Making Things Right with an Earned Pathway to Legal Status

Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform Series

September 30, 2019

Perhaps the most sensitive question for Christians wrestling with U.S. immigration policy is that of what to offer immigrants who are here in the country illegally. Many Christians are torn between the desire to respect and enforce the law and the desire to love, welcome and share the gospel with immigrants. How should believers respond in cases when they suspect immigrants are here illegally? 

For churches, ministries and ordinary American Christians, U.S. law does not restrict the clear biblical mandate to show compassion. There’s no requirement that a citizen report someone they suspect may be in the country unlawfully. Christians can teach English classes, run food pantries, teach Sunday school, baptize and serve Communion — the law. In general, the only area where there’s a likely legal risk is in employing someone who is not authorized to work. 

Of course, that could change: There have been proposals in the past that could have made some elements of ministry to undocumented immigrants illegal; it’s important, as a matter of religious liberty, to push back against any policy proposals that would imply the government is limiting those whom the church can serve. As Rick Warren has said, “A good Samaritan doesn’t stop and ask the injured person, ‘Are you legal or illegal?’” and Christians should be able to minister to people freely. 

Unauthorized immigrants, including many within evangelical churches, are often desperate to get right with the law, and many yearn to be citizens of the United States, a land they have come to love. Many Americans rightly wonder why undocumented immigrants don’t simply begin the process to become citizens. But the fact is, for most undocumented immigrants, there simply is no process for them to actually come out of the shadows and make things right. Most do not fit into any of the limited categories of people who qualify to request immigrant status (a legal prerequisite to citizenship) under existing law — just as most did not qualify for immigrant visas when they were still in their countries of origin. With very limited exceptions, it’s not a question of them being unwilling to wait their turn in line: There is no line in which they qualify to wait. It’s also not a question of them not having enough money to pay filing fees or to hire an attorney: In most cases, the best attorney in the country could do nothing to help them, because they simply do not qualify under current law. 

So what could lawmakers do to address this situation? To simply offer an amnesty policy, pretending that these undocumented immigrants had not broken the law and extending citizenship, would not honor the law, which Christians are called to do. 

On the other hand, a mass deportation policy would be problematic as well. Just on an economic level, it would be disastrous. The conservative American Action Forum estimates that it would cost somewhere between $400 billion and $600 billion to forcibly identify and deport all immigrants in the country unlawfully and then to keep them from simply coming back illegally, which many would likely try to do if taken from their family members who are U.S. citizens. And the economic consequences of removing these individuals who are workers, taxpayers and consumers from the U.S. economy would be even more severe, removing $1.6 trillion from the U.S. economy over the next 20 years. Furthermore, on a humanitarian level, the country would have to figure out what to do with millions of U.S.-born children born to undocumented parents, who would in many cases grow up without one or both of their parents, potentially adding additional burden on the foster care system. Churches, many of which include undocumented members, would be hard hit as well. 

Another option is the status quo — to deport undocumented immigrants only selectively, a few hundred thousand per year over the past decade, which is enough to keep these immigrants living in fear but not ever to remove all of those who are unlawfully present. Sen. Marco Rubio and the late Sen. John McCain, among others, have called this a “de facto amnesty,” as it mostly ignores the reality that millions of immigrants are living in the country unlawfully (and that many employers are knowingly violating the law by hiring them). 

Our country needs a better way forward — one that honors the law, is fair to American taxpayers and keeps families together. That way is an earned legalization process, including some form of restitution. Immigrants in the country unlawfully would be able to come forward and admit to having violated U.S. immigration law by sneaking across the border or by overstaying a temporary visa, and would pay a fine as a result, potentially payable in installments over time. From there, they could undergo a criminal background check; while a small minority of immigrants have committed serious crimes and ought to be deported, the vast majority have not: They would be allowed a temporary legal status for a period of time while they can pay their fine and prove that they’re working or part of a household where others are working; paying taxes; and staying out of criminal trouble. If they meet all appropriate requirements, they’d eventually be able to apply to be lawful permanent residents of the United States. Once they reach that status, they could choose to pursue the existing process for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen, which includes passing a test in English focused on the Constitution and U.S. history. 

For the subset of these immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, it does not make sense to require the payment of a fine as restitution: They did not make the decision to come to the United States unlawfully or to overstay a visa, as they had no choice in the matter. For these young people, commonly known as “Dreamers,” an earned legalization process should not include a requirement of restitution, given the biblical and legal principle that we do not hold children accountable for their parents’ decisions (Ezekiel 18:20). 

This sort of an earned legalization process, paired with improvements to border security, is supported by more than two-thirds of American evangelical Christians, according to a poll from LifeWay Research. In fact, only 16 percent of evangelicals disagree with this proposal. It’s a common-sense way forward that both honors the law and keeps families together, both values found in Scripture. 

“For immigrants in the country illegally, there are no real options for redemption,” notes LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell, reflecting on a recent poll that found an increased level of support for such a path to citizenship among evangelical pastors. “That [lack of redemption] doesn’t sit well with pastors — the majority of whom were ready for lawmakers to offer a means of making restitution and gaining legal status years ago.” 

Indeed, while the Bible guides us to reject public policy proposals that undermine the rule of law, it also compels us to believe in restoration. Were elected officials to pursue a restitution-based legalization process for qualifying immigrants, it would give these immigrants the chance to earn their way back into right standing with the U.S. government, which would be a tremendous relief to them and a reaffirmation of the importance of the rule of law. 

An earned pathway to legal status would legitimize the long-term presence of these immigrants in their communities. There would be great community celebrations as neighbors, family members, fellow church members and employees welcome immigrants with open arms out of the shadows and into lawful and permanent status. This process would invite the formerly undocumented to participate fully and completely in American society, finally being able to add their strands of colorful fabric to the great and beautiful tapestry that is the United States of America.

This is an excerpt from Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform, an e-book recently published by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24