By / Sep 30

Christians believe that the family unit was established by God at creation as the fundamental building block of society. The reformer Martin Luther recognized three institutions ordained by God: the household, the government and the church. Even before God ordains the church (Matthew 16:18) and the government (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1), he first establishes the family unit (Genesis 2:18-24). 

Throughout the Bible, we see God carrying out his purposes through families: He makes a covenant with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:7). Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies of Jesus, tracing the family lineage through which God ultimately took on human flesh (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). 

God designed the family unit to be the primary place of nurturing and instruction for children. Research affirms the wisdom of God’s plan, as children raised by a married mother and father “enjoy better physical, cognitive and emotional outcomes, on average, than children who are raised in other circumstances.” While this may not always be possible — and the church, as the family of God, should take particular concern for children not able to experience this ideal — government policy should prioritize the unity of families wherever possible. Broadly, this means that immediate families should be able to stay together except in the very rarest of circumstances, such as when the life or well-being of a child is at risk. 

Our immigration policies should reflect this value, keeping children with their parents and keeping husbands and wives united. If the family truly is the core building block of our society, all American policy, including immigration policy, should prioritize the strength and unity of families. In the criminal justice context, the commission of a crime by one parent sometimes results in the separation of a family. But, usually, the decision of whether to deport one parent in the immigration context is more complex. This does not mean that family unity is the only important principle in our immigration policy, but preserving family unity should surely be a factor with which other policy interests are balanced. At a minimum, we should not be indifferent to the impact of our immigration policy on family units, particularly when some members of the family are American citizens. 

Even during arrests or a deportation proceeding, immigration policy should reflect a pro-family approach. When individuals are apprehended for entering the country unlawfully, every effort should be made to keep families together, with a particular concern for treating vulnerable children with care. 

Researchers have documented the long-term traumatic effects on children who are separated from their parents and held in group settings. Drs. Karyn Purvis and David Cross of Texas Christian University have found that such children experience trauma that alters their brain chemistry and harms cognitive, emotional and physical development. And Jesus reserves some of his harshest words of judgment for those who would cause harm to children (Luke 17:2). 

Just as immigration policies should avoid separating families whenever possible, they also should help to facilitate the reunification of families who have been separated. As noted by Christianity Today editor Andy Olsen, “The history of our faith traces through a constellation of families that were united across national boundaries: Rebekah emigrated to marry Isaac, Ruth emigrated to Bethlehem to follow and support her mother-in-law, and all of Israel’s history pivoted on Pharaoh’s consent to allow Joseph to bring his sprawling clan to Egypt.”

This does not mean that family reunification is the only legitimate immigration priority. There is an important and worthy policy debate about including a merit-based component in the U.S. immigration system. Such a program may be a worthwhile policy change to prepare the United States for the future. But even here, policy should reflect the fact that when families are reunited, the individuals that make up that family are stronger and better supported. 

There’s a popular misconception that U.S. laws allowing for family reunification can lead to what some call “chain migration,” where one immigrant admitted to the U.S. can sponsor an unlimited number of additional immigrants, exponentially increasing the number of immigrants allowed to come to the U.S. 

In reality, current U.S. law allows U.S. citizens to petition for their close family members — for spouses, children, parents and siblings — not extended family members such as cousins, uncles, aunts or grandparents. Lawful Permanent Residents (those with a “green card”) can petition only for unmarried children and spouses. In some cases, such as for a spouse or minor children of a citizen, these reunification processes can take six months to a year to complete, but in other cases — such as for an adult child of a U.S. citizen, the process can take decades to complete, with some cases currently being processed from the mid-1990s.  

Beyond questions of public policy, it’s also vital that evangelicals do everything possible through our churches and ministries to strengthen and support families, including immigrant families who often face the stress of cultural adjustment and economic challenges in addition to the dynamics facing any family in the United States. Ultimately, strong families lead to a strong, healthy society. 

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

By / Sep 30

One of the most foundational biblical passages for thinking about public policy is the truth that every human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Christians have long understood this to mean that every human person — regardless of age or stage of development, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, religion or any other qualifier — possesses inherent human dignity. “Human dignity,” writes pastor and author Daniel Darling, “is not just a political buzzword or theological concept … It is — or should be — at the heart of what we think and how we act as the people of God.”

This fundamental Christian belief is also a core American belief: The Declaration of Independence, the founding document of our nation, declares that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are not based on one’s place of birth, but reflect the reality that all humans are “fearfully and wonderfully” created by God (Psalm 139:14).

