I work with a wide variety of faith leaders both Christian and other religions, from the Catholic to the Pentecostal; Jew and Muslim. When the question about immigration comes up, the universal approach is to welcome the stranger. This is a profound concept. As the New Testament puts it: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hospitality to foreigners is a core biblical value shared by all of the Abrahamic faiths.
That’s why I can say with complete confidence that Christianity universally considers the fair and just treatment of immigrants as a desirable virtue. The biblical witness is quite clear that the quality of a society is in part judged by whether it treats immigrants with the same fair hand that it treats its own citizens. One law, Moses teaches, for immigrant and citizen, and consider the alien among you to be a citizen too; you shall love the alien as yourself. Paul said, Welcome one another as Christ welcomes you. These are not suggestions; they are biblical commandments.
The Bible reiterates that we are to love God with all that we are and to love the neighbor as ourselves. It goes on to say that the love of the immigrant is the gold standard of the love of neighbor. In so much of the debate about how to address questions of immigration, this seems to have been forgotten.
When we love our neighbor, that means whoever is in our community, our schools, our workplaces, our fields. No discrimination. We love God by loving the neighbors God has sent our way. That’s why you find churches involved with health care clinics and schools and clothing drives and advocacy for migrant workers. That’s why the churches have long been the agencies that resettle refugees. The church is made of all people from all countries. What some Florida legislators are proposing would be to lock us up for practicing our faith. The idea is simply astounding.
The anti-immigrant legislation makes matters worse, not better, by compromising local policing with federal responsibilities and adding more regulations to businesses. Whole communities will be afraid to cooperate with police, which will drive crime that we all will suffer from. Limited, critical resources will be shifted to checking status and questioning “non-immigrant” looking people. At the same time, these proposals remove billions of dollars from the Florida economy that’s generated by the jobs and purchasing of immigrants.
Our immigration system is too complicated to serve society well anymore. It’s the most convoluted and confusing of all our legal code. We badly need comprehensive immigration reform. Add to that our open trade policies, and a few have gamed the broken immigration system to enrich themselves at the expense of the suffering of immigrants and widespread anger over why there are so many immigrants now. We need to fix the immigration system and to adjust our trade policies. Those two things will secure our borders quicker than any fence. Laws that penalize immigrants and criminalize religious expression do not solve our immigration woes; they disrupt policing, drive up budgets, add regulations, compromise religious expression, destroy communities, and breakup families.
Rev. Russell Meyer
Florida Council of Churches
11 March 2011