Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Are Christians So Divided About Illegal Immigration?

If you’ve been following this blog series on illegal immigration, or if you’ve been listening to Christians talk about this issue, then you know there is a wide array of opinions, many of which are contradictory. Consider, for example, the question of whether people who are in this country illegally should be deported. For some Christians, the call to love and respect all people and a commitment to the family means that we must not deport undocumented workers, especially parents of children, who have not committed a crime (apart from being in this country illegally). Other Christians, emphasizing the need to uphold the law and to respect the rightful authority of the government, argue that deportation, however painful it might be, is the only just starting point for those who do not have the legal right to remain in this country. Then there are many Christians who viewpoint is somewhere between these two poles. And this diversity concerns only the matter of deportation. You’d find a similar breadth of opinion about other matters related to the larger issue of illegal immigration.


ellis-island-5.jpgWhy is there such a vast difference of opinion among Christians concerning illegal immigration? Of course this is nothing new. You’ll find similar diversity among followers of Christ when it comes to many other socio-political issues, including: abortion, taxation, the military, the role of government, etc. Any complex issue, and illegal immigration is surely one of these, inevitably divides the Christian house. (Some people on either side of this debate insist that this issue is not complex. For them, it is simply a matter of legality or justice for the poor or . . . . But denying the complexity of this issue is both intellectually wrong and practically unhelpful. If we aren’t willing to deal with intricacy of this issue, we won’t ever be able to make headway in solving it.) (Photo: Ellis Island in New York, where thousands of immigrants entered the United States)


One obvious reason why Christians differ so widely on illegal immigration is that Christians differ widely on theological matters. This is true even among those who affirm basic Christian orthodoxy. It is even truer when you take into account the fact that many who consider themselves Christians do not believe what orthodox Christians have believed throughout the centuries. So, for example, while many Christians would seek to build their understanding of how to deal with illegal immigration on the basis of Scripture, others would see Scripture as one part of this foundation at best, and a erring one at that.

The diversity of Christian opinion about illegal immigration reflects that fact this issue is not merely a matter theology. It involves theology, legal theory, economics, political theory, sociology, and history, just to name a few disciplines. Thus, Christians who agree strongly on the theological statement that we must love our neighbors, including undocumented workers, might disagree on the right of a sovereign nation to establish and defend its borders, or to pursue the economic benefit of the nation even if people right across the border are poor.


Often, what leads Christians to differing conclusions on illegal immigration is a matter of their starting point. If, for example, you start with a deep concern for national security and fear that a porous southern border is an open door for terrorists from around the world, then you’ll usually end up at a different conclusion than if you start with a deep concern for the well-being of families who have undocumented workers as parents.

One of the reasons that people seem to be talking right past each other in this conversation, without being heard and without the slightest chance of actually influencing those with whom they disagree, is that they come from such different places, not just intellectually, but also experientially. If you work in a job, say, in construction, and have lost opportunities for work because of undocumented workers who are willing to work for less, then you’ll tend to be more worried about this problem than the average person and more inclined to be strict in enforcing immigration laws. If, on the other hand, you know illegal immigrants and their families, if you feel the pain that would be caused to innocent children if parents were to be deported, then you’ll be lean toward leniency.


For many in our country, their experience of illegal immigration is not personal, but mediated . . . literally. It comes through the media. But the media does not speak with one voice on this issue. Sometimes, the media exposes the plight of the undocumented, showing their poverty and, in many cases, oppression in their home countries, and the danger and abuse they have experienced in this country. At other times, the media focuses on the ways in which illegal immigrants have hurt this country, fostering violence or putting heavy demands on social welfare. So, your mediated experience of illegal immigration with be shaped differently depending on which radio station you listen to, which magazines you read, and which pundits you trust.

Given what I’ve said here about the intellectual and experiential diversity of Christians, not to mention a variety of other factors, it makes sense that Christians have so little unanimity about illegal immigration and what we should do about it, both as a nation and as a church.


