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Immigration: Stranger in a Strange Land

Can a human being be ‘illegal’?

The Hebrew word ger, or ‘stranger/alien/sojourner,’ appears 92 times in scripture in reference to anyone coming from a foreign land. With this in mind, Cedarville University hosted the G92 Immigration Conference this past weekend.

The event gathered prominent Christian leaders such as Richard LandCarlos Campo, and Lisa Sharon Harper with the purpose of promoting “a high level conversation about immigration in a way that honors the example of Jesus Christ and the written Word of God.”

I attended the first night of the conference and heard Shane Claiborne, of the Simple Way, reminded us that we are all illegal residents of God’s Kingdom. Yet we benefit from a Savior who helped us cross the boarder into God’s land of prosperity, where we are welcomed in our brokenness as full citizens. Claiborne observed that the scripture doesn’t say ‘for God so loved America,’ but rather ‘for God so loved the world’ and argued that by building walls (around hearts, churches, and country) we are locking ourselves in, more than keeping others out.

Next, Jim Wallis of Sojourners expressed frustration at the hateful language used in talking about children of God as ‘illegals.’ He noted that in the current primary debates, candidates must constantly portray themselves as tougher and harsher, lest they appear soft on the issues. And that all of this language is supposedly to appease their conservative Evangelical base. He said it made him embarrassed and ashamed that they spoke in this way in his name.

Wallis acknowledged that there is a pressing need for immigration reform, and that it is our responsibility to obey the laws of the land. But he also observed that those who come to the United States for work find them selves caught in a broken system that we created.

There are two signs on our boarder walls: one says ‘no tresspassing‘ and the other says ‘help wanted.’ And so 12 million people become trapped between two contradictory messages. Wallis asked who will take responsibility for these 12 million? It seems it will not be the Republicans or the Democrats any time soon. It won’t be Congress or the President. It must, therefore, be the body of Christ.

He invited us to examine some of the 92 references to ger in the bible:

  • “But the stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you also were once strangersLeviticus 19:34
  • “Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor and let none devise evil against another in his heart.” Zechariah 7:10
  • “I will be swift… against those who thrust aside the sojourners, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 3:5

The dialogue that was begun this weekend must continue, becasue there is no easy solution to the situation at hand. Recently, a group of prominent Church leaders published a document entitled ‘An Evangelical Call for Bipartisan Immigration Reform’ that offers the following objectives for successful immigration policy:

  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

Keeping the above verses in mind, how do we treat the sojourners in our country? What solutions might there be that satisfy all of the guidelines listed above? Can such reform ever be achieved?

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Katelin Hansen is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online forum to facilitate justice and understanding across racial divides. BTSF explores how Christianity's often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Recognizing that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, BTSF strives to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion by approaching justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective Follow more conversations at http://bytheirstrangefruit.com