One ramification of this belief as applied to immigration policy is that, since human life is sacred, it should always be protected; that’s one reason, for example, that we would insist that our government provide a safe haven for refugees fleeing tyrannical governments or terrorist groups who are seeking to do them harm. It’s a reason that U.S. asylum laws, which guide the government not to send someone back to a situation of danger, are so vital. 

The notion that immigrants are made in God’s image also should inform the way that we speak about them. It’s actually healthy when Christians graciously and respectfully disagree about the various nuanced details of immigration policy — but it’s vital that the language used to describe immigrants themselves always reflect the unique dignity God has placed in each person. James laments the use of the same tongues to praise and worship God and to “curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9).

Using language that compares immigrants to vermin or other animals, for example, is inherently dehumanizing. Even referring to immigrants as “aliens,” though that is the terminology used by many U.S. laws and by older English translations of the Bible, leads many contemporary speakers of English to conjure up “Hollywood-induced images of three-headed green Martians” rather than human beings made in God’s image. “If we forget, obscure or deny that any particular group of people [are fully] human, we lose the ability to imagine ourselves in their circumstances and to act with compassion. We dehumanize them, but we also pave the way for actions that ultimately dehumanize us.”

Not only does each immigrant — like every other human being — have dignity and value, but the belief that each person is made in the image of the Creator also implies the potential to create and to contribute. It’s easy, when discussing a large group of immigrants, to focus solely on what they might take or what costs might be associated with immigration. Those are fair questions to ask — as long as we concurrently ask, “What might these immigrants create? How might they contribute?” After all, as evangelical columnist Michael Gerson has noted, immigrants are more than “just mouths but hands and brains” also, with the ambition and potential to contribute economically and in other ways.

Indeed, immigrants have used the potential God has placed within them to contribute mightily to the U.S. economy: 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and another quarter were founded by the children of immigrants. Were it not for immigration, close to half of these companies that employ tens of thousands of Americans — including Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Disney, General Electric, Google, Home Depot, Kraft, McDonald’s, UPS and many others — would likely not be American companies, and might not exist at all.

Of course, it’s not only immigrants who are made in God’s image: so are those whose views on immigration issues we may disagree with or find objectionable. Christians must always engage charitably with others, because they, too, are made in God’s image and are worthy of respect.

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

By / Sep 16

They were regular children. They doodled in class. They looked forward to their lunch break. They didn’t want any homework. And yet, they were different. They didn’t have any friends at school outside of each other, and even then, those relationships were unique. They spoke eight different languages among them and were all beginning English learners. Using funny gestures and expressions, they helped each other throughout the day.

Several of them had left their home country because of extreme poverty and violence. A few escaped persecution. Some of them had to move when their parents’ jobs transferred them to a U.S. office. Their parents all wanted the same thing: a good life for their children. It’s the story of millions of our neighbors, and yet few of us understand it.    

As students adjust to a new school year across the country, there is a good chance that your child has an immigrant student in his or her class. When there is a language or cultural barrier, it can be hard for children to know how to relate to an immigrant child. But the call to love their neighbor is the same when the neighbor was born in a different country as it is when the neighbor was born in the hospital 10 miles from your house (Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 10:18-19). 

As Christians, we have a responsibility to respond with love and compassion to immigrants. As Christian parents, we have the privilege to teach our children about immigration and God’s love for the nations. While having a foreigner as a classmate can create language and cultural barriers for everyone, it also provides a great opportunity to teach your child about the plight of the immigrant. What should we, as Christian parents, teach our children about immigration?

Immigration is as old as time. 

Our children need to know that immigration is not just a current event. With more immigrants in our country than ever before and the polarizing debate about immigration, it may seem like it is an issue of just our time. But immigration dates back to some of the earliest history of man and will exist until Jesus returns. Starting in Genesis, we find the records of God’s faithfulness to his people living in foreign lands. Abraham was commanded to leave behind his home to sojourn to Canaan. In Exodus, we read about the hardships and oppression of the Israelites as they lived in a country not their own. Ruth immigrated to Israel with Naomi and is part of the lineage of King David and Jesus. And Jesus and his family had to flee their home for his physical safety. God used immigration in biblical times, just as he does now. It is hard today, just like it always has been.

Immigration reminds us that kingdoms on earth will not remain.

