Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: What is Our “Big Goal”?

What should be our goal as Christians when it comes to illegal immigration? What are we trying to accomplish? Or what should we be trying to accomplish?

For some Christians, the “big goal” has to do, first, with extensive legal and social reform. When confronted with specific problems, like the porosity of the border between the United States and Mexico, these people say something like “We can only deal with that problem in the context of comprehensive immigration reform.” At times, the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” is code for “some kind of amnesty for undocumented workers.” At other times, the phrase points to the huge need for the United States to deal with illegal immigration, not as a one-problem issue, but as a multi-faceted issue that comprises a multitude of problems and challenges. The ultimate “big goal” of those who talk about “comprehensive immigration reform” appears to be legal and social change that leads to merciful treatment of immigrants and potential immigrants.


For other Christians, the “big goal” is the well-being of the United States of American and its citizens. Whatever happens with those who are in the country illegally and with those who would like to immigrate to this country, the “big goal” is the security and prosperity of our nation. Once we’re well on our way to this goal, then can we establish a wise policy for immigration and for dealing with those who are in this country illegally.

Some folks try to find middle ground, arguing that treating undocumented workers and their families mercifully, thus allowing them to remain in this country, is, in fact, the best way to advance the well-being of the United States. Middle-ground people point to our need as a nation for workers who are willing to do various kinds of manual labor, as well as the contributions to American society made by undocumented workers and their families. The “big goal” of middle-grounders is the well-being of both undocumented workers and American society at large.


We find ourselves at an impasse when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration in part because we embrace different “big goals.” As I listen to a wide variety of voices, I find that most differences of opinion can be boiled down to a difference over the “big goals.” Some care most about the well-being of undocumented workers and their families; some care most about the well-being of the United States. Once you know somebody’s “big goal,” you can more or less predict their views on a wide range of issues related to illegal immigration.

As I think about this issue from a Christian perspective, it seems to me that something “big” is missing. We are missing an even “bigger goal” that flows from the teaching of Scripture and that can redirect our thoughts and efforts in a more fruitful direction. This “bigger goal” is suggested at first in Genesis 1 and God’s instruction to human beings to be “fruitful.” It is glimpsed again in Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God and his efforts to bring wholeness to broken people. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains his mission in this way: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). God’s intention for us, both individually and corporately, is that we live fruitful, abundant lives, both now and in the age to come.


Thus, as we think from a Christian point of view about the plight of illegal immigrants and their families, our goal should be that each one has the opportunity to live a fruitful, abundant life. How could we want anything else for these human beings who are made in the image of God?

Yet here’s where we come to a problematic assumption that is often not expressed, even though it is made by people on both sides of the immigration debate: It is highly unlikely that undocumented workers and their families will be able to live truly fruitful lives in their own countries. The realities of poverty, political oppression, economic injustice, poor education, and poor medical care, just to name a few, make it very difficult for millions upon millions of Hispanics to flourish in their homelands. Their only hope of a fruitful life is in the United States. So they come to this country, making large sacrifices and braving many dangers, because they expect a better life here. And, for the most part, if they can make it here and settle, they will have a better life . . . as will their relatives back in the homeland, who receive money from their kin in the United States.


As I think about this situation from a Christian perspective, I find myself wishing for a radically different reality. Wouldn’t it be best for everybody if no person from Latin America ever needed to come to the United States in order to flourish? Isn’t the best-case scenario one in which every individual in Latin American had the opportunity to be fruitful in his or her own land? Many might still choose to immigrate to the United States, of course. But nobody would come out of a desperate need for food, decent education, quality medical care, liberty, and so forth. All would have the freedom and opportunity in their own countries to life fully fruitful lives.

Wouldn’t this solve the problem of illegal immigration, even more than building a giant fence? Even more than comprehensive immigration reform? Even more than adding more troops at the border? Even more than penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers? Even more than providing a legal way for these workers to remain in the United States? Even more than sending them and their families home? Even more than any particular solution to any particular problem associated with illegal immigration?


As a Christian who is committed to the fruitfulness of each human life, I would argue that we need far more than comprehensive immigration reform. We need comprehensive hemispheric social, economic, legal, and spiritual reform. We need a hemisphere, not just a country, in which all people have the chance to flourish right where they live. Some may, of course, choose not to do this. But, ideally, nobody would be forced to live in poverty and oppression.

Yes, yes, I know that what I’ve just proposed is not just a “big goal,” or even a “bigger goal,” but rather a “humongous goal.” And I can well imagine that some will accuse me of being hopelessly idealistic. So be it. But, as a Christian, I am not motivated by what is humanly possible. Rather, I believe that all things are possible in Christ, even social reform that seems hopelessly idealistic.


