Thursday, May 24, 2007

Immigration II

For a second post on immigration, I would like to turn to a religious issue. It would be almost impossible to post all of the biblical injunctions for Israel to show justice to aliens and sojourners. These commands are numerous and explicit. The question for today is: “What does this biblical value have for Christians considering immigration reform.” The problem is, like so many things in the Old Testament, it is easy to simply grab onto those verses that support our existing opinions. For example, the book of Ezra has a picture of the relationships of Israel with other people that is substantially less than kumbaya around a campfire.

I would like to propose three issues in the current immigration debate that require that prayerful consideration of all Christians. I believe that the Biblical injunctions about justice for aliens should enter into those prayers.

First, there is the fact the illegal immigrants are, well, illegal. This is why the debate over whether particular policies are or are not “amnesty” is so emotionally charged. The same political system that has passed laws that say that we have to pay our taxes and that corporate executives can go to jail for insider trading also has passed laws that say these folks are in the United States illegally.

Secondly, because they are here illegally, these sojourners are often in positions of extreme political, social, and economic vulnerability. These are exactly the types of people Jesus put at the top of the new order in the Kingdom of God.

Finally, what means and methods should Christians support to avoid a repeat of the current situation, that is to reduce the number of future illegal crossings. Is this simply a matter of border fences or security, or shouldn’t economics tell us that it is a matter also of changing the incentives?

If you thought I was going to provide easy answers, I’m sorry to disappoint you. For those of you who do not live near the Southwestern border, let me give you an example of what kind of really difficult questions can arise. These are classic examples of the secondary effects economists are so vocal in pointing out. When the government increased border security and enforcement around the major cities (e.g. San Diego), illegal immigration across the Arizona deserts increased. Many immigrants had no idea what hours in 110 degree sun can do, and hundreds of people have died.

Question: some churches in Arizona have begun establishing marked water stations to aid those crossing. A non-economist would look at the number of crossers as some fixed, call this N, and it would seem that this is an easy call. The water stations unambiguously save human lives. However, N is not fixed. If the water stations change the incentives so that more people attempt to cross, it is no longer clear that this program saves lives. If you were in a church in Tucson, what would you do?

No one said that bringing your Christian values to practical applications was going to be easy.

For a profile of a dedicated Presbyterian pastor working in Southwest border ministry, click here.

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