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March 16, 2005

Immigration Policy Debate Primer

Please take part in my research for the Immigration Series, that I hope I am able to finish in a "reasonable" amount of time. This subject isn't as straightforward as many may think and I'd like to give it some thought.

QUESTIONS: If a Mexican man enters the United States illegally for the purpose of securing employment to feed and clothe his family, has he sinned against God? If yes, why? If no, why not? What support for your position do you find in Scripture?

I don't know the answer here folks. I have some ideas, but they certainly haven't yet been bathed in prayer. I do think this is a fundamental question though because if we can agree to an answer, we may be closer to consensus on solutions.

If you post on the subject, be sure to send a trackback ping or e-mail so I can read up.

Posted by Rick at March 16, 2005 03:42 PM

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Rick Brady at Stones Cry Out raises the following questions:If a Mexican man enters the United States illegally for the purpose of securing employment to feed and clothe his family, has he sinned against God? If yes, why? If no, [Read More]

Tracked on March 18, 2005 01:15 PM

» Random Stories of the Day from Pete The Elder
here are some random stories I found interesting. Senator Jon Kyl tells Mexican President Vincente Fox to "demonstrate perhaps a little less disdain for the rule of law north of the border." The best way to stop illegal immigration to... [Read More]

Tracked on March 21, 2005 04:22 PM


My own thoughts (I'm kinda short on time, so I won't really flesh them out much) are:

- laws about immigration, etc. are not moral laws; they're procedural laws. That is, there isn't an underlying moral principle that says "people should not travel to other places". The law is based on a practical consideration of giving the government better ability to keep its citizens safe and track citizens for tax purposes. The only moral principle that applies, then (in the "con" direction, for the immigrant) is that you should generally obey the law.

- I think we're all in agreement that sometimes, greater moral principles trump the general command to obey the law. The behavior of Jesus throughout the gospels, and of Peter and others throughout Acts, make this clear. People like MLK and Gandhi are modern(ish) examples of this.

The question then becomes, does the Mexican man have a sufficiently greater moral principle to enter the country? Clearly, feeding your family is a higher principle than obeying the law. But, we do have to look at the following questions:

- Would he be able to find a way to legally feed and clothe his family (either by immigrating legally, or by working in Mexico)?

- Are there other things he can do that, while illegal, are not as badly illegal? (Granted, this is a kind of fuzzy distinction.)

Basically, what I'm saying is that feeding your family is a higher moral consideration than obeying the law, but you should try to minimize the amount or severity of lawbreaking you do in feeding your family (and, in particular, he should try his utmost to only break the law in "victimless" ways.) If a man is in that situation, he has not sinned by entering the country illegally.

Posted by: LotharBot at March 16, 2005 08:33 PM

We live in a Republic, not a theocracy; democracy, not theocracy is our governing ideology. Because this is so, your "mexican man" question while interesting, is not relevant to the national problem we face: de facto open Southern borders. In the question you pose you confuse sin and crime. While sin can be an underlying basis for society to criminalize certain actions, it doesn't work the other way around. If an action is not a sin against God, culture making that act a crime through legislation does not change its "sin nature."
Unless you are interested in the old double condundrum "how many angels can gaze at their navels while dancing on the head of a pin" then you better pose a question that deals with crime first and sin only secondarily. That is, if you really want to move toward any solution.

Your Brother in Christ,
Derek Simmons

Posted by: Derek Simmons at March 16, 2005 09:30 PM

YIKES: Once was more than enough.


Derek - I deleted two of your repeat comments. I'll try to respond to the substance of your concerns later. Lothar Bot is correct though, I am working on a series and I really didn't have an answer to this question. Just looking for input and trying to stir people to think about this as I read through some of the data and literature and think about my posts. Thanks for letting me invade your comment (never done this before - it's kind of cool. Makes you feel all powerfull and stuff - hee hee hee) ~~Rick Brady

Posted by: Derek Simmons at March 16, 2005 09:36 PM


Please follow the link in the original post. This isn't a complete argument; it's a part of a larger series. In this particular post, he's discussing the sinfulness or non-sinfulness from the immigrant's perspective, but there will be posts about the lawfulness or unlawfulness as well.

