Recently, Russell Moore, Edgar Aponte, and Rueben Cabrera had a conversation about immigration for the Gospel Coalition. There was one section that stood out to me the most and it came from Russell Moore in a brief discussion of Romans 13:1-10 as it applies to the immigration crisis. This is significant:
Russell Moore: “And I think we also need to take into account how Romans 13 functions as it applies to immigration because so many times people think, well, you have someone who is breaking the law, and so if someone came to me and said, ‘I’m a thief and I want to be saved,’ then we would say to him, ‘Go and pay back what you owe and stop stealing.’ But, when it comes to the immigration system, you have a much more complex situation of the law, because the United States government is saying, on the one hand, “Keep out, we want to keep the borders secure,” but on the other hand, ‘Come in!’ And, so, the United States government is itself really dependent upon people crossing the border and coming in. So, I think you’re exactly right. When you’re dealing with that person, you are first of all dealing with a person created in the image of God and secondly, you are dealing with a situation that is more morally complex than simply a question of whether that person has broken the law or not, and that is one of the reasons why the system is broken and needs to be fixed.”
I believe that Dr. Moore (chief ethicist of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission – ERLC) is correct here. Prior to 2011, I was not thinking about immigration reform at all. I basically believed that if someone came here illegally, there was not much to discuss. They should go home or be deported. It was only when I began to read more about what was actually happening, how many people had been trafficked here, how many had come fleeing horrible situations back home of violence and persecution, how many were brought as children, and how often and in what ways the United States government and American business conspired to bring in or allow workers to come in for cheap labor, that I began to realize that this whole situation was much more complex than I had previously believed. Then, you compound that with the reality that many undocumented immigrants have been here for 5, 10, 15 years and that many of them have no home to go back to. For those who came as children who could not consent, the United States is the only nation that they know. I began to realize that we need to reform this system.
The law is muddled and it is used by those with power to benefit their position. There is corruption at every level of this situation and the government, businesses, and individual people benefit from the presence of undocumented immigrants performing labor that is illegal, but that is also very profitable. Once I began to see the corruption inherent in the current system, I began to realize that there were many more people to blame for what was happening than just a poor immigrant from Mexico. It benefitted those with power to have that poor immigrant here. Now, what are they going to do? Now that 11-12 million undocumented immigrants are here, how will we make a way for them to come out of the shadows and participate in American civic life, if they can show that they are qualified to do so? I began to realize that we very much needed reform and that this was one area where Christians could help bring a Biblical perspective to a difficult situation.
While we should respect authority and the rule of law, we also live in a nation where “We, the People,” have the privilege of being able to change the law to reflect a more just and merciful position. That is our right as Americans. The law, in this case, is not absolute. It is malleable to fit the situation. When we see that the “law” does not take into account the various situations that require a more humane approach, then the law itself begins to slide toward injustice.
I recently met a woman who was brought here from Mexico when she was 8 years old. She is in her early 20’s now and just had a baby. The United States is the only nation that she knows. Her child is a U.S. Citizen. But, she has no legal status because she came here illegally. There is no pathway to permanent legal status for her. Is this just? Where would she go if we deported her? To a country that she barely remembers? What about her baby? Do we want to separate a mother and child? Do we want this baby in the foster care system? Can’t we fix this?
There is another young man in my community who is 17 years old. He was brought here when he was 6 months old from Mexico. The United States is the only nation he knows. But, he does not have legal status. He cannot get it because the law does not allow it. Where would we deport him to?
These types of stories are common and must be considered when we talk about immigration reform. For the Christian, we should respect authority. However, when the authority over us has created or allowed a situation to exist that is corrupt and confusing and unjust and inhumane, then don’t we, as citizens of a democratic republic, have the right to adjust the law accordingly? A Christian who does that is one who does respect authority and the rule of law as described in Romans 13. He is fulfilling his role as citizen. He is just doing so in ways that tries to make things right according to the higher laws revealed in Scripture and in the person and work of Jesus.