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

A Christian Response to Immigration Reform?

Michael J. Gerson


December 10, 2010
by Michael J. Gerson

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.

This week in Washington, Congress began debate on the DREAM Act.  This is a bill that would give illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children a path to citizenship—provided that they have graduated from high school, have no record of serious crime and attend college or enter the military.  

I support the DREAM Act for a number of reasons.  The young people in question are called illegal immigrants, but they have done nothing illegal themselves.  They are condemned to a shadow existence entirely by the actions of their parents. The bill is narrowly limited, welcoming exactly the kind of immigrants we want as potential citizens: immigrants who are law abiding, focused on education and willing to serve.  Allowing them to develop their skills would be good in the long run for our military, for our economy and for our country.  

Others, however, raise serious, principled objections.  They are concerned about the cost of educating hundreds of thousands of immigrants.  Or they believe the bill, in parts, is poorly written.  Or they think that the DREAM Act should only be considered as a part of broader immigration reform.  

The immigration debate is a good example of how Christians can disagree on large, emotional issues, but it also reveals some moral lines that can’t be crossed.   

Like on tax policy or health care reform, there is no single, Christian position on immigration reform.  Nations have every right to control their borders and to set standards for entry and citizenship.  People naturally differ on how these goals are best achieved.  In a democracy, we resolve these disagreements through civil debate and elections.  

But there is something about this issue that brings out the worst in some people.  There are politicians who feed the suspicion of strangers for their own gain, or encourage disdain for whole cultures.  There are voices on the radio and the Internet that are overtly racist, calling immigrants, in recent instances, “leeches” or the “world’s lowest primitives.”  This is not policy disagreement, it is nativism.  And it is not a Christian option.  

Many people of good will take a strong stand against illegal immigration based, among other reasons, on the rule of law.  But that is not the only principle that Christians honor.  There is also the imago dei—the shared image of God—that does not permit individual worth and dignity to be determined by national origin.  

This commitment does not translate simplistically into open borders.  It does mean, however, that immigrants should not be used as objects of organized anger or singled out for prejudice.  This belief in universal dignity does not dictate certain policies in a bill.  But it does forbid rage and national chauvinism.  

When God views his children, he does not check their passports.  The Christian faith teaches us to welcome the stranger, not to demonize him.  It teaches that our common humanity is more important than our nationality.  It teaches that all of us, ultimately, are strangers in this world and brothers to the bone—and all in need of God’s amnesty.

—Michael J. Gerson is nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).         


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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.”