Posted by: LotharBot at March 16, 2005 10:01 PM

Well, there's that pesky bit in Exodus 20:15 that reads, "Thou shalt not steal."

The man is attempting to take what is not rightfully his, namely the benefits of citizenship in the United States. He's trying to steal a job, benefits intended for citizens, you name it.

And, in all likelihood, he's going to have to break the numerous proscriptions concerning lying to do it.

Posted by: Kelly at March 17, 2005 09:53 AM

As Maddox says in a rather crude but effective way, "I'm sick and tired of lazy gluttonous Americans [whining] about immigrants "taking" our jobs. It's not like they can literally come to America, ambush us in the parking lot and take our jobs. If you lose your job to an immigrant, it's probably because he or she was willing to work harder for less money."

There's no such thing as "stealing" a job, unless you steal the identity of someone who was legitimately offered the job and masquerade as them. I'm not sure what else you intend to cover when you talk about "stealing the benefits of citizenship" -- do you mean, benefits like being able to feed your family, having clean drinking water, or being protected from violent criminals? It seems to me these things are human rights, not American benefits.

Now, this takes us back to the question: do greater moral principles (like keeping your family alive) trump the moral principle of not lying? I know sometimes they do -- those who hid Jews in Nazi Germany during WWII were certainly justified in lying. I'm pretty sure they do in the case of feeding your family, too.

Posted by: LotharBot at March 17, 2005 03:39 PM

No, I'm talking about education, health care, protection by our police and military, and other benefits payed for by our taxes. Anything he does that results in a higher deficit or higher taxation is theft from the American taxpayer, particularly if it's done under cover of forged documents.

One could argue that if the intent of the law is to provide for American citizens and illegals, than no theft occurs. I'm not a lawyer, so they'll have to answer that one.

There is a process for immigrating legally, used by millions over the centuries. I don't believe we should reward or excuse those too impatient, ignorant, or just plain amoral enough to use it.

I won't debate the jobs issue, as I agree that some jobs would go unfilled otherwise. Not all of them, but some of them.

Will God's grace and mercy, exhibited through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, cover the sin? It's sufficient, certainly, but where there is no repentance?

I'd be interested in seeing the scriptures that states that need trumps sin. I wrestle with this issue, and have never adequately answered it. If he needs to kill a border guard to enter, get that job, and feed his family, is that moral principle trumped, too?

Posted by: Kelly at March 17, 2005 05:45 PM

I didn't say need trumps sin. Rather, I said that sometimes, lying is not a sin because other moral principles override the principle of telling the truth.

To sin means to go against God's will or God's character -- to do something which is morally less than perfect. The commands in the Bible are intended to teach us what moral perfection generally looks like, but there simply isn't enough text to give us a perfect understanding of exactly what righteousness looks like. Instead, we have explanations of what righteousness *usually* looks like. The commands and principles in the Bible sometimes come in to conflict with each other, because there isn't enough text to outline exactly how to be righteous in every special case, and when that happens we need wisdom and discernment as to what God desires.

Is it a sin to lie to a Nazi searching for Jews you've hidden in your home? We know that God loves truth, and we also know that God loves people. It's my opinion that God's love for people would, in such a case, be more important than His love for truth -- in particular, His love for people would be more important than His desire for the Nazi seeking to do evil to know truth that would enable him to do evil.

Now, that's a much more extreme case than that of the immigrant who wants to feed his family. He's not lying to someone who wants to kill his family, but rather, to someone who wants him to enter the country legally and who wants to uphold the law. That's why the Nazi example is pretty cut-and-dried while the immigrant example is harder to determine the right thing to do. (The "kill a border guard" example, like the Nazi example, is so straightforward as to not warrant serious discussion.)


"There is a process for immigrating legally, used by millions over the centuries." This is a good point, and I alluded to it above when I asked if the man could find a way to feed his family legally.

