Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Christian Perspectives on Illegal Immigration

Immigration, especially illegal immigration, is one of the most pressing and distressing issues in the United States today. Bring up the subject, and you’re almost certain to get passionate opining. Bring it up in settings where people hold diverse viewpoints, and that passion will often explode into open conflict.

Nowhere do we see this kind of dispute more clearly than in the debate about the recent legislation passed in Arizona, which is meant to strengthen anti-illegal immigration efforts in the state. For some, the health, integrity, and safety of our country are at stake, and Arizona is doing what is necessary to preserve them. For others, the state is perpetrating a gross injustice upon innocent human beings, based on racism and xenophobia.


Not surprisingly, Christians differ widely in their estimation of the Arizona law in particular, and illegal immigration in general. As I have listened to Christians debate these issues, I have heard a wide range of opinions. And, believe me, I have heard plenty, since I have lived in California for most of my life, and Texas for the last three years. In states that lie along the Mexican border, immigration is probably the hottest and move divisive issue we face.

I have been concerned by what I have perceived to be the absence of serious, theologically-probing, mutually-respectful conversation about immigration and illegal immigration in the Christian community. Oh, there have been plenty of proclamations and diatribes, but relatively little conversation where people with differing convictions work to understand each other and, even more importantly, to understand what God might have to say about the matter. Conversation about immigration among Christians has mostly resembled what we see in the secular arena, with people talking mainly to those with whom they agree and blasting away at those with whom they disagree.


cross-and-culture-patheos-5.jpgNow, I must confess that I have not contributed to the conversation about immigration, so my criticism of Christians applies equally to me. So when Patheos, an outstanding website that promotes religious conversation and understanding, asked me to contribute to such a conversation, I felt both honored and obliged to say “yes.” They were not asking for a dissertation from me, only a few paragraphs of reflection in their Cross Examinations series, part of their Cross and Culture conversation. Patheos also asked a number of other Christian leaders to offer their thoughts. All of us share a common commitment to Christ and the authority of Scripture. Yet we represent a wide variety of perspectives on immigration and its connection to our faith.


Here’s the question that Patheos posed to me and eight other Christian thinkers:

Immigration and illegal immigration are matters of grave ethical concern. Does the Bible give principles or insights that should guide Christian thinking on this issue? Is there a ‘Christian position’ on illegal immigration? Would it be un-Christian to expel illegal immigrants who have built their lives in the United States?

In the next couple of days, I’ll summarize the answers given to these questions as well as present and explicate my own position. You can read all the answers and comments in this Cross Examinations conversation at this link.

As always, I’m interested in your observations and opinions. Feel free to add a comment or email me with your thoughts. Perhaps we can in some small way grow in mutual understanding as well as understand of how Christians should approach the issue of illegal immigration.

  • Chuck

    A complex matter indeed, and one that does not lend itself easily to civil discussion in our day and time.
    I’m a native Texas and it seems to me that the views on this issue are deep and wide. On one extreme are those who see illegal immigrants as victims of oppression and poverty and the only right response is to protect them by keeping them here no matter what. The other side I call the “kick them out and close the gate” crowd. In between these two are many variations of opinion. IMO both extremes are terribly wrong. The Christian response? I offer my humble opinion.
    Two issues; one social and one legal. On the social side we as Christian must always demonstrate compassion and care. By this I mean that as we have opportunity to do good to illegal immigrants then we should. We ought to stand against their being taken advantage of and exploited. They should be treated with dignity and respect.
    On the legal side our laws should be respected. There are very good reasons for our immigration laws and the requirement of citizenship is healthy for a society. Our laws are there to screen out certain individuals who would do us harm, as well as create a proper means for those who desire citizenship to earn it.
    As for the DREAM Act I am for it though it disturbs me that we even have to enact such a law in the first place. Why do we have so many young people who have been here for so long while never becoming citizens? This is symptomatic of how profoundly failed our system is, and it needs to be fixed…now.
    It is time for our elected officials at the federal level to step up and do what they have sworn to do – uphold our laws. They are the ones who have allowed this situation to become the caustically divisive issue that it has become. We should continue to be a beacon that welcomes all people who come in peace, but let them come in order and respect for our laws.
    Grace and Peace to you.

  • Timothy D.