The lives of immigrants can remind our families of the fleeting nature of life on earth. Immigrants often give up everything they know for a new life in a foreign land. They leave behind friends and family and the familiarity of life in their culture. If your children have only lived in one context, it may be easy for them to think they have ownership over their home, neighborhood, and community. Ultimately, though, this world is not ours. Earth, and everything in it, belongs to God. We are simply stewards of whatever God has given us.

We are not here to preserve our earthly kingdoms. Not only is everything constantly changing, but our time will pass, and our influence is short. Our focus should be on eternity. Christ will return, and until then, he is preparing a perfect home for those who are his. Our children must remember that the Kingdom of God is at hand—and that’s the only kingdom that will remain.

When we see people wearing clothing from other countries or hear a foreign language, we can remind our children that God loves people from every nation with his perfect love. 

God loves the nations.

When we have immigrant neighbors, we have access to a cross-cultural, international ministry in our own backyard. Your children have probably been singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” since they were little. Do they understand that God’s Kingdom includes people from

“every nation, from all tribes and people and languages” (Rev. 7:9)? When we see people wearing clothing from other countries or hear a foreign language, we can remind our children that God loves people from every nation with his perfect love. 

He calls his followers to the same love and commands the church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). We can help our children reflect God’s love for people across the world by telling immigrants the saving truth of the gospel. And we can pray that our ministry to immigrants will become a global work as immigrants take the gospel to their families and countrymen. 

Regardless of how or why an immigrant came to our country, we are called to love. Regardless of our position on immigration, we are called to love. Sometimes relationships with immigrants can come easily, but even when they don’t, loved influenced by the cross “is welcoming the immigrant simply because they bear the image of God,” writes Brett McCracken.    

We can learn from different cultures.

People from other cultures and lands enrich our lives by teaching us new things. From my immigrant friends, I’ve learned about the value of family, respect for my elders, hospitality, perseverance, and more. Even learning words in a foreign language can give you a better understanding of an idea or emotion.

Our children will grow and gain from friendships with immigrants. They will have a better understanding of their family’s culture and the world. They will learn more about what it means to be human. They will grow in compassion and care. Loving the immigrant is not just about giving; we gain much from these relationships.

So much fear surrounds the debate around immigration. Take the mystery out of immigration, and help your whole family develop new friendships with foreigners. Go sit in immigrants’ homes and laugh through the awkwardness of learning about each other. Enjoy the food of the world and talk to your children about different cultures. Model to your children how to ask questions and learn. Invite immigrants into your home and life in order to minister to them for the sake of the gospel and their souls. 

By / Aug 29

Jonah is an interesting character. He’s the guy who ran from God, sulked around during a maelstrom, told sailors to toss him overboard, was swallowed by a big fish, and was vomited up a few days later. Then, he threw a fit because God was faithful to his character by saving the Ninevites. Jonah has taught me a lot of lessons, though, and most recently he’s been showing me God’s concern for the folks who live outside of my national borders.

Jonah and the outsiders

Since becoming a Christian nearly two decades ago, Jonah has appealed to me; first in helping me work through forgiveness, and now in thinking through how God views the outsider. The Bible is pretty clear about the importance of loving the foreigner, who is often included in lists alongside orphans and widows. The reasoning, according to God, is that “you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” I’ve understood that for a long time and nodded my head in agreement.

More recently, though, as immigrants and refugees have been in the news, I’ve been thinking about Jonah, in particular his exchange with God in chapter 4. Essentially, Jonah is angry with God because he was faithful to his own character as revealed in Exodus 34:6–7: 

The Lord, the Lord God,
is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger,
abounding in loving devotion and faithfulness,
maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations, 
forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.

Jonah even quotes the passage back to God in Jonah 4:2. Jonah’s problem was not his theology per se; it was his application of that theology.

Jonah was fine with God extending grace to those within the covenant community, members of national Israel, as evidenced by his welcome reception of God’s grace toward himself. And Jonah likely had access to plenty of stories about God extending covenant mercy to those outside of Israel, such as Rahab the Canaanite, Naaman the Syrian, and Ruth the Moabite. But when it came down to Yahweh extending covenant mercy to the flesh-and-blood non-Israelites in front of Jonah? That was too much. Jonah would rather die. 

Yet, I wonder how often we have found ourselves in a similar situation. It isn’t exactly the same, of course, because the United States is not Israel, immigrants are not Ninevites, and the church is not a nation. These are clear differences. But is our response to the immigrants we hear about and whose pictures we see similar to that of Jonah toward the Ninevites? Are we reluctant to extend hospitality to them and treat them as image-bearers of God himself? Do we vilify them? Do we prize things over these precious people (Jonah 4:10–12)?

