How To Treat Immigrants According To The Bible

There’s a lot of misinformation being passed around about immigration these days, and, unfortunately, Pat Robertson is only contributing to it. Hopefully we can cut through some of these falsehoods as I try to tackle why it’s so hard to deal with immigrants with compassion, even for Christians who know exactly what the Bible says about the issue. Click below and jump to the 1 minute mark if you’d like to hear what The 700 Club has to say, despite Robertson’s claim to “love Hispanic people.”

In Leviticus 19:34 it says that we should “treat immigrants as our own native born” and “Love them as yourself. I AM the LORD your God.” How do we do this in today’s world, knowing what’s ahead of us if we do this? It’s not like it was when we first got started as a new nation. Your thoughts on the matter? -Darla

Darla,

Oof, I am sorry, because this is going to be a long response, but hopefully a useful one. I can’t get into everything that this topic touches on, but maybe I can supply some links to start doing some research yourself into immigration facts.

I should note before beginning that most translations of that passage from Leviticus use either “foreigner,” “stranger” or “alien,” but the meaning is the same as “immigrant.” It’s referring to a foreigner that resides among you.

Beware False Experts

First off, David Barton, the person to whom Robertson refers in order to make the claim that, from the start of the United States, the only immigrants that were welcomed were the “superior” ones who proved their immediate value, is not an expert. At all.

Barton is a political pundit with a bachelor of arts degree in religious education. He’s never studied history and those who have devoted their lives to learning from the past find that he cherry-picks quotes and events to wage his personal battle against immigration and support his thesis that the United States was founded specifically as a Christian nation, with no intention of having any separation between the church and the state.

Please, please be wary of anyone who uses generalizations like “people say” or “I’m told” or “who’s supposed to be an expert.” What people? Who’s told you? Is he supposed to be an expert or is he an expert? They’re all phrases that can’t be backed and are used to lend authority to statements that have none.

So in response to Robertson’s “I’m told by David Barton, who’s supposed to be an expert on this stuff,” I’ll counter that Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies was challenged by expert historians, scholars and conservative Christian professors and was found to be so grossly inaccurate that it was pulled from publication.

As far as immigration goes, Barton is a staunch critic of it and feels that God establishes the borders of nations and that He does so to keep people apart, saying on his radio show that: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he’s the one who set up boundaries for the nations. National boundaries are set by God; he is the one who drew up the lines for the nations. If you have open borders you say, ‘God you goofed it all up.’”

As we’ve gotten into when discussing Adam and Eve’s nationality and how nations and nationalities came about, that’s not even remotely true. It doesn’t even make sense. In fact, it’s interesting that Robertson refers to him as a supposed expert since, as we discussed with that question, The 700 Club founder acknowledges that he follows the view that mankind spread out over time, developing our own nations and languages.

This would seem to run contrary to the idea that we were divided up by God, as suggested by the stories such as that of the Tower of Babel or Deuteronomy 32:8, which is (more or less) what Barton quoted above to justify people not mingling between nations. This is, quite honestly, bizarre as he seems to suggest that even modern nation borders were created by God, because the nations in the Bible have either long since ceased to exist, or they’ve been radically changed.

(The actual text from Deuteronomy is, “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.” — in certain translations. The variations of that passage, though, may greatly alter the meaning even further from Barton’s claims. If you’d like to get into that, along with the names of God, we discuss that in another post.)

So Barton should not be referred to at all, and his claims about immigrants being given ten years to prove themselves as capable of looking after themselves before they were thrown out are historically inaccurate and completely untrue.

Why Do We Fear Those Different From Us?

As to the rest of your question about what’s ahead of us if we follow Leviticus, the question I now have to ask is: What do you mean by that? Do you feel that there’s something frightening if we welcome migrants and refugees into the country?

You’re asking this question, which means you’re putting thought into the matter. It sounds like you want to open your heart to the love which the passage offers, but maybe fear doing so and are uncertain of how to begin. If that’s the case, where is the fear coming from?