This makes me wonder: Is there a place from which all Christians should start when it comes to this issue (and others like it)? If we want to think about illegal immigration as Christians, and if we want to treat all people, including undocumented workers, as Christians, then where should we start? I’ll wrestle with this question in my next post in this series, which will appear on Monday.

  • kingskidd

    As far as I know all civlilized countries have borders. You just can’t come all willy nilly waltzing into anouther country and do what you want to do, let alone feed off the fat of the land for free. Well maybe in America you can. The problem is that the government that permits this goes against the will of the people, and adding insult to injury money is taken from the working class to provid chairty to the down-trodden, non-citizen seeking a better life, and not always by the most honest means. The problem is I already give charitable gifts willingly to whom I choose. I don’t need the government deciding for me where my charitable giving via tax dollars should go. Its clicheish, but I believe charity does really begin at home

  • arizonaanglo

    Never curse an illegal alien with a mouth full of lettuce.


    YOUR ARTICLE STATES: “At other times, the media focuses on the ways in which illegal immigrants have hurt this country, fostering violence or putting heavy demands on social welfare. So, your mediated experience of illegal immigration with be shaped differently depending on which radio station you listen to, which magazines you read, and which pundits you trust.”

  • http://Immigration.Civiltalks.Com Lexo

    Immigration.Civiltalks.Com will allow you to keep the track of events. The website is highlighting the current attitude towards Arizona’s immigration law. Moreover, if you have already taken a stance over this controversial issue, you can make your own contribution by sharing new facts and arguments about illegal immigration and SB 1070. Make your opinion heard – don’t stand aside and let other people decide over this important issue.

  • In His image

    It’s sad to observe that the only thing that actually complicates the issue is the primary problem within society and within the Christian Church in America. Truth no longer matters. We can have “our truth” and you can have “your truth”. We must (at all cost) be tolerant of the individual viewpoint of the individual involved and thus deal with a myriad of factors to consider. This is the poison that has destroyed the ability to evaluate any issue on a moral basis. Causing one to suffer the consequences of their actions is not failing to Love them. There is but one Truth and when you accept anything less you suffer the confusion of the supposed complexity. God help us all.

  • kenneth

    This isn’t only a problematic thing for Christians. As a pagan, I wrestle with it as well. Though not informed by the same ideal of Christian charity, I am rooted in the ancient idea of hospitality. This holds that you should be generous to those truly in need, and the gods were known to test that from time to time by appearing at your door in any number of guises to to see how you’d treat them. (Not so unlike Christ’s spiel about feeding and clothing the least of us). Hospitality of course is a tricky business. It should be granted liberally but it can also be abused. I have a great deal of sympathy for those who cross our borders to find a better life. I like to think I’d have the same initiative if I were in their shoes.
    On the other hand, we don’t owe everyone in the developing world a job. Too many immigrants, not just the classic “illegals” have taken the attitude that they have zero obligation to learn any of the language or law or custom of their host country. To many folks these days, the U.S. is just another branch office of Juarez or rural Pakistan which happens to offer better wages. They have mistaken forbearance of their situation for an absolute unconditional right to ignore all rules on immigration.
    That said, the worst actors in all of this is corporate America, which has lured these folks at every turn and uses them as near slave-labor. Because they buy and sell our politicians, they are able to do so with near impunity. No amount of “border security” will begin to work if we have people on this side of the fence creating a multi-billion dollar demand. The drug war should have taught us that.
    Then there’s the vast majority of us, who feel entitled to gorge on $3.99 happy meals and have their lawns mowed for dollars a day but want to deport everyone who makes this possible.
    We will not begin to untangle this problem until all sides get some grip on reality.

  • J New

    I congratulate you on writing a very balanced article. One area that you didn’t touch is the issue of assimilation and increasing ethnic conflict as the result of illegal immigration.
    My mom is Lebanese so I’m more sensitive than most. Their civil war was sparked to a large degree by an influx of Palestinians leaving Jordan and Israel. The Palestinians upset what was already a sensitive situation between the religous sects.
    I’m not suggesting that this will happen in the U.S., but I have talked to several “anglo” Californians who left because they were not happy with all of the changes that have resulted from illegal immigration.