Learning to love others

If we answer yes to any of these questions, I think there are some practical steps we can take to develop God’s love for those who are different than us. If you’re on social media, I recommend following people from various ethnic, national, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I started doing this a few years ago, and it radically changed my viewpoint because I began to listen to voices outside of my own echo chamber. 

If we are truly going to be Christians who embrace the future Kingdom, we will value the image of God in those from every tribe, tongue, and nation and will love and serve them as we are able.

Another step we can take is to read books written by and about different cultures. As I have done this, my eyes have been opened to other ways of viewing the world, and I have seen the beauty in our differences more clearly.

Finally—and this is one of the most significant things—we can eat meals with others. Welcome a stranger into your home, host a dinner for people in your neighborhood, make a friend at the grocery store and invite them to lunch, or find refugee communities in your city and get involved. It is much easier to judge, mischaracterize, and even fear people who look, think, and speak differently if we’ve never spent time with them.

There aren’t easy policy answers for the complex immigration issues we have seen in the news lately. But perhaps we could stop for a moment to reflect on Jonah’s wrong-headed application of his theology and consider whether we are similarly misapplying our theology in how we view those outside our border. If we are truly going to be Christians who embrace the future Kingdom, we will value the image of God in those from every tribe, tongue, and nation and will love and serve them as we are able.

By / Aug 15

Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has been openly critical of some of President Trump’s immigration policies. But he said he wouldn’t recommend churches offer housing to those in the country illegally.

MOORE: Generally speaking, I think there are better ways for churches to minister to undocumented immigrants than to offer physical sanctuary from the laws. One of those ways would be to advocate for families in the community, another would be to serve anyone as one’s neighbor in the orbit of the mission of that congregation. I think that those ways are not only biblically mandated but also are more effective in the long run in caring for immigrant and refugee communities.

Full story here.

By / Jun 29

Recent news has continued to bring to light the harsh realities of many in other countries and the need to reach out to those who have come to the U.S. for refuge. Many believers and churches are trying to find ways to reach out to immigrants and refugees locally, nationally, and globally. A great first step that our church took was to reach out to the North American Mission Board, the ERLC, and World Relief. Each of these organizations provided us with excellent resources to welcome, serve, and advocate for immigrants and refugees through the love of Christ. 

Some of these strategies included greeting newly arriving refugees at the airport, delivering welcome baskets to homes, and developing simple English-based programs to teach the Bible and other subjects. They also provided us helpful tools for talking and teaching about immigration-related issues in our church.

More than two years ago, our church began what we call our “International and Refugee Ministry.” Along the way, we have learned a few things that weren’t in the first-steps resources we received. Our hope is that the ideas below will help you and your church establish long-lasting relationships with your immigrant and refugee community.

1. Connect with international families by partnering with local schools. 

As is true in any community in the U.S., families and schools go together. We’ve found that each of our local school districts are thrilled to have support for their international students and families. We’ve connected with these families through providing snacks and volunteers for afterschool programs, involving students and families in our music programs, teaching English to parents, teaching parenting classes, hosting family gatherings, and offering events in their apartment complexes. In many cases, the initial connection through the schools leads to invitations into the homes and lives of our immigrant and refugee neighbors.

2. Offer opportunities to learn and practice English as often as possible.

You will likely be surprised at how English-learning opportunities will become a draw for your international neighbors. Oftentimes, our international neighbors will come in groups to our services, classes, and events to listen in English together and then discuss later. If only all of our English-speaking members were willing to put in so much effort to understand the Scriptures!

We offer several English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. From ESL, our students are invited to join one of our multiple Bible study classes that are taught in simple English, using either story method or video-driven content with subtitles. Though we are happy to offer translation helps in many situations, we try to do as much as we can in English with printed or projected words available.

One important thing to note, however, is that the most effective ministry is usually done in a person’s “heart language.” If you do not have someone in your congregation who speaks a person’s first language, look for a minister or strong believer in your community who does.

3. Make friends, and get to know others just as you would with anyone else.

Many of our American-born members have been hesitant to invite internationals to their classes or events because they are afraid things will get awkward. I tend to ask those members, “How did you get to know any of your current friends?”

They usually respond, “I asked them about their family;” or “I asked them about where they grew up;” or “I asked them about their job or their hobbies.” 

My reply is: “Yes, yes, and yes. Do those things. Everyone loves to talk about their children. People always appreciate when someone shows interest in their lives or the things they care about. Jump in there, and make lasting friendships—and remember that the language barrier and awkwardness go both ways!”