    The complexity of the issue, it seems to me, is only deepened by a Byzantine legal system that is more about posing and pretense than it is about actual enforcement of the border. The government knows that our economy is dependent upon a certain flow of low-wage workers, and many companies make sure that the government remains aware of this. So there are laws on the books that the government really has no intention of enforcing.
    Also, some states benefit from the illegal immigration while others suffer from it. So you have states that desire the low-wake workers who think that illegal immigration is not a serious problem, or indeed that it’s a blessing, and then you have the border states that have to deal with the disorder, the violence, and the strains on their social systems. So our representative democracy faces a certain paralysis on the issue, which means the federal authorities — who are the only ones supposed to enforce immigration issues — turn a blind eye. This leaves states like Arizona to take the matter into their own hands. I don’t entirely blame them – but it shouldn’t be necessary.
    I actually think the comprehensive immigration reform put forward by the Bush administration was a reasonable approach. That may have been our best chance, at least until we have another Republican administration. Because, as it is now, I fear that any possible solution put forward by the present administration will be a mile too far for the conservatives. There will be very little pressure upon the Republicans to reach a compromise, and lots of pressure on Democrats to use the issue to electoral advantage rather than seek a reasonable middle.
    It’s a shame. We need comprehensive immigration reform. We also need larger quotas for highly educated and skilled people from Asian countries and etc. You often hear the defenders of illegal immigration speak as though it’s easy for educated people to immigrate. This is actually not true. They often have to wait for years and years. We *do* need to remember the principles of wise financial stewardship, and we would be wise to keep drawing people who can help our economy recover and perform.

  • Bruce De Cell

    I think that illegal immigration is more simple than most people who control the conversation will admit. If you reward anyone who enters our nation illegally violating the inspection process, we will only encourage more illegal immigration. Any “good deeds” that we may want to perform for poor hard working people should be performed in their home country, and not encourage illegality here. Illegal immigration to me is first and most importantly a national security issue and as such should not be tolerated on any level.

  • Don B

    Glad to see you weighing in on this topic, and I look forward to your thoughts. What is most disappointing to me is the lack of recognition in the debate of the reality that those of us on “this side” of the border are not here through any merit of our own. Too many people treat citizenship as something they deserve, and fail to see that God’s grace put them here on this side of an arbitrary line. Those on the other side of that line aren’t any worse people than we are, and we are duty bound as Christians to show gratitude for the blessings we have received by being on “this side” of that line. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an advocate for a borderless world. We are a sinful people and without borders and governments, anarchy would reign. However, to formulate a wise and successful immigration policy, we really need to admit how blessed we are to be where we are and at least try to recognize that those who were not fortunate enough to be on this side of the line deserve some consideration.

  • John Key

    I look forward to you weighing in on this topic and have no doubts as to the wisdom of your remarks. Unfortunately I’m afraid that the spiritual and legal solutions will be less problematic than the political ones.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Thanks for these excellent comments. I hope we can continue to express our differing opinions in a way that is honest and respectful of others. A good start . . . .