But, the reason I *asked* if he could find a way to do so legally, rather than stating that he should use the system to do so legally, is because it's not clear the system (in its current state) would actually provide him with a way to immigrate legally and feed his family. I think this is the direction future discussion is intended to go, anyway -- we need a sane and sensible immigration policy. The current policy puts a lot of people in a position that leads to them illegally crossing the border, not because they're " impatient, ignorant, or just plain amoral", but because the system simply isn't set up right.

If the system was good and sensible, such that someone who wanted to feed his family and couldn't find work on his side of the border could work legally on the other side of the border, then I'd totally agree that immigrating illegally and lying about it would be sinful (at least in the absence of other mitigating factors.) When it gets to the point where we can answer the question "can he find a way to legally feed and clothe his family?" with a simple, unqualified "YES" then I'll completely agree with you. But if the answer to that question is sometimes "NO", then in those specific circumstances, entering illegally is not a sin.

Posted by: LotharBot at March 18, 2005 02:08 AM

Rahab (described in Joshua 2) is a great Biblical example for what I said in the first half of my above post.

She lied in order to save the Israelite spies in her house. Hebrews 11:31 holds her up as a great example of faith because of it. James 2:25 calls her "righteous for what she did". Far from needing to repent of the sin of lying, she is called righteous because she protected the spies!

Posted by: LotharBot at March 18, 2005 02:35 AM

Good points Lothar, and the Rahab example is a good one of a violation of God's stated law where the greater good won out.

I assume the question implies a man whose family would otherwise die of starvation or exposure, rather than just a case where the man wants a better quality of food or clothing?

Posted by: Kelly at March 18, 2005 08:31 AM

Kelly, that is a major problem with this example. Very few Mexicans are starving. They often have very poor living conditions and a lack of electricity, running water, etc., but most Mexican illegal immagrants come for the much better standard of living, not because their children will starve to death if they do not come.

Posted by: Pete The ELder at March 18, 2005 10:46 AM

If your children are starving to death, then coming here illegally to provide for them is not sin. But if your wife, grandparents, brothers and sisters, and children are malnourished and missing meals, but not on the verge of death, and you decide to come here illegally, SINNER!!!! Sad.

Posted by: Rick Brady at March 18, 2005 10:59 AM

Pete the Elder, I suspect that's right. For the majority it may be more a question of greater creature comforts than a life or death issue.

And, I'm not where Rick differentiates. Doesn't the Bible tell us in 1 Tim. 5:8, and I'm using the Amplified for its emphasis, "If anyone fails to provide for his relatives, and especially for those of his own family, he has disowned the faith [by failing to accompany it with fruits] and is worse than an unbeliever [who performs his obligation in these matters]." This would seem to include more than just the wife and kids.

Besides, the epithet "SINNER!!!!" is equivalent to calling someone "HUMAN!!!!", isn't it?

Posted by: Kelly at March 18, 2005 11:27 AM

Now that we've established a lack of sin in the act of illegal border crossing (an argument I'll willing to hear), howzabout youz guys deal with why the government should continue making it illegal?

Oh but wait! If it's illegal to cross the border, is it then immoral?

Posted by: Matt at March 18, 2005 12:59 PM

Kelly, we are all sinners. But not everything we do is sin. When I posted this, I asked my self the question: Are there circumstances when entering the United States illegally is not sinful? Could God ever call someone to enter the United States illegally? If so, I'm thinking that, in those circumstances, I would say that the "law" is what is wrong here, not the action of the man or woman. As LotharBot pointed out - there are times when laws are immoral. I'm in no way advocating open borders and we CERTAINLY have a national security imperative to ensure closed borders. I'm just trying to put myself in the shoes of the immigrant (authorized, or unauthorized).

Kelly, I meant not to differentiate between wife and kids and other family. In Mexican culture, it's rarely about just a wife or kids. I've spent time serving the community Queretaro as a missionary. Some barrios are very poor and I can tell you that I met few families that weren't supported (not just food, but clothes, shelter, health care, etc) at one time or another by remittances from relatives who were working in the United States illegally.

