First of all, there is a strong biblical mandate to care for the immigrant and refugee. God repeatedly tells the people of Israel that the law he is giving them “applies to the native-born and to the alien among you” (Ex. 12:49). God sets for his people the standard that immigrants to their land should be treated equally, with the same rights and the same responsibilities. He did so not just through a sentimental statement of love, but by legislating systems that would ensure that these vulnerable groups’ needs were met, telling the Israelites to go over their grain, grape and olive harvests just once, leaving the gleanings for the alien, the orphan and the widow (Deut. 24:19-21).
In the New Testament, Jesus, who as a child was forced to flee as a refugee to Egypt, makes clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that God’s command to love our neighbor includes, specifically, migrants in need (Luke 10:25-37). He instructs us to welcome the stranger, for in doing so we are welcoming Christ himself (Mt 25:31-46).
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it,” Hebrews 13:2, NIV.
Others have comments about the biblical responsibility to help the foreigner in our midst.
“We show tangible love for God in how we care for the poor and those who are suffering. He expects us to treat the poor and the desperate as if they were Christ Himself,” said Francis Chan, author of “Crazy Love.”
“The church must always show compassion, always… A good Samaritan doesn’t stop and ask the injured person. ‘Are you legal or illegal?’,” said Rick Warren senior pastor of Saddleback Church.
But what about the fact that these people broke the law?
The fact that these individuals are present unlawfully is a big problem for a lot of Christians.
Romans 13:1-4 makes very clear that Christians are to submit to the governmental authorities that God has established. While there may be situations when “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29), we should not lightly brush aside this biblical command. However, we can uphold the importance of the rule of law without necessarily deporting 10.8 million people; we could insist upon other penalties, such as a significant fine, for entering or overstaying a visa unlawfully.
It is also important to recognize that the government and the church clearly have very different roles. There is no conflict between the submission to authority mandated in Romans 13 and serving undocumented immigrants: We can minister to immigrants’ physical needs, help to teach them English, share the good news of the gospel, and advocate for just policies that would better their situation—all without violating the law (at least in most states).
Christians can disagree on which response is right, but I hope we can all agree it’s tragic that our system forces people to choose between those two, equally biblical commands of following the law and providing for one’s family. We can advocate for the government to reform the immigration laws so that illegal immigration is very, very difficult and legal immigration—not without limit, but sufficient to keep our economy growing and families united—is much easier. And then we need to find some mechanism that recognizes that those who are undocumented have broken the law, but which also recognizes our own government’s complicity in creating a morally hazardous, dysfunctional system and avoids the incredible expense of deporting 10 to 12 million people.
Since we live in a democracy, we can advocate for immigration policies that are both welcoming of immigrants and maintain the importance of the rule of law. We can also seek justice—as God commands (Micah 6:8)—by addressing the structures of poverty that create the situations from which immigrants feel they must flee.