In order to facilitate these kinds of friendships between our American-born and foreign-born people, our church hosts recurring events including family dinners with both American and international cuisine. You will never have better and more diverse meal choices!

4. Focus on family strengthening like you would with American families.

All of our churches are proudly pro-family. Our ministries and programs are highly focused on both attracting and equipping families in the gospel. We should invest in strengthening immigrant and refugee families with the same goals. 

A great example of this is our “Mommy and Me” group for Burmese refugees in a local apartment complex. Many of the Burmese new mothers are overwhelmed after having their first child in the U.S. because they have never been taught how to nurture a baby using American resources such as disposable diapers, plastic bottles, and car seats. So, a group of our American-born moms began the group to teach basic infant-care skills along with Bible songs and simple Bible stories in English for the moms to use in their homes. The American and Burmese moms also take field trips and do activities together.

5. Look for ways to help immigrants and refugees generate their own income or resources. 

This one might sound harder than any of the others, but it need not be. It could be as simple as starting a food co-op, opening a clothing exchange, or helping others learn a trade or technique. Our church partners with a wonderful organization called Rising Village (RiSE), which teaches refugees how to operate sewing machines of all types—from simple machines to commercial and industrial machines. Through this program, women have learned how to make clothing for their children and other items used in their homes. Some have made items for resale, or even gained full-time employment in local businesses because of the skills developed through RiSE. (See this local news story (KJRH) about RiSE and our church).

Many immigrants and refugees can also provide services for pay, even if they are not hired as a permanent employee. Several of our paid translators come from our English classes, and we simply pay them weekly on a contract basis as 1099 workers. Even if a person is not yet a U.S. citizen, those with a legal immigration status can work with a green card, certain types of visas, or other form of employment authorization provided by USCIS. Though these positions only pay a small amount of money, they provide the translators with an official connection to our church and help them establish employment history in the U.S.

Each of these strategies are part of a few greater goals: to treat our immigrant and refugee neighbors with dignity and respect, to help meet their needs in ways that build up and strengthen families, and to point them to the God who created them so that they might know the Savior who came to meet their greatest need, salvation in his name. 

For more information about our church’s ministry to immigrant and refugee families, or to learn more about immigration related issues, visit Eric Costanzo’s site.

By / Jun 28

Recent outcry over issues at the United States–Mexico border broke out after reporting from the Associated Press revealed unconscionable conditions for child migrants in government custody in a facility near El Paso, Texas. The AP story highlighted concerns from a group of attorneys who interviewed 60 children at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) site. Their accounts revealed safety and sanitation concerns with the housing conditions and a lack of adequate adult supervision. Here is what you should know about this situation at the southern border.

Is there a surge in people crossing the southern border?

The number of people crossing the southern border in 2019 has increased dramatically, according to CBP data. The number of apprehensions year-to-date at 593,507 is more than double the number of apprehensions of any of the last five years. This current increase is even more significant because the trend was in the opposite direction for decades. Since the peak of 1.6 million apprehensions at the southern border in 2000, 2017 saw the lowest number of apprehensions since 1971.

In addition, the demographics of those crossing the border changed significantly. Over the last 10 years, the trend shifted from primarily single men from Mexico to overwhelmingly family units from Central America. This presents new challenges for processing asylum claims and managing the family units who have been detained. Further, as discussed below, Congress had not provided appropriate levels of funding to meet this crisis. CBP struggled with limited resources as the administration sought to manage this situation and impose new detention policies.

Who is being held in these detention facilities?

While a majority of those detained are adult men, the number and treatment of children in these detention centers garnered national attention. When migrants make an asylum claim in the United States, according to U.S. immigration law, they have the right to a court hearing if they pass an initial screening to prove they meet the legal criteria to be granted asylum. Due to a longstanding backlog in asylum and immigration cases and partisan gridlock on resources for immigration courts, previous administrations released migrants waiting for their court dates, which in some cases can take several years. Even though 92% of migrants seeking asylum did appear in court for their hearings from 2013-2017, according to the Department of Justice, this practice has come under criticism. As a response, the Trump Administration sought to hold asylum seekers in detention facilities in a greater number of circumstances while waiting for their hearings.

Is immigration law different for children?

