For many American Christians, the images that come to mind when we think about immigration are of fences and walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. Questions of border security have often been at the center of political debates in Washington, D.C.
While immigration is a much broader topic than just the U.S.-Mexico border — after all, most immigrants come to the U.S. via airplanes, including many unauthorized immigrants who initially enter on temporary visas — the security of the United States’ borders with both Mexico and Canada is an important matter. Christians want to be part of a compassionate nation that welcomes immigrants, and we also want to be safe.
We should expect our government to ensure secure national borders, to track everyone who comes into the U.S. and to ensure that no one who would seek to do harm is able to enter. That’s consistent with the God-ordained role of government described in the Bible (Romans 13:1) and with the Israelites’ establishment of fortified cities “for protection” (Numbers 32:17).
The role of secure borders should be to protect the nation, however, not to keep out those fleeing persecution. It’s vital that as government invests in border security, it also respect U.S. laws that allow those with a credible fear of persecution to request asylum. These individuals should be screened and vetted — both to make sure they truly qualify under the terms of U.S. law and to ensure that they do not present a public safety or national security threat.
For decades, the U.S. government has proved that it does carefully vet those seeking to enter the U.S. lawfully. The U.S. refugee resettlement program is a great example: Since 1980, when the Refugee Act was signed into law, roughly 3 million refugees have been identified overseas, vetted and then invited to rebuild their lives in the U.S. The vetting process currently in place for the refugee program is extremely thorough, including multiple layers of background checks, retina scans, fingerprints and in-person interviews with trained officers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It’s been remarkably effective: Of those 3 million refugees admitted since 1980, not a single one has taken an American life in a terrorist attack. Many of these refugees have been 30 persecuted Christians who faced the threat of violence because of their faith in Jesus in their countries of origin, who now have found safety and religious freedom in the U.S. , often planting new churches here in the process. Others have come from other religious traditions but encountered the hope of a relationship with Jesus in the U.S. when welcomed by American Christians.
There has been significant progress in the past decades toward securing the U.S.- Mexico border. Far fewer individuals are able to enter the country surreptitiously today than 10 or 15 years ago, in part because of significant investments in border security technology, strategic physical barriers and personnel. Still, most Americans feel more needs to be done. While we may have differences of opinion about what mix of structures and technologies is best to ensure that the government has control over the border, a significant investment is necessary. To stop drug and human smugglers, elected leaders need to take the challenge of border security seriously and be committed to doing what it takes to ensure that our government has control over the U.S.-Mexico border.
Lastly, one of the best ways to reduce illegal immigration is by building a more functional, robust legal immigration system — not just for those fleeing persecution (who may qualify for asylum or refugee status) but also for those seeking to meet a labor need in the U.S. Most immigrants would much rather go through an application and vetting process closer to their homes and then come safely to the U.S. on an airplane with a visa than make a very dangerous journey across Mexico. However, current policies often make this impossible. Those facing credible fears of persecution may feel no choice but to reach the border to request asylum. Those seeking employment may see no possibility except to overstay a temporary visa. Some misuse the asylum system or may attempt to sneak into the U.S. A functional legal immigration system would go a long way toward reducing illegal immigration and allow the Department of Homeland Security to improve border security to keep Americans safe.
This is an excerpt from Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform, an e-book recently published by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).