Immigration, Children, and Families and Christ
Summerville First Baptist Church
A Complicated Border History
Before we try to tackle the current immigration issue in terms of politics or policy, let’s face the grim reality of our own poor history with immigration policy. Here in Georgia the US moral failures in immigration policy are branded on our main streets. One cannot drive very far down Summerville’s main drag without seeing signs marked, “Historic Trail of Tears.” Chapter three of Chattooga: The Story of a County and its People, is titled “The Shame of the Removal.” With regards to the 1830 Indian Removal Act, historian Robert S. Baker recounts how Cherokee children were removed from their own families. He states, “One of the Georgia Volunteers… said: ‘The Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever saw.’” The end result of this immigration policy was a human rights nightmare.
The immigration policy put in place in 1924 also became a national embarrassment. The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act (better known as the Asian Exclusion Act) promoted immigration of white nationalities. The goal of the immigration act was to keep the US as a homogenous race; caps were put in place on allowing people of other races, while keeping Asians out completely.
With these two immigration acts close in mind and admitting that US history on immigration policy has not historically always reflected a Christian character, we can proceed into observing the current immigration policy, which has caused many children to be split from their own families at our southern border.
The Casa of Lost Boys
The June 14th edition of The Washington Post brought to the nation’s attention a large issue. The front-page headline caught the nation’s attention, “Once a Walmart, Now Home to 1,500 Immigrant Boys.” The story written by Michael E. Miller, Emma Brown and Aaron C. David began by focusing on an old Walmart near the Mexican border in Brownville, Texas. On the old Walmart is a sign – Casa Padre. Casa Padre currently houses 1,500 immigrant boys, which are held in federal custody. The Washington Post article cited the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy as the reason for many of these boys being separated from their families.
The story should grab any Christian’s attention and allow us to ask some very hard questions about an immigration policy. However, the articles catchy title fails to explain some of the complications behind the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy. If we are to discuss the humanitarian issues with regards to the policy, we must first observe the reason for the policies creation.
The Nuclear Option
The New York Times posted an interesting article on June 16, 2018 titled “How Trump Came to Enforce a Practice of Separating Migrant Families.” Reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear looked at the policies set in place by both the Bush and Obama administration. The article states, “Yet for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms was simply too inhumane – and too politically perilous – to embrace as policy.” Despite the fact that immigration policies were largely being ignored and poorly enforced, neither the Bush nor Obama administration would enact the zero-tolerance policy. It was too inhumane. Too politically disastrous. Yet, neither Bush nor Obama did anything to stave off the blatant violations and lack of enforcement of US border law. In May, after facing a sharp increase in illegal border crossings, the Trump administration put an end to the lack of border enforcement with the sharp zero-tolerance policy.
Immediately the Trump administrations choice to enforce the nation’s own border policies and laws met with backlash. Even Trump’s evangelical supporters, like Franklin Graham, have called the policy “disgraceful.” In Trump’s own administration remained in large unrest with regards to the policy. Recently, Trump has signed an executive order to cease the policy immediately.
As one begins to look at the immigration policy of the southern border, we begin to ask a good question: why was this issue left to the Trump administration? Both the Bush and Obama administration proverbially kicked the can down the road. According to USA Today’s June 22nd article, the Obama administration considered the same zero-tolerance policy. However, after deciding not to enact the policy, the Obama administration put in place an immigration policy that would allow for illegal immigrants a way to gain legal status. The policy led to a sharp increase of people coming over illegally that Ben Johnson, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, stated, “I thought that [Obama] had a shocking disregard for due process.” So, if there is a large spike in illegal immigration in 2018, we must admit that both the Bush and Obama administration’s immigration policies (or lack there-of) are at least in part to blame.
Before we move on from the historical relevance of US immigration policy, let’s briefly consider the voice of our honorable First Ladies. Every-single-living First Lady, every-single-one, has condemned this policy as immoral. Even Trump’s own wife, Melania, has stated that she hates to see children taken away from their parents. It would be unwise to turn a deaf ear to these ladies, as we consider the policy itself.
What have we seen so far? US immigration policy has a history of human rights violations. However by lacking to enforce border laws and policy, two of our past administrations have made the laws regarding the border of our nation largely irrelevant. What is the point of a law or policy, if no one will enforce the law? But is the zero-tolerance policy really our best option? Two previous administrations considered the policy; they found it inhumane.
