President Trump issued a very broad executive order yesterday, banning immigration for up to 120 days, and including so-called “Green Card” holders, holders of permanent visas. This order was effective immediately and almost immediately protests erupted. Moreover, several Federal judges have issued temporary injunctions against the order’s application to certain individuals. Political types on roughly the same side of the spectrum have disagreed—Libertarians seem to be dead set against it, while Conservatives appear in general support. Finally, Christians are coming out on both sides of this order.
My goal here is to examine this order from a policy standpoint and as a Christian. Before I begin, I am aware that some readers may hold strong opinions. I am attempting here to remain as objective as I can, but will obviously “land” somewhere.
From a policy standpoint, first, the president is obviously acting consistently with his campaign promises, but he has not acted more radically—but rather, less radically—than he promised in the campaign. So right off, we can see that the executive order (EO) was less stringent than one might have expected. What then does it do? Very simply, it forbids entry into the United States, for a period of no more than 90 or 120 days, any person who comes from a nation designated for “extreme vetting.” These nations are located in the Middle East and are predominantly Muslim. The order applies to any person who is a citizen of one of those nations, even if they hold dual citizenship or permanent visas. The nations affected are considered sources of terrorism by the administration. Finally, exceptions can be granted by the proper officials.
Was the EO too broad? Probably a little too broad. The president perhaps should have exempted Green Card holders, while at the same time ensuring that their presence here was legitimate. As I write, I have learned that Green Card holders are exempted from the order. Was this order specifically aimed at Muslims, as some assert? This is a thorny question. It seems obvious that it is primarily aimed at terrorism. It incidentally affects Muslims more than non-Muslims, since terrorism originates predominantly in Muslim countries and regions—except for those “home grown” terrorists who are citizens of nations not generally known to produce terrorists. The argument that Muslims are being targeted is then misplaced.
In addition, it is a pretty well-established principle that each nation has a basic right of sovereignty (though that has been eroded recently). Sovereignty includes those measures that actually preserve a nation as a coherent and stable political and legal entity, including its political and legal institutions. It hardly needs further explanation to say that potential terrorism can severely erode a nations stability, and even destroy its existence over time.
What about immigration in general? I have said before that in general I favor open immigration, but consistent with the idea of sovereignty, I favor carefully controlled open immigration, the kind that does not threaten the very institutions that have made the United States the particular nation it is. The nation, through its government, has the legal authority and duty to preserve those institutions. When it perceives them to be potentially threatened, it may act within the parameters of the Constitution. The president has the chief authority to take such actions. As an aside, I am confident that any lower court rulings would be overturned on appeal, though there are some possible limits set by Supreme Court precedents. But most of those have to do with withholding funds from sanctuary cities and not with general immigration policy (but see Illya Somin of George Mason Scalia Law School for a possibly different opinion). Personally, I welcome any and all cultures, but not all civilizational elements are “created equal.” Civilization includes aspects like the legal and political ideas and institutions, among other elements, the kinds of things that bring unity and stability while allowing diversity in cultural practices and customs.
Finally, what ought a Christian think? Once again, some are invoking the Old Testament texts that tell the Hebrew people to welcome the stranger and the alien, apparently without any restrictions at all in the interpretation of those opposing the order or immigration restrictions of any kind. I don’t disagree that these texts can be used as general principles to guide a nation, since the Hebrew Commonwealth was established by God and governed by laws given by Him for their good. Therefore, what we see in the laws cannot be bad in itself for a nation, though of course we have to be careful in interpreting and applying the texts properly. But there are several problems with this view held by those opposing Trump. First, those invoking the texts to welcome the stranger and alien have apparently forgotten the associated texts that command that the aliens who wish to live among the Hebrews (as “citizens”) also are required to obey the laws of that nation. That in turn would seem to have a valid application that allows a nation’s government to make a determination as to whether those seeking citizenship are trustworthy. This “extreme vetting” includes screening for possible terrorists and criminals. In addition, it presupposes some legal mechanism for attaining citizenship. Illegal immigration would not have been condoned then, and need not be condoned now. If we take the laws as a whole and not just selected few, they actually can support both an open kind of immigration and strict screening.
I am sure Christians will continue to disagree on this contentious issue. But we also are called to think carefully about it and to look to all Scripture as our guide. I hope this blog has contributed to a reasoned discussion.