Is it born of a fear of a crisis on our southern border? The need to increase border security to combat the illegal immigrants threatening national security? Would help to know that there is no crisis on the Mexican border and that, as NPR reports, for the 7th year in a row, a report has found that “from 2016-2017, people who overstayed their visas accounted for 62 percent of the newly undocumented, while 38 percent had crossed a border illegally.”

Robertson automatically takes immigration to Latin America, essentially saying “we can’t take all these Hispanics in.” He makes no mention of all these visa overstays, which sounds worryingly like he’s just helping to stoke racial fear of these “others.” He then specifically says that drug dealers are getting into the country through the southern border, which raises the fear of the “criminal immigrant” that is ravaging the nation. This is pretty far from the truth.

Facts About Immigration

In an effort to not overwhelm anyone too much, I’ll just point to an NPR segment which discusses four separate studies finding that an increase in undocumented immigrants does not even lead to an increase in violent crime and, generally, leads to a decrease. (NPR provides further links to the studies yourself and from there you can continue your own research.)

Along with the criminal fear, you might have heard the most recent misleading claim that 4,000 terrorists were stopped and detained at the Mexican border.

That’s simply untrue and twists the fact that those numbers were actually “Special Interest Aliens” who were stopped at our airports when they were coming into the United States. An airport is a port of entry, but that’s a far cry from a southern border crossing. They weren’t necessarily trying to immigrate — legally or illegally — and Special Interest Aliens are, as Fox News’ Chris Wallace notes, simply people coming from nations that have produced terrorists.

Of course, maybe in referring to “what’s ahead,” you’re speaking of economic fears that we can’t support immigrants or that they’re taking jobs from native-born Americans. In this case, I’ll refer you to PBS Newshour as a great resource to start with if you’d like to learn about the economics of immigration.

A good many experts who’ve studied the matter and crunched the numbers have found that there’s more of an economic boost than detriment, with immigrants contributing more in taxes than they take in government benefits. Immigrants tend to take the jobs that Americans don’t want, making them a complimentary, rather than competing workforce. On top of that, the falling U.S. birthrate is only offset by immigration, which is required to keep our economy chugging along.

But maybe it’s none of that. Maybe referencing “what’s ahead” is instead a worry about the point that immigration is offsetting the slowing birth rate in the U.S. Maybe it’s a fear of being replaced.

The Cycle Of Immigration

But, as Robertson noted, we’ve always been a country of immigrants who bring in traditions from all over the world. These same fears of those who are different and “new” were levied throughout the history of this country against waves of Irish immigrants, Italian immigrants, German immigrants, Catholic immigrants — the list goes on.

It’s not a new fear, but it’s one that has proven time and again to be unfounded as each wave of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and even illegal immigrants brought their customs and languages and their descendants melded them into what’s come to be known as American identity. So in this way, it is very much the same as when we first got started as a new nation. It’s just the targets who have changed.

No one is being replaced. Yes, it can be frightening when people are different from us, when they look different from us, when they speak and even think in a different language than us. It’s frightening when we can’t understand them or understand their traditions.

There’s a reason the passage you mention in Leviticus can be translated as referring to “aliens” and “strangers.” The unknown and the alien make us uncomfortable. If it was easy to love strangers as yourself, it wouldn’t need to be said.

But one thing Robertson said that was right is that “We need to recognize that these people at the borders are human beings. They have aspirations and hopes and dreams just like we do.” We’re all human.

So what does the Bible say about immigration? Exactly what you said, Darla. Perhaps even today Leviticus’ maxim to treat immigrants as our own and love them as yourself has more to offer than the false fears that are being stoked. It doesn’t mean you have to support abolishing immigration policies or citizenship or support open borders. As with the rest of the Bible, it’s up to each Christian to interpret this herself and decide whether to disregard it as another archaic rule or take it to heart. The important thing is to do your best to understand all that you’re asking.

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