As Christians around the world celebrate the birth Jesus Christ, we are reminded that his family also suffered persecution and oppression at the hands of those who were misinformed about their circumstances. As those of us who work with immigration issues and refugees know, Jesus and his family were refugees, fleeing to Egypt for a number of years before the threat of King Herod passed. When they returned to Israel, the angel directed them to resettle to the primitive village of Nazareth, out of the spotlight, perhaps to not draw attention to themselves. The same is true for many immigrants who resettle in our country today.
As we think of how this affects us during the Advent season, we are reminded that the United States is a country mostly made up of immigrants from around the world. Our forefathers, who sought freedom and opportunity, have for years resettled in this country to capture a part of the American dream. We are a country with a rich cultural diversity that together makes a beautiful mosaic.
However, regardless of our heritage, some in our society see immigration as an invasion. Many see immigrants—especially immigrants who are present in our country unlawfully—as a threat to our economy, our security, and our national identity.
As Christians, I personally hope we see things differently. I believe that immigrants are a blessing and an opportunity. Immigrants, including refugees and undocumented immigrants, bring a great deal to our country and present a wonderful, missional opportunity for the Church. Through immigration, the nations of the world show up right at our doorstep. While many immigrants arrive in this country with a vibrant faith, others encounter the hope of a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ for the first time in this country. God has given his Church an enormous opportunity in the arrival of immigrants to our country. But we have the option of ignoring this opportunity, of allowing our response to be one of fear, rather than by the liberating truth and love of Scripture.
“Why is immigration policy important to Christians? Certainly because we believe what the Bible teaches about treatment of ‘aliens in the land.’ It is also because so many Hispanic, African and Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are us,” said
Leith Anderson president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
I will be sharing a four-part series on a Christian perspective on immigration and will be using some information on World Relief’s website, http://welcomingthestranger.com
Let’s start by answering a few common questions:
What is the immigration “crisis,” and why does it matter to the church?
There are an estimated 32 million immigrants presently living in the United States, with about 10.8 million living here without legal status. All sides agree that this is a problem—with some viewing the situation as an “invasion” of “illegal” immigrants threatening the culture, safety, and economy of the United States, while others lament that “undocumented” immigrants are kept in the shadows, with families divided by unjust laws. Christians often feel stuck in the middle of these two views—recognizing the tension between the biblical commands to respect the law and to welcome, love, and minister to our new immigrant neighbors.
Who are these undocumented immigrants?
A lot of what we hear and read about undocumented immigrants is inaccurate. Of the approximately 10.8 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 40 percent entered lawfully with a visa, but overstayed, while the rest entered illegally. While about 56 percent of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico or other Latin American countries, there are also millions of undocumented Asian, African, and European immigrants—so this is certainly not just a Hispanic issue. Most immigrants without legal status, like those with legal status, come to improve their economic situation (which is often very perilous in their country of origin), to reunite families, or fleeing persecution in their country of origin.
Next week we will explore answers to questions like:
Why don’t these people come the legal way, the way that my ancestors did?
And Aren’t undocumented immigrants a drain on the economy?