Three Beliefs Affirmed
Drawing from a Christian-Worldview on the issue of this current policy, I will affirm three things and open God’s Word with regards to them:
- The current immigration policy was considered a nuclear option by two past administrations and its implementation has been inhumane.
- We do not have a responsible set of laws and/or enforcement of those laws for our boarders.
- Christians should protect the alien and foreigner – illegal or not – in our land from inhumane practices.
The Implementation has been Inhumane.
Genesis 1,2 clearly teach the foundation of human rights. Christians believe all people (even the law breakers) are created in the image of God. When it comes to places like Casa Padre, Christians must be present. The church needs to be providing blankets, water, food, and (most importantly) the gospel to these children who are being separated from their parents.
What about those Christians who currently do not feel the zero-tolerance policy is inhumane? Consider three things: 1. The policy considered the strictest nuclear option as it regards to boarder policy. 2. Even some of the staunchest Trump supporters (Franklin Graham) consider this inhumane. 3. The Southern Baptist Convention has put forward two resolutions on immigration (2011, 2018) and resolved “that we encourage all elected officials, especially those who are members of Southern Baptist churches, to do everything in their power to advocate for a just and equitable immigration system.”
There are those who have been arguing that children of incarcerated US citizens do not get to be with their parents. This is true. But is it relevant to the border policy? Crossing the border illegally (as of right now) is considered a misdemeanor. We DO NOT generally remove children from parents who commit misdemeanors. For laws to be just, the punishment must fit the crime. We have to seriously ask if the separation of children from their parents in mass (over 1,500 in Casa Padre alone) is a just punishment for the crime committed. Once we take into consideration the reports of children going missing and some being hauled off into the sex-trafficking, the answer is clear – the policy is inhumane.
There Is No Enforcement of Current Policies
Second, there is no border policy that is currently being enforced properly. The Bible gives the government of any sovereign nation the right to protect its own people and borders. We can also affirm that Romans 13 states, “let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” If a person breaks a law, even a non-US citizen, consequences are inevitable. The consequences for breaking the law, however, must not be avenues of rewards (pathways to citizenship). Simply put, the US government across both Republican and Democrat administrations have not enforced border laws well. There is a reason why the nuclear option taken by the Trump administration seemed like the best and only option. We need to stop blaming Democrats or Republicans – both parties have failed abysmally on this issue. Secure borders are necessary for healthy nations and humane practices are necessary for moral nations.
Love Your Neighbor Isn’t Complicated
Third, as Christians we are more than US citizens. This means we need to spend more time considering how God tells us to treat the alien and foreigner in his kingdom. There are many verses worth your consideration (Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Job 31:32, Jeremiah 22:3, Zechariah 7:10, etc.), but I’d like for us to consider our Lord Jesus Christ directly. Jesus stated, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” This warning comes from an alien in a foreign land. Even at the announcement of Jesus’s birth, the government enacted an inhumane policy to wipe him out. Jesus identified with the weak and oppressed.
Jesus is God eternal who became man. He came from power to be weak. He came from the indestructible to be vulnerable. He came from protection to be defenseless. And though he was fully able to protect himself, he came to be abused by the naturalized citizens of the devil – sinners, me. When he came, he came as the humble lamb. But be warned! When he comes again he will come as the roaring lion. He says he will come to avenge those who receive injustice. He will judge those who oppressed the helpless. We will have to give an account for our immigration policies. As the Word says, “You Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror” (Psalm 10:17-18). While immigration policy may be complicated, love your neighbor is not.
 Robert S. Baker, “Chattooga: The Story of a County and Its People,” (Fernandina Beach, FL: Wolfe Publishing, 1988) 22.
 Ibid., 23.
 Micahel E. Miller, Emma Brown, Aaron C. Davis, “Inside Case Padre, the converted Walmart Where the U.S. is holding nearly 1,500 Immigrant Children,” in The Washington Post, June 14th, 2018 (accesed-online, www.washingtonpost.com, June 21, 2018).
 Julie Hirschfeld Davic, Michael D. Shear, “How Trump Came to Enforce a Practice of Separating Migrant Families,” in The New York Times, June 16, 2018 (accessed-online, www.nytimes.com , June 21, 2018).
 It should be noted that no executive order was needed. Executive orders are not required for ending one’s own policy.
 Much of the theology of this paragraph is due to guidance and help from my mentor and friend Malcolm B. Yarnell III.