If man's law prevents someone from fulfilling God's calling or command, then Christian people must disobey these laws to fulfill their duty to God. I'm not saying that laws regulating immigration are necessarily immoral; I'm just suggesting that: 1) we ought to back away from hateful and un-Christian rhetoric (i.e., calling them criminals that have no respect for the rule of law); and 2) we ought to amend our laws to ensure that willing employers can find willing employees and not put the immigrants in the position that they have to break the law.

If there was not a jobs supply/demand mismatch in both Mexico and America, the push to emmigrate (economic necessity) and the pull to employ immigrants (not enough Americans to do "those" jobs), there wouldn't be an issue (we're not talking about a wall along our northern border for example). We are arrogant to presume that migrants from the south do not consider emmigration a serious disruption to their way of life. The one's I've talked to and read about never wanted to leave their communities and families. Once they are here, they rarely return because of how difficult it is to get back. So, they try to have their families brought here instead and they set up immigrant enclaves and "satellite" communities. Lots of fascinating research on this stuff.

Posted by: Rick Brady at March 18, 2005 01:22 PM

Thanks, Rick. I noted your missionary service in your bio.

I ask, not facetiously, why is it so hard to "get back"? Would not one call to INS be sufficient? This isn't an area I've ever studied.

It appears that the answer is situational, that what might be sin for one illegal would not be sin for another.

But, in your experience, why do so many choose to bypass the legal route?

Posted by: Kelly at March 18, 2005 03:15 PM

Rick, I do not see what is hateful or un-Christian about saying "calling them criminals that have no respect for the rule of law." They may not be doing anything that is inherently sinful, but that does not mean that they are not criminals or that they have respect for the law. I thought the whole point of this question was to distinguish sin from lawbreaking. It is asinine to call people un-Christian when they honestly call people who break the law criminals.

I also do not see why we have to "amend our laws to ensure that willing employers can find willing employees and not put the immigrants in the position that they have to break the law." There are already plenty of laws on the books that do this and hundreds of thousands of people immigrate to this country legally each year to find work. The people we are talking about are the ones who think the law does not apply to them. And many of the "willing employers" are only willing to hire illegal immigrants because it allows them to break other just laws (minimum wage, OSHA requirements, paying FICA taxes, etc.). Remove these illegal and sinful incentives and the market for illegal immigrant labor would rapidly dry up.

Posted by: Pete The Elder at March 18, 2005 03:24 PM

Pete the Elder:

It's really stretching -- and disrespectful to illegals -- to say every single illegal immigrant has "no respect for the rule of law" or that they "think the law doesn't apply to them". Some of them are like that, and some of them are not. Some disrespect the laws, but others only break them because they can't find any legal way to feed their families. (It's up for debate what percentage fall into each category.)

As for the second half of your post (why we have to amend the laws), remember this is the preface to part 2 of what's intended to be a 6 or 7 part series. Part 3 was intended to look at things from the employer's perspective, and part 4 was intended to cover the current policy and its (possible) shortcomings. I think we're all jumping the gun a bit on those questions.

Rick: It would be nice to get a bit of a teaser for part 4, since it's relevant to this discussion. Do you think the current policy allows everyone who'd like to feed their family legally to do so?

Posted by: LotharBot at March 18, 2005 04:26 PM

Lothar- Is it hateful or un-Christian to call them criminals though? Is "criminal" a factually accurate word to describe someone who has broken multiple federal laws? Is it hateful or un-Christian to use clear and honest terminology?

Some illegal immigrants may have respect for the law in general, but are in dire straights and choose to break specific laws. But how many illegal immigrants even make an attempt to immigrate legally? I think the burden of proof in this situation needs to be on the law breaker to prove they have respect for the law.

Posted by: Pete The Elder at March 18, 2005 05:01 PM

LotharBot, I can't agree with you more. I think you know where I'm going with this and should probably write the series yourself :-).

I was planning on doing a lot of writing this weekend, but yesterday got handed 20+ hours of work that must be done this weekend, not to mention my school work. This "primer" has been VERY helpful though because there is a lot of research on many of these issues and will help my Part 2 and 3. There is a lot of research and data on this stuff and I know better now what I need to look for.

