“They need to go back where they came from.”
“They steal our jobs.”
“America is for Americans.”
The above statements have been hurled frequently regarding undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., and with the recent influx of undocumented minors crossing our Mexican border these widespread sentiments seem to have only intensified.
But what are the truths behind these (and similar) allegations? Is it possible that the increased presence of immigrant children poses a grave threat to our national and economic stability? Are we therefore justified in flooding the streets to intimidate buses taking these immigrants to shelter and forcing them to turn around?
I argue no. Even if one does not initially take into account the moral challenges surrounding the issue, from a purely logical and economic standpoint, it does not make sense to support such fearful and inflammatory statements.
First, it should be recognized that the labor undocumented immigrants provide this nation is absolutely integral to the overall functioning of our economy. They keep some of the primary agrarian and construction-related industries viable, and states who have taken intentionally heavy-handed approaches to the treatment of undocumented immigrants have consistently suffered in these arenas.
What’s more is that, contrary to popular belief, undocumented persons living in the U.S. largely cannot enjoy the basic benefits and securities, so their daily lives are riddled with uncertainty and vulnerability. Without documentation and identification, they will never collect social security and cannot store their money safely in banks. This, in turn, makes them intolerably susceptible to crime and exploitation.
Moreover, from here it would be nothing less than irresponsible to evaluate the issue of illegal immigration from a less than humanitarian perspective. At the very least, the United States has a duty to respect and support fundamental rights despite the native origins of a person. This said, it is simply wrong to advocate for the callous expulsion of all or even most undocumented immigrants, much less the minors in question who have amassed on our borders. To do so would be to arbitrarily subject thousands to heightened levels of violence, poverty, and insufficiently regulated labor environments.
Even in spite of the fact that the “America is for Americans” mentality reeks of xenophobia, to take such a tough stance on the immigration policy would be to support the undermining of human rights for thousands upon thousands of people
Granted, most people are blissfully ignorant of the realities at the core of the immigration crisis. They have neither seen nor thought to comprehend the intense poverty and violence that is the primary impulse of the migration in question. They have never had to leave everything and everyone they love out of sheer desperation or fear for their lives, nor have they had to cross a brutal desert making themselves highly vulnerable to assault, robbery, and death. After all, gang-imposed curfews (punishable by death) and arbitrary, unprosecuted rapes and dismemberments could not possibly exist within our own hemisphere, right?
Frankly, considering these conditions at the heart of the influx of undocumented minors, it is more than likely that if these undocumented children were from any other region and currently residing in any other nation, they would be categorically treated as refugees, not criminals. As such, conveniently repealing laws already in place to protect victims of abuse and exploitation (which seems to be one of Congress’s current methods of choice) would be unthinkable. From a purely legal standpoint, the probable majority of these immigrants qualify for asylum, and to automatically deny them this status as many have advocated would be an injustice.
The sad truth of the matter is that many of our neighbors have, by no choice of their own, been forced to grapple with violence, repression, starvation and multilayered exploitation for the entirety of their lives. And since U.S. foreign policy, especially during the Cold War, and the inherently unequal trade arrangements we have supported in the region have undoubtedly played a role in the creation of such unacceptable standards, it follows that our nation—which proudly espouses basic rights as sacrosanct—must take a more proactive and compassionate role. We must intentionally look at these immigrants as human beings above all else.
Furthermore, as Christians we should be especially interested in the humane treatment of these minors at the border and the undocumented population in general. If the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self is not sufficiently convincing, Scripture is clear throughout both the Old and New Testaments that the “foreigners in one’s midst” are to be treated fairly. Legalism and self-interested indifference, on the other hand, are not biblically endorsed.
The abused, outcast, and the poor are meant to be especially cared for, even to the point of sacrificing personal comfort. The original laws of Israel were constructed in a way that, when followed, should make systemic poverty and exploitation non-existent, and neglect for the marginalized was one of the foremost reasons that the Hebrews were punished with exile.
Furthermore, Christ himself went out of his way to intentionally and holistically engage and provide for those scorned or exploited by society, whether by their race, socioeconomic status, or occupation. Conversely, he offered his most scathing criticisms to those who claimed to know God but did not move to help those suffering and in need around them.
How ineffably tragic and hypocritical would it be if we who claim his name in the U.S. today allow our economic interests and our satisfaction with the status quo to inhibit us from realizing the grander purpose for which we were made? This purpose to not only enjoy, but to magnify and imitate the One who became, by definition, a refugee for our sake without taking his own interests into account? These undocumented minors were created in his image, and it would be healthy for all of us to bear in mind that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13) and that “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).