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The Biblical Foundation for Immigration

19 Jan 2018

On this day when there is a definitive possibility of a “shutdown” of our federal government largely because of a lack of agreement about immigration policy, I was reminded from 1 Peter 1:1 that Christians are “elect exiles of the dispersion” (ESV). I thought this a good time to reflect on some Bible passages that should form a foundation for Christian’s thinking on immigration policy. The Bible says very little directly about most contemporary national policy issues. And while the scripture does not provide detail on immigration policy, the Bible does give us direct moral perspective on immigration.

All people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27-28). All people should be given and treated with the respect and dignity owed to image bearers of the Almighty. We have the potential and capability to contribute in productive ways to our cultures and societies. Human flourishing is contingent upon people having the opportunity to reflect the image of God through creative service to Him through serving other image bearers. Immigrants can contribute to  societies and cultures that are different from their nations of birth.

As I was reminded this morning from 1 Peter, Christians are aliens and sojourners in a foreign land. We are like Abraham, “… looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). As the gospel song says: “This world is not my home I’m just passing through”. Philippians 3:20 reminds us “… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”. All Christians will one day be part of the ultimate migration, which will be shared with people “… from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9).  The great commission commands us to take the good news of Christ Jesus to the entire world:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20).

Christ himself spent part of his childhood as a refugee in Egypt.

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son. (Matt. 2:13-15)

We should have compassion on people that need to flee the land of their birth.

The nation of Israel’s exodus from Egypt was a significant event in their history pre-figuring the deliverance that would ultimately come in the person of Christ. Because Israel had been a stranger in the land of Egypt they were to treat strangers in their land well.

21 You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)

33 When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.34 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. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm. (Jeremiah 7:6)

29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. (Ezekiel 22:29)

10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. (Zechariah 7:10)

Global immigration is a reality. Technology, both in the form of communication and transportation, has made our world a much smaller place during the last 100 years. People will want to immigrate to the United States and US citizens will sometimes desire to move to another country to live. In addition, poor governance leading to poor economic performance motivates people to move to nations with more sound government and better economies. Sometimes armed conflict forces people to flee their countries. Immigration is a fact of 21st century life. While the Bible does not delineate policy detail, it does indicate that Christians should support a humane immigration policy. My ideal policy would be open borders. No one should be in the country who is undocumented. An open immigration policy does not mean that we have no passports and no national boundaries. What it means is we do not artificially restrict individual’s movements. People with known criminal backgrounds and communicable diseases should not be allowed to move freely between nations, but ideally we should not restrict movement by any other criteria. Transferring citizenship from one country to another should not be difficult. Open immigration is how we provide individuals created in the image of God with the respect and dignity they deserve.