I'd still like to hear more debate on this issue. I try to view the world, our laws, society, culture, everything, through the lense of Biblical standards.

Here's another question/primer for Part 4: How does one emmigrate legally to the United States - and what are the criteria/standards for admission or terms of the stay?

I don't really know the answer, but I suspect that our current system doesn't provide much of a "legal" option for would-be unskilled laborers.

That is, it's easier for a programmer from India to get a visa to come here and fill a programming job for $65K that, if any number of the 1000s of programmers graduating from school each year were hired, would command $90K+ than it is for a Mexican unskilled laborer to get a visa to come here and process poultry in a Tyson foods plant in Kansas for $6/hr when there are Americans who don't even apply for those jobs. But, I don't know - hence the need to research and dig for data.

Anyone want to dig around for data?

Posted by: Rick Brady at March 18, 2005 05:20 PM

Rick I also think you have touched on the other issue involved in "jobs americans won't do". It should often be "jobs americans won't do for that wage." I won't process poultry for $6 an hour, but give me $200 an hour and you've got yourself a chicken plucker. There are other Americans who might take the job if it payed $12 an hour. But that cuts into Tyson's profits so instead of paying a market wage they look to expand the market through immigrants.

Posted by: Pete The Elder at March 18, 2005 05:30 PM

Pete: no, it's not hateful to call them criminals (though some use the word in a hateful way, much like some use "liberal" or "conservative" as an insult.) It's the correct terminology. But it's presumptive to say they have no respect for the law.

I should note, because this is a philosophical discussion, there is no "burden of proof" -- we don't have any illegal immigrants posting here, as far as I know, who could be proving their own innocence. Instead, there is a burden of responsibility -- each of us must be responsible in our own arguments, and not make unwarranted assumptions. There's no "innocent until proven guilty" or "guilty until proven innocent" -- rather, if their status is unknown, it should be treated as unknown. That's the only intellectually responsible thing to do.

Also: the question at hand in this thread is whether or not their action is *sinful* (not whether or not it's legal, which by definition it's not.)

The questions about market wage / the company's profits are a nice lead-in to the next post. Too bad Rick is so busy... it may be a few days before we get around to that question.

Posted by: LotharBot at March 18, 2005 05:49 PM


It looks like you have a predetermined answer, re:
"LotharBot, I can't agree with you more. I think you know where I'm going with this and should probably write the series yourself :-)." Am I merely feeding your "yahoo" file, so that you'll be able to point judgmentally at a cadre of intolerant Christians?

Pete the Elder has raised valid points. I believe illegals act with disrepect to me when they violate the laws enacted by my representatives. Each and every one chooses to disregard the law. Yes, they may feel (or they may be) justified in so doing. But they choose to be criminals.

If there were no supply of illegals to keep wages suppressed for some jobs, it seems obvious that wages would either rise to the point where they would be attractive to Americans or the job would be eliminated or the job would be "outsourced" to a country (Mexico, anyone?) where cheap labor existed. Emigration of illegals may be suppressing job creation in Mexico, thereby exacerbating the problem.

Posted by: Kelly at March 18, 2005 05:54 PM

Kelly, I will not add you to a yahoo file or any other file. :-) I do happen to agree with LotharBot on many points here, but that does not mean that you have valid points for me to consider as well.

I guess I'm simply trying to flush out some ideas or thoughts from other Christians. This is not a topic I have ever blogged about and I do have my opinions.

For instance: Immigrants who come here without proper authorization no matter the cause are "criminals" for sure. If they are caught, they should be "punished" according to the law. Terrorists who cross our borders illegally are a threat to our national security and I that is a separate issue, but one that MUST be dealt with.

However, I'd really like to see the rhetoric toned down (not necessarily in this forum, but when it comes to the debate overall - Michael Savage comes to mind) when it comes to those unauthorized immigrants who are only trying to provide for their family and they are willing to work hard and obey the rest of our laws in the process. Not all unauthorized immigrants fit this category - I'm not talking about those people.