At the center of the government’s policies toward child migrants is a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. Flores directs that children who are unaccompanied or who have been removed from their parents during the process of immigrating are to be transferred to a licensed facility within three to five days of apprehension, and a max of 20 days during times of emergency influx, according to the nonprofit Human Rights First. This means, practically, that families cannot be detained together as a unit for longer than 20 days. After that time, children are to be transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The Flores Settlement also lays out housing condition standards, including the requirement of “safe and sanitary facilities” among many others, all while the government makes a “prompt and continuous effort toward family reunification and release” for children.

What sparked public and media attention about these facilities?

The Associated Press reported that children were held in overcrowded and undersupervised facilities for as many as 27 days. The scenes unfolding were of children sleeping on the floor, consoling one another, and some with health issues like the flu and lice. Rep. Michael McCaul (R–Texas), former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, stated that the current migrant housing conditions are the “worst [he has] ever seen” and Vice President Mike Pence said the conditions were “totally unacceptable” for these children.

How long have these issues been going on?

During the early 2000s, much was done to deal with the high amount of southern border crossings including the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which authorized the construction of nearly 700 miles of physical barriers along the border. According to CPB staffing data reported by Politifact, the number of Border Patrol agents at the southwest border nearly doubled since 2005. While the number of detainees dramatically dipped between 2014 and 2015 when the Obama administration redirected its focus to removing serious offenders and recent border crossers in 2014, the picture over the last few years has changed. In 2019, there is thus far a 300% increase in the number of family units apprehended at the southern border, causing the overflow of detention facilities.

Due to the current massive surge in migrants crossing the southern border and making asylum claims, both CBP and ORR are experiencing significant resource shortfalls. The failure of Congress to provide appropriate levels of funding to manage the surge is due in part to the partisan debate between the House, Senate, and administration over related immigration policy issues.

What is the U.S. government doing about the issue?

On Tuesday, June 25, the AP followed up with news that most of the children at the Texas facility had been transferred to shelters run by HHS ORR. The story quotes ORR spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer who said that unaccompanied children, “are waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children. These children should now all be in HHS care as of Tuesday.”

Congress also responded this week with emergency supplemental spending bills aimed at meeting basic needs in these shelters and alleviating the immense pressure to the system under stress at the border. Both chambers authorized around $4.5 billion but differed in the ways in which and agencies to whom the money would be appropriated. When the House bill, passed by Democrats with a party-line vote of 230-195, came to the Republican-led Senate, it predictably failed. The Senate then took up its own bill, S. 811, which was developed by a bipartisan group of Senators on the Appropriations Committee. The Senate version passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 84-8. Late Thursday night, June 27, the House considered and passed the Senate bill in a bipartisan vote of 305-102, which means that a bill providing new funding is now headed to the president’s desk.

Assuming the legislation is signed into law by the president, this bill would provide additional funding for DHS and HHS for migrant processing facilities and refugee assistance programs. The bill also provides funding for the Department of Justice for immigration judges, the Department of Defense for military assistance, as well as overtime pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

How is ERLC engaged in this debate in Washington?

On Thursday morning, while Congress was considering these bills, the ERLC, along with the Evangelical Immigration Table, sent a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McConnell expressing concern for the inhumane conditions in which children are being held at the southern border. The letter calls for multiple actions and policy changes including supplemental funding, additional personnel trained to care for children, respect for asylum laws and family unity, and restoration of foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Russell Moore signed and commented on the letter, 

“As Christians, Jesus calls us to respond to the cries of those in need around us. The conditions at the border ought to prompt all of us to remember that these migrant children are not a mere problem to be solved. They bear the image of God, and are endowed by him with dignity and worth. Jesus loves them, and so should we. The problems at the border will require complex solutions and long-term strategies by our government—both Congress and the administration coming together. In the meantime, we should do everything we can do to help alleviate the suffering of those who are attempting to flee violence in their home countries.”

How can Christians help?

As Christians, we affirm that all people are made in the image of God and endowed with immeasurable dignity and worthy of respect and love. Because the Bible is clear that we are to love our immigrant neighbors, we must seek ways to alleviate unjust suffering for migrants wherever we can. Southern Baptists are on the frontlines serving immigrants through the Baptist Convention of New Mexico and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as just two of many examples. Now is a great time to join them and serve immigrants in your community. Several organizations like World Relief and World Vision, as well as many local organizations like these identified by the Texas Tribune are serving at the southern border, providing legal aid and essential supplies. Christians can join in their efforts by offering their talents, partnership, and prayers.  

ERLC policy interns Alyssa Koelemay and Nick Raineri contributed to this article.