  • Carmen3

    Christians are NOT divided about illegal immigration.
    Christians disagree with their churches’ leaders who are getting taxpayers’ money from the government for their “charities.” The more illegal aliens the church leaders get as “charity” cases, the more money flows to their coffers. And let’s not forget the illegal aliens filling the pews and contributing to the Sunday collection baskets.
    Follow the money trail and you will find why some organizations love illegal aliens.

  • Ben

    If I didn’t know any better, it’d seem as though you’re going so far as to say “No TRUE Christian disagrees with the XYZ position on immigration”.
    But I don’t know. Care to clarify the words you’ve typed?

  • pcg

    I know illegals, and have worked with them in a bilingual church I previously helped lead. A (conservative) friend made a great point: it’s easy to be against illegals when you’re talking politics, but difficult when your counseling actual human beings. I concur, to some extent; I weep for the children of those people who, based on their parents’ decisions to thumb their noses at the law, will suffer under a system that sees far fewer economic and social freedoms.
    Nonetheless, I am still a staunch opponent of illegal immigration. For one, it is… DUH, illegal. Law breaks down entirely when it is refused to be enforced. We can talk about amnesty (which is, practically speaking, even more wretched than the potential disaster of deporting tens of millions of illegal aliens), but breaking a law on the books is punishable by whatever penalty the law affords. Ignoring the problem is an irresponsible and foolish “response”.
    For the record, I’ve had no construction job of mine stolen by illegal aliens. (I’m strictly white-collar.) I simply look at this as a financial and executive problem: either we have a border with laws to govern that border and are a sovereign nation, or none of those things is true.

  • pcg

    One other note: the statement, “we must not deport undocumented workers, especially parents of children, who have not committed a crime (apart from being in this country illegally)” is utterly absurd. Why stop there? Maybe they, or in fact ANYONE, can commit some lesser crime—say, vandalism or shoplifting—and we can just ignore that as well.

  • Norski

    The road to Hades is really paved with rationalizations.

  • Matteo Masiello

    I have heard Christians justify deportation by using the Tower of Babel story in the Book of Genesis, in that all countries need to speak the same language. I have also come across Christians express extreme anger and hateful words towards undocumented residents. I am sure that many who oppose undocumented workers are God-fearing (and God loving?) people, despite their unChristian opinions. I once heard one woman say about helping the poor, “Why? So then there’d be less rich people?” This said outside her church no less. I won’t question anyone’s faith, but I would be curious about the seemingly consistent “reasoning” for using scripture to further their own prejudices. As we all know, even if we’ve been “saved” we are not exempt from sin. All we can do is pray pray pray for them and ourselves. Those who seem to have issues with illegal immigration are few and far between. Unfortunately, they may call attention to themselves by talking louder, it is the silent ones, who have power, who are perhaps worse than Pharisees in their attitude. All of these people should think long and hard and open up that dusty book in their corner, that’s the Bible, to remind themselves that God wants us to love one another as He loves us, as we love ourselves (maybe their opinions are a sign of self-hatred), and act justly and fairly with “aliens” who are not “countrymen”, for example, when it comes to loaning money. They should also remember that the God says we need to help the poor so that they may continue to live among us. They are our brother, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, mothers and fathers. Sure, Paul says the church shouldn’t help those who won’t work, but in today’s economy, I wonder what Paul and Jesus and the other sons of God would say about people not being able to work because of the economic system we have in place. Yes, the poor we will always have with us, because WE will fail at feeding them like only GOD can, through Jesus. We need to do the best we can with what God has allowed to temporarily BORROW from Him. Remember, He can always take it away at any time. Now, I am not trying to fuel an argument about economics, but you can look at one issue without seeing its connection to another. We need to all use those mass of cells in our head which God gave us and that pumping muscle in the middle of our chest. We need to show our brothers the error of their ways kindly and respectfully using the Word of God, which is what the Bible is for, without judgment or anger, lest we sin ourselves.

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