. It is deemed noble to send billions of dollars back to families and friends struggling in Latin America. But how is such a considerable loss of income made up? Are American taxpayers supposed to step in to subsidize increased social services so that illegal immigrants can afford to send billions of dollars back across the border? What is the morality of that equation in times of recession? Shouldn’t illegal immigrants at least try to buy health insurance before sending cash back to Mexico?
As I said, I’m not entirely sure where I stand on all this, but I think Hanson raises questions that people like Anderson, Land, and Hybels need to take some time to consider and deal with if they are going to seek to be out in front of the evangelical community on this issue.