By / Jun 25

Immigration is a hot-button issue in the news and can bring out the best and worst in people. While the policy aspect is controversial, what shouldn’t be debatable is the need for Christians to care for the vulnerable. At Evangelicals for Life, Travis Wussow led a discussion between Jenny Yang, D.J. Jordan, and Noe Garcia called “Caring for the Stranger: Immigrants, Refugees, and the Response of the Church.”

By / May 17

In recent years, few issues have dominated the headlines as frequently and divided the country as deeply as immigration. Many Americans — including many Christians — feel conflicted as they think about such a complex issue: They want the United States to continue to be a country that welcomes immigrants, but at the same time they want to ensure that our policies protect our national security, benefit our economy and respect the law.

A biblical view of immigrants and immigration

For evangelical Christians, our ultimate authority is the Bible. Too often, though, we’ve not looked to the Scriptures as our primary authority when it comes to forming our views toward immigrants and immigration. A LifeWay Research poll found that just 12 percent of evangelicals cited the Bible as the primary influencer of their thinking about immigration. In fact, when it comes to the top factor that informs their views on the topic, more evangelicals cited the media than the Bible, their local church, and national Christian leaders combined.

Some might presume that’s because the Bible is silent on this issue — but it’s not. While the Scriptures do not prescribe specific immigration policy that should govern the United States (or any other nation), they are replete with stories of immigrants, with specific instructions from God to the Israelites about how to treat the foreigners who came to reside in their land, and with broader principles that have clear ramifications for how contemporary followers of Jesus should interact with our immigrant neighbors. Even among evangelicals who disagree about how our government should prudentially apply biblical principles to questions of public policy, the role of the church is clear.

God’s concern for the vulnerable

Many biblical figures were forced across borders. Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. David flees the violence of King Saul and seeks asylum among the Philistines. Daniel and his friends are exiled from their homeland and end up serving a foreign government. Even Jesus himself, as a small child, is forced to flee, escaping to Egypt as a child refugee when Herod’s jealousy threatens the lives of all baby boys in Bethlehem.

Others migrate for different reasons. Abram (later Abraham) and his family leave their homeland at God’s instruction, then later cross borders again on multiple occasions in search of food during times of famine. His son Isaac and grandson Jacob later move because of famine as well. Generations later, Naomi and her family are motivated by hunger to migrate from the land of Judah, then eventually reports of adequate food lead Naomi to return, now accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth.

The Great Commandment

Indeed, at many points within the Law of Moses, we are not told why a particular command is given. But when it comes to God’s commands regarding the treatment of immigrants, a reason is offered: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 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 (Lev. 19:33-34, ESV). God’s people are told to love immigrants as themselves, because they knew firsthand what it is like to dwell in a land that was not their own.

One Body

We’re called to love our neighbors regardless of their country of origin or religious tradition, but as we do so, we’re likely to find that many of them are deeply committed followers of Jesus. Although it is difficult to quantitatively measure personal religious commitments, the significant majority of immigrants in the United States (whether present lawfully or not) self-identify as Christians. Many of them are evangelicals. In fact, roughly 1 in 10 evangelicals in the U.S. is an immigrant, and that share has been rising. In 2007, 12 percent of American evangelicals were either immigrants or their children; by 2014, that share was 16 percent.

The Great Commission opportunity

While many immigrants are already Christians when they reach the United States, many others are not. By the classification criteria of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, there are 361 unreached people groups — ethnic groups in which there are few if any known followers of Jesus — present within the boundaries of the United States, more than any other country except India and China.

If we approach immigration and — more important — immigrants themselves purely from a political perspective, we will fail to live up to this Great Commission responsibility. That’s not to say that public policy is unimportant: Indeed, it directly affects the lives of millions of people, including many members of the Christian family and many others whose future access to the gospel could be a casualty of restrictive immigration policies. Furthermore, the witness of the church is marred if followers of Jesus are hostile to immigrants, or are merely silent when such hostility is perceived.

On questions of public policy, Christians may come to different conclusions as they seek to apply biblical principles. When it comes to how we interact with our immigrant neighbors, the specific commands of the Bible leave less room for debate: We are called to show Christ-like love for our neighbors, including immigrants, and to share the good news of salvation to those of every nation.

The invitation: Take the next step

Reforming the U.S. immigration system is not a simple task, nor is it easy politically. But nearly all Americans agree that our current system isn’t working, that people are harmed along the way, and that Washington needs to come together for a solution.

What's one step you can take? For starters, pray for immigrants in your community, for a Christ-honoring response from local churches to this complex issue, and for our elected officials, who need divine wisdom as they seek to reform immigration policies.

