Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Loving Our Immigrant Neighbor

Amy E. Black


March 23, 2012

By Amy E. Black

This article originally appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  For additional perspectives on immigration reform or to join the conversation, go to

Few topics are more controversial than the issue of immigration, currently at the center of a rhetorically polarizing debate. Nonetheless, most people agree that the current immigration system desperately needs repair. As Christians, we should evaluate proposals for immigration reform by asking to what extent different options are compatible with certain core principles, and we should thoughtfully consider how to reach out to our immigrant neighbors right now.

In May 2010, a theologically and ideologically diverse group of evangelical Christian leaders issued a call for immigration reform, stating, “We call on Democrats and Republicans to lead our nation toward a bipartisan solution on immigration that

  • 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,
  • and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”

These six principles provide useful criteria to guide lawmakers as they draft comprehensive immigration reform. As Christians, we also can use these principles to help us evaluate different policy proposals and consider the effects of current law and practice.

The first three principles outline goals that I expect most Christians will support intuitively: upholding the dignity and value of all of God’s image bearers, protecting nuclear families and respecting the rule of law. The implications of the latter three principles are more contested, so let me offer a few further thoughts about each.

“Guarantees secure national borders” – Given the vast expanses of our borders, this goal seems out of reach. Complete security may not be possible, but we can take steps to minimize illegal entry of those seeking to live in the United States and take significant measures to keep out terrorists.

“Ensures fairness to taxpayers” – Millions of undocumented workers pay significant taxes yet are ineligible for many government benefits like Medicaid. According to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, however, these tax revenues do not fully offset the total cost of government services undocumented workers and their families receive. Federal law should redistribute revenues in ways that help states bear this financial burden.

“Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship” – Current immigration policy offers few, if any, legal options for poor laborers to enter the United States to meet labor needs essential for economic growth. We often hear demands that immigrants “wait their turn in line,” but our government must first provide some sort of line in which those seeking entry can wait. We need a system with limits designed to reflect shifting labor market needs.

Comprehensive immigration reform will probably not come before the end of this election cycle. Regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C., American Christians—through the church—can be making meaningful differences right now.

Our churches should be centers for compassion-based ministries that seek to meet the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of our most vulnerable neighbors, regardless of their citizenship status. These ministries include English language classes, tutoring programs, evangelism and outreach, counseling, food pantries, and health and dental clinics. While it remains illegal to hire undocumented workers, churches can legally serve and help immigrants in these ways, regardless of their legal status.  .

Churches can also provide legal services to help immigrants comply with the law. In DuPage County, Ill., for example, the one organization providing such services, World Relief of DuPage, is able to help about 5,000 clients a year – in a county with an estimated 55,000 undocumented immigrants. Current immigration law provides a pathway for interested individuals to earn accreditation with the Board of Immigration Appeals; a law degree is not necessary to gain the skills and certification to help immigrants comply with the law.

We must also remember that immigrants serve us as well. Not only are they our neighbors and valuable members of our community, they are also essential partners in sharing the gospel across the globe and in the United States. Discussing the shifting center of church growth, Timothy C. Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, explained, “The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for renewal in North America. . . This group that we want to keep out is the group that we most need for spiritual transformation.”

—Amy E. Black is Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College and author of the forthcoming book Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Faith, and Reason (Moody Publishers).

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”