I’m not suggesting that the United States should ignore the problem of illegal immigration and focus only on hemispheric change. Nor am I suggesting that we should not have some sort of widespread immigration reform. Nor am I suggesting that the United States should not work to secure its borders. Nor am I suggesting that the United States, as a nation, should be the exclusive or even primary mover for hemispheric reform. Rather, I am speaking now as a Christian to Christians. I am envisioning the church of Jesus Christ across the Americas mobilizing so as to improve the well-being of all peoples in this hemisphere. I am imagining Christians in church leadership, business, government, education, medicine, and other fields coming together to work on the “humongous goal” of hemispheric change that would make illegal immigration simply unnecessary. (In fact, many Christians are already doing this very thing. But there is so much more that needs to be done.)


So, there you have it, a “humongous goal” which flows from the biblical understanding of human life and the kingdom of God. Is it crazy to envision such broad change in our hemisphere? Perhaps. But I am encouraged by something Jesus once said when he spoke of something that seemed to his followers to be impossible: “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

  • Harold A. Hein

    “With God all things are possible” may possibly be applied to ‘hemispheric change”, but what of the other hemisphere, where live most of the world’s population? How many of them would also like to sneak over the border under the cover of darkness and into the USA? It is difficult trying to apply some Scripture which relates to contemporary boundaries and laws of immigration and emigration, but the general rule of Rom. 13 certainly applies, as well as Proverbs 23:10, where there is a divine protection for one’s property.
    “All things are possible with God” refers first of all to the human impossibility of entering the kingdom of heaven. (Mark 10:27). God can make a camel pass through the eye of a needle, and is the sole Agent in bringing people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. God does the “impossible” work of conversion and salvation of a sinful human, even if he is a rich man.
    How do we “show mercy” to the “wounded traveler” (impoverished non-citizen) who has in the first place transgressed the Law? Are we to be a “sanctuary” country for the whole world? Is the primary mandate for us Christians, to quote your blog, to “improve the well being of all peoples in the hemisphere” (or world, for that matter) ? Though Jesus did not say, “go to all nations and improve their well being”, but “Go, make disciples, baptize…..teach….”, yet in “going”, and “baptizing” and “teaching”, we Christians will, as Jesus said, also “remember the poor”. This is what Jesus’ missioanries do when they “go” to the lost “world”, at home or abroad.
    . . .h.a.h.

  • Ray

    Many in the US seem to take our prosperity for granted, believing that it will always be here. After all, this is AMERICA, right?
    I disagree. If we do not safeguard the personal liberty, political freedom, cultural integrity and capitalist economic system that made this prosperity possible in the first place it will certainly end. I am discouraged by the fact that so many people want to import poverty rather than export prosperity. Your “humongous goal” is exactly that – exporting prosperity – so amen to your humongous goal.
    How do we get there? The question is probably bigger than the goal. I think step one is a return of the United States body politic to the basic principles of liberty, freedom and self determination upon which the nation was founded. We can only spread these ideas if we first openly embrace them.

  • Joe M.