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

By / Apr 19

ALBUQUERQUE (BNM) – At the request of municipal and federal agencies, faith-based organizations in Albuquerque are helping to house and feed approximately 430 asylum-seeking migrants from South and Central America. 

Over the past several weeks, hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants have entered the United States along the El Paso sector of the country’s border with Mexico. In addition to El Paso, the sector includes New Mexico’s entire southern border. The Albuquerque Journal reported March 22, that “most [migrants] crossed illegally.” 

During a March 27 press conference, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan claimed “The increase in family units is a direct response to the vulnerabilities in our legal framework where migrants and smugglers know they will be released and allowed to stay in the U.S. indefinitely pending immigration proceedings that could be many years out.” As of March 27, CBP had more than 12,000 migrants in custody.

CBP closed all five of New Mexico’s highway checkpoints March 27, in an effort to redirect agency personnel to the border.

In an attempt to curb the number of people crossing the border, the Trump Administration has ordered those seeking asylum to be sent to Mexico once they are processed in the United States, as they await U.S. immigration proceedings.

Even so, according to Roger Ebner, director of the City of Albuquerque’s Emergency Management Office, Albuquerque is currently hosting 430 asylum-seeking migrants who entered the United States through the El Paso sector. According to Scott Wilson, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Missions Mobilization Team leader, these migrants “are vetted, have ankle monitors, and sponsors somewhere in the U.S.”

Because of the large number of people crossing the border in El Paso, Annunciation House, a Catholic ministry that serves migrant and homeless communities in the border city, quickly reached capacity. As a result, many migrants have been transported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Albuquerque, where city leaders are working with several nonprofit organizations – including New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief – to meet the day-to-day needs of those migrants.

During a March 14 meeting organized by Ebner, representatives from University of New Mexico Hospital, the Albuquerque mayor’s office, NMBDR, Catholic Charities, Congregation Albert and other non-profit organizations, met to discuss the situation and organize a response. 

Ed Greene, NMBDR’s associate director, attended the meeting. The purpose of the meeting, he said, was to provide support to groups and agencies that had agreed to assist migrants and to develop an organizational structure. The organizations agreed to work together to provide migrants with medical care, temporary housing, food, clothing, and transportation.

Ira Shelton, director of NMBDR, told the Baptist New Mexican, “This is a different kind of response for us.” Citing Matthew 25:31-46, Shelton concluded, “That says to me, we need to be helping these people. They’re hungry and they’re confused. If we can bring hope, help, and healing, then that’s what we need to do.” Shelton said that at least one disaster relief volunteer declined to participate, citing political differences.

Between March 14 and 19, 12 NMBDR volunteers, including Greene and Shelton, prepared hot meals and non-perishable lunches for several of the migrants who are staying in Albuquerque area motels as they await further processing. According to Cricket Pairett, ministry assistant for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Missions Mobilization Team, NMBDR volunteers prepared 100 nonperishable sack lunches to be handed out to migrants who were traveling from Albuquerque to other parts of the United States, where they have immigration sponsors. Pairett said it was critical that the food in the sack lunches be able to withstand several days of travel and different temperatures. As of March 26, the team had prepared approximately 320 meals and logged 193 volunteer hours, according to Pairett.

Sandia Baptist Church, Albuquerque, which has a commercial grade kitchen, allowed NMBDR to use its space to prepare meals during the six-day period. Garland Peek, Sandia’s minister to adults, helped to coordinate the operation on behalf of the church.

Pairett and Wilson are working with three additional BCNM churches that have expressed in providing meals and other resources. In response, Joseph Bunce, BCNM’s executive director, has said churches can supply volunteers to help as cooks and servers, so long as they adhere to NMBDR’s strict food preparation guidelines.

It is unclear how long the migrants will be in Albuquerque or whether more will arrive in the coming weeks, though according to Ebner, “There may be an ebb and flow to this, so I think this will continue into the future. But I believe there will be a decrease at some point.” Ebner continued, “We need to be as ready as possible and then be as flexible as possible.”

According to Ebner, the City of Albuquerque has not paid for any of the costs associated with the humanitarian response. 

Ebner commended the faith-based groups and volunteer medical personnel for meeting the needs of the migrants. He said of NMBDR, “The Baptists have done a tremendous work here, every organization appreciates the work they have done.”

April 8, 2019 Update: On April 7, President Trump named Kevin K. McAleenan Acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security.