  • Bill Goff

    I appreciate your willingness to tackle the controversial topic of illegal immigration. Your consistent courtesy and care are most welcome and encouraging. In spite of listening to various viewpoints from both Christians and non-Christians, I do not have a firm understanding of what is right. At this point I have many more questions than answers.
    I think that any Christian perspective on immigration must take the following factors into consideration:
    •Historical background – Where did the borders that divide Mexico with the United States come from? I live in southern California in what used to be Mexico before the United States defeated Mexico in the Mexican American war. I don’t know all the details of this war. But I think it is safe to conclude that these borders are not God given. I am not arguing that borders be ignored, but I do think that the way we got these borders in the first place should at least give us a sense of humility.
    •Economic reality – I think that there are competing forces at work here. Business operators like to have cheap, reliable labor. Farmers want low paid laborers to harvest their crops. But we don’t like the cost of our social services like schools and hospitals to increase because of the demands of undocumented immigrants. We want cheap strawberries and inexpensive hospitals. Is it realistic to have both?
    •Political expediency – In my view most elected officials of all parties are more concerned about keeping in office than in doing what is best for the country. They tend to vote for those who give them the greatest support in terms of dollars and votes. When faced with competing constituencies, they tend to avoid taking sides. With national elections coming in November is unlikely that President Obama’s administration will be willing to put forth comprehensive immigration reform legislation. And it is clear that whatever the Democrats propose, Republicans will be unanimously against it. If President Obama were to advocate for motherhood and apple pie, Republicans would complain that he neglects the importance of fathers and the joy of eating cake.
    • Practical and personal predicaments – Some people advocate sending all “illegals” back to their country of origin. But what do they say to the woman in her twenties who was brought to the United States when she was an infant and raised in this country which is the only country she knows. Should she be sent back to a country that would be foreign to her? Did she commit a crime? How many people are there like her? Can we send them all back?
    My wife became a US citizen last year. She first came to the US in 2000 on a fiancé visa and we went through all of the difficult and expensive processes for her to become a US citizen. I must say that we were treated fairly by all of the government’s public servants we encountered as we went through this process. However we have encountered problems with the US immigration policies in trying to get her adult son to be able to visit us. When he applied for a tourist visa he was denied. The basis of the denial was that he did not have steady employment and a close relative in Russia. He was a university student and his father had died and his mother lived in the US. (Close relative means a mother or father.) So, although he has no interest in immigrating to the US, he is not allowed to visit us. He cannot overcome the legal presumption of the immigration laws that he will stay in the US if he is allowed in for a visit. Now that my wife is a US citizen she may apply for her son to receive a green card and wait for a year or more for him to be able to visit. Is this fair or just? I suggest that our consideration of “illegal immigration” needs to be expanded to our policies concerning legal immigration.
    • Biblical revelation – In light of all the other factors that make up our historical situation, what does God’s Word have to say to us? Does it speak to us about the use of borders? How does it guide us regarding the tension between obeying the law (or Law) and following the demands of justice? What help does it provide in deciding when we should be subject to the governing authorities as opposed to acting with civil disobedience when we are convinced that the government’s laws are unjust? What does it have to say about political leaders? What does it have to say to you and me?
    I look to your future blog entries and the contributions of others to help me sort out these questions. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow concerning this vital issue.

  • Todd Bartel

    Mark. Here’s an article on immigration reform that seems very reasonable.

  • Don Strobe

    One of the responses reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw recently: “PROUD to be an American!” Me, too, but my immediate question was: “What were your options?”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Hbene

    Dear Mr. Roberts: I struggle with the Illegal Immagration problem because to me it is more then just people being here from out of country. The issue is about many differant areas for me which stumbles my walk and concerns my heart in the Lord.
    #1. I have neighbors who work and get paid under the table with cash, my neighbors also claim and recieve money, housing, food stamps,free medical from the government. Both husband and wife work . they both get money from the government and they don’t tell the government that they are married to one another. They have 4 kids and they get money for each of the kids. The husband and the wife say that they are not married so the government gives them money to each parent for each of the kids to the husband and the wife for each of the kids. This couple not only gets money from their jobs and money from the government / welfare. They don’t pay taxes or claim the taxes because they are paid under the table.
    I don’t understand how they go to their church every Sunday and don’t feel guilty because of their lies. They both also do not carry car insurance for both their cars nor do they have their cars registered or drivers liscenses yet they drive and don’t feel terrible because of not obeying the laws of this county. I got hit by a family that didn’t have their car registered or a liscense or insurance and before that a women who hit my car in a parking lot and both times the police told me there was nothing he could do so he let the family and the women go. There was no accountability or responsibility for the damage to my car. My rates got raised because of the illegal people not obeying California’s laws. I am stumbled how the church that my neighbors go to don’t tell their church members that they are not being honest about the money or their driving without proper paperwork is wrong and a sin. We as good Christians need to repent and turn from our sins and walk as Jesus walked in holiness.
    It’s not that I don’t want people here illegally But isn’t it beginning a string of sins? 1st by not obeying the laws of this country by entering illegally and Then by driving illegally, taking money that they shouldn’t take and then by lieing about it. What is it teaching their Children? Plus then the church begins to lie to cover up these sins. I truly am confused. My neighbors actually make more income then my husband and I and we are citizens. My husband got laid off and I can only find part time work, I have MS and still have to pay for my insurance $890.00 a month. We believe and Know that know matter what the Lord doesn’t want us to be in sin but to trust Him that He will provide for us and He promises to take care of us. It is difficult to not be angry with the illegal people for lieing and taking advantage of the American system of money from the government wrongly. I just think that a lot of people are taking advantage of the laws of this land and God says we are to obey all of them, to not pick and choose which laws to obey. It is more then just being here illegally, it is the other sins that seem to accompany their being here that really bothers me. God doesn’t have boarders but when lieing and sinning begin to compound with them being here then isn’t that when it is wrong and a sin against the Lord?

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