    I was wrong.
    When I first came to your blog, I was really taken aback by 2 things. First, what I perceived as superficial, left-leaning notions of what the bible teaches in relation to Illegal Immigration. And second, by a real lack of judgment in using Miguel de la Torre as one of your Christian “voices” on the subject of Illegal Immigration. This loathesome excuse for a Christian professor was once fired from his teaching position at a Christian college for publishing a horrendous and hateful article accusing Dr. James Dobson of hatred and bigotry because he believes the bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. (“Homosexuality a sin? Preposterous!”) On his website (just Google Miguel de la Torre), he claims that nowhere does the bible condemn homosexuality, and that the real sin of Sodom was “aggressive heterosexuality”. (What? Were no Wiccans available for comment that day? Certainly they’d adhere as closely to the Word as de la Torre……)
    Anyway, in reading your heartfelt piece above, I’ve come to the believe that your positions on the subject are truly sincere, and based on an overwhelming desire to serve and to see all people living the best lives they possibly can here on earth. And that passion for the good of others is never a bad thing in the sight of God.
    However, it needs to be tempered with wisdom and true biblical understanding, and I believe your prescriptions miss the mark for several reasons. I’ll outline those here, and if you would, feel free to set me straight if I’m unpersuasive. Some of these issues just may come down to “Let each man be fully conviced” – but for the most part, I don’t think so.
    Freely Giving
    Christians are called to be “hilarious” givers – those who give to the cause of Christ, and to the less fortunate, with great joy and abandon. You call for that attitude in your message, for sure. But it is always voluntary, and NOWHERE in the Bible does it give one Christian the right to give away another Christian’s property, even for the best of reasons. When Ananias and Sapphira gave their gift before the church, they did it freely. They were never compelled to give any specific amount, or any amount at all. The Word makes that point clear. As bad a thing as what they did about their gift (lying to look good), can you imagine what the Spirit would have done had they confiscated money and property from other Christians in order to present a *really* good gift to the church and to help the poor? Not cool.
    Well, when well-meaning Christians encourage the influx of illegal immigrants into our cities, schools, on the welfare and government services doles, that is exactly what they are doing. Their well-intentioned acts deprive the families of citizens more and more of their tax dollars, and services that need to be cut in order to house, feed, educate, serve, and imprison those who are illegally here. As a Christian, it is absolutely your right to give to whoever the Lord directs……but it is not your right to encourage a situation that forces others to give without their full assent and cooperation. Some of us are compelled only to give more money through taxes, etc. Many others are giving up the possibility of finding a job, and must compete for higher-cost housing, scarcer resources, opportunities for education because of folks illegally here, and before God it is not your call to make those decisions for us.
    Some Christians (Mark, you’re one of them), tend to put Illegal Immigration in only the best of terms (“undocumented” workers, people in the image of God, etc”) when discussing the issue. They will never discuss the carnage and mayhem that illegal immigration adds to cities and families. Did you know that estimates put Illegal aliens at almost 50% the total California prison population. If that’s true, or even a significant portion of that number, then Christians who encourage illegal immigration are also encouraging the assaults, robbery, rapes and murder that these unchecked immigrants bring to our communities. There are some neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area that are overrun with Illegals and gang activity; where people are terrorized and afraid to come out of their houses, and where cops are reluctant to patrol. It’s a terrible situation – an evil situation, and the unchecked flow of illegal immigrants adds significantly to this evil. Even with the best of intentions, do these Christians have the right to make that call?
    I know the situation well from what is happening in our public schools. When I was a kid in the 1970’s, we had exactly ONE Spanish-speaking student in my elementary school in the SF Bay Area. In my daughter’s 3rd grade class 3 years ago, the overwhelming # of kids were Mexican, many from 1st generation immigrant parents who spoke little or no English. Classes were very disruptive, recess time on the playground lacked playground balls and equipment (budget cuts – large influx of new kids and not enough $$ to go around), and the interaction between the kids a much courser experience than I remember 35 years befor that.
    Is it really the right of well-intentioned Christians to force that culture and lifestyle on my daughter and my family, and the kids of so many other Christian families because they want us to make these sacrifices to their ideological viewpoint? I think my daughter has had many of the great experiences and plenty of the good opportunities I had growing up stolen from her – and I think it is a wrong visited upon her by many well-meaning but unwise believers.
    Cherry-Picking your “neighbor”
    I agree that many of our illegal immigrants are awesome, hardworking Latin folks (my wife, legal, is Colombian). And you say we have a “duty” to seek their wholeness, in every area. Would you still say that, if we shared a border with Afghanistan, or Syria. Would the Taliban and al Qaeda immigrants in our midst still be the welcome “aliens and strangers” you wax so eloquently about? If this policy of open arms and open borders is to be Biblical, it has to be transferrable to any situation, or you need to revisit your understanding of the Word or the parameters in which this applies.
    You first have a duty to God; then your family; then those of the faith and finally those who have legal right (God-ordained – He conferred it on all of us through the Constitution)to be here. I think it is a sin to violate the rights of these folks in order to satisfy your particular notion of servanthood.
    Relying on “Political Solutions”
    Mark, I am MOST surprised about your shockingly naive comment:
    “I am imagining Christians in church leadership, business, government, education, medicine, and other fields coming together to work on the “humongous goal” of hemispheric change that would make illegal immigration simply unnecessary”.
    Laudible. But I think that the Bible disagrees with your assessment. It makes two statements: “The poor you will have with you always”, and “In the Last Days things will get worse and worse” (paraphrased, but it’s there – you know that). With evil tyrants like Chavez and Castro, and social/communist leanings in Brazil Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina, there is no question that the words of Jesus “the poor you’ll have with you always” will always be fulfilled.
    And with the sheer mass numbers of folks in Mexico, Central and South America, the possibility of fitting even a small fraction of those folks in America and STILL have a country worth living in is just not possible. Our best chance to help is to minister to the poor where there are, and where our ministry dollars will go so much further.
    Also, I had to laugh (ruefully): You believe the “church” will pull together, do the work and make all these sacrifices to eliminate poverty in the south? You of all people have the experience and wisdom to know that that’s a bit ridiculous. Even with your best efforts you could not convince your friends and brethren in the PCUSA to follow clear Biblical standards to NOT ordain homosexual ministers. If we can’t convince Christians to follow the Bible in such an obvious area (as well as convince them that abortion is murder), it’s a fantasy that the church is going to band together to eliminate Poverty if we just open the borders!
    Nope – the Bible calls each of us – individually, with our own resources – do serve our neighbors. It never gives us permission to force the price we feel necessary to pay on the backs of others. THAT would be un-biblical.
    I hope that you will respond to these points, as I believe they need to be honestly addressed if you still sincerely believe that the Bible calls Christians to override the laws of the land (and the rights of all of us) in order to carry out “real Biblical Servanthood”.

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