Where is the outrage at speeders who are "criminals" and have "no respect for our laws"? People who violate the vehicle codes established by our elected representatives hurt far more people than "criminal" immigrants. And they do so mostly for selfish reasons!

Kelly, I think you nailed it about what would happen if there were no supply of unauthorized laborers. Some combination of three things would happen: 1) pay would increase; 2) Jobs on this side of the border would decline (if pay goes up, so would price of good, and with increase in price of good, comes decline in demand); and 3) companies would outsource to other countries (maybe the Tyson plant would relocate across the border). One problem is that you can't relocate farms very easily and what do we do when our nation relies on foreign countries for its crops?

NAFTA sent a lot of our jobs to Mexico. It also sent a lot of Americas tax dollars to Mexico as these companies no longer pay payroll taxes into the state and federal coffers.

Should we provide tax incentives to companies to relocate in Mexico and provide jobs? Should we spend $5 billion per year on Mexican infrastructure instead of spending it on failed border security policy (its obviously not working)? Should we spend $100 billion (my estimate for the cost of the last year of war in Iraq) over the next 10 years investing in Mexico in exchange for THEM building a wall?

I suppose I'm saying these issues are much more complicated and involve real human and spiritual issues that the simplistic "deport all 10 million of them because they don't respect our rule of law" rhetoric does not help address.

Posted by: Rick Brady at March 18, 2005 07:19 PM

One more thing... Unauthorized immigration also seems to be functioning as a safety valve for Mexico. These people are ambitious, creative, and determined. Its not hard to imagine a Communist revolution in our neighbor if the spiggot of remittances were immediately halted and millions of Mexicans were repatriated, with local economies that depend on remittances squashed and even more jobs lost.

I'm worried about knee-jerk reaction that will have unintended consequences. NAFTA seems to be a first step in the right direction. A guest worker program could be a next step. A wall would also be an important step - but I think we should entice/convince the Mexicans to build it. Investment of public funds by way of tax credits/incentives in Mexico is another part of what I see as a possible solution. But who knows. I'm only thinking of these things off the top of my head. What say you?

Posted by: Rick Brady at March 18, 2005 07:28 PM

I have to admit, this is a very intriguing question, and I had to stop and think: but rather than theorize or speculate, I would like to use a real life example.

Shortly after comming to Christ I was woken up by a knock on my door in the middle of the night. sitting on my porch was a man who, by all apearences, was a bum. He asked for some help, at which point I welcomed him into my house, and while he took a shower I made up something to eat. When he left, I gave him a sleeping bag and a coat to keep warm. It would have been a sin for ME(!) not to.

This man could have easily climbed through a window or entered my house illigally, but he knocked and I GLADLY let him in.

The point I am trying to make is that by not offering food and clothing when others need it, I (we) are in the wrong, but if a person takes from me (us) unlawfully, they are in the wrong.

I live in Arizona, and as many people know, we have over a million illigal crossings a year. If a person wants to work, fine: the door is open. But if he breaks into my house and takes what is lawfully mine, I'm sorry, I don't buy it.

Yours in Christ,

Posted by: Don Myers at March 19, 2005 03:24 PM


The question (for part 4 of this series) is, is the door really open? Does the system really give him the option to come in legally? Could he *really* "knock" and come in, or is that just wishful thinking?

My own understanding of the system is that it's woefully inadequate. There are a ton of people who'd like to come over and get a job to feed their families who couldn't get through the system if they tried.

If he "knocks" at every door possible, and nobody helps him, is he still in the wrong? That's what your analysis is missing -- what happens if he knocks and you say "no, go away" and so does everyone else?

This comes all the way back to the question I wrote in my first response -- is there any way for him to do it legally? Far too many people in this discussion have assumed the answer to that is "yes"... but the real answer is "occasionally". My best guess is that this series is moving toward the point of describing policies where the answer would be "yes" almost all of the time...

Posted by: LotharBot at March 19, 2005 05:16 PM