Friday, March 19, 2010

Why Immigration Reform is a Critical Issue for Christians in the US

The time is coming for the United States to reform her immigration laws. Immigration advocates have criticized President Obama for not addressing immigration and are pushing for action. It will be a difficult fight.

It is critical for progressive Christians to engage with the issue of immigration. We need to address the theological background for immigration, backing it up with economic and sociological facts. And conveniently, there are a number of classic passages in the Old Testament that deal with immigration, which I pulled from an immigration messaging strategy piece by Partida Associates:

Exodus 22:21 - Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

Exodus 23:9 - Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.

Leviticus 19:10 - Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:33 - 'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.

Leviticus 19:34 - The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 10:18 - He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

Deuteronomy 10:19 - So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 1:16 - Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, `Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him.

Deuteronomy 24:17 - You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow's garment in pledge.
Psalm 146:9 - The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Bible tells us that the ancestors of the ancient Israelites, led by Joseph, were driven to seek refuge in Egypt because of a famine in their homelands. Joseph, of course, had been sold into slavery but had risen through the ranks to be a senior minister in Egypt. Later, of course, the Egyptians mistreated the Hebrews, fearing their growing numbers.

The situation of the ancient Israelites is parallel to that of many immigrants in modern times, who are seeking better opportunities outside of their homelands. Many are fleeing persecution or economic underdevelopment. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops respects the right of countries to regulate their own immigration policies but notably places first the right of people to migrate to seek better lives for themselves and their families. Richer nations are certainly not obliged to admit so many immigrants that their public infrastructure is strained, but they are obliged to set their immigration policies justly and with regard to the common good. Many mainline Protestant denominations, such as my denomination the Episcopal Church, hold similar positions.

Furthermore, in, Isaiah 16, the Israelites were instructed to give asylum to Moabites who were refugees from war. The Moabites had been in open conflict with the Israelites many times before.

Now, it is not practical to demand that countries admit immigrants no matter what the consequences to their own citizens. There are concerns with overcrowding and demands on public services. However, the President's Council of Economic Advisers finds that overall:

1. Americans score a net benefit from immigration. Immigrants (especially lower-skilled ones) tend to complement natives in the job market - NOT substitute for them.

2. In the long run, immigration improves the country's fiscal situation. Immigrants pay taxes and while they're working, they support the major government social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security.

3. Higher-skilled immigrants are especially beneficial, because they pay more in taxes and contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Interestingly enough, immigrants are more likely than natives to have either a high school education or less, or a Ph.D. education. That means that overall, immigrants aren't competing at the same skill levels as Americans. While Americans with a high school education or less do indeed face competition from immigrants and do present a public policy challenge, restricting immigration to boost their wages is a poorly targeted and inefficient intervention. We would be better off investing in education. Overall, immigrants boost GDP, because they do not do precisely the same things in the workforce that natives do.

While immigrants, mainly the lower-skilled ones, do impose costs on local and state public budgets, their overall contribution to public finances is slightly positive. All the available evidence indicates that immigrants have lower overall crime rates than natives.

Jeremiah 22:13 says "Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbours work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages; "

Labor abuses anywhere undermine labor practices everywhere. Already, the Washington Post reports that give the recession, bosses have been quicker to short-change workers, especially immigrant workers. In the DC area, construction, janitorial and restaurant workers appear particularly vulnerable to wage theft, where bosses don't pay wages in full. Lack of English proficiency and legal status compounds this. Again, Americans do benefit when immigrants push wages down in some occupations, but everybody loses if wages are pushed down by theft - the workers lose, Americans lose when unfair labor practices undermine their own wages, and the public loses by not collecting its dues in taxes. Legalizing immigrants will be step one in bringing wage theft out of the shadows. Woe to him indeed who makes his neighbors work for nothing.

On March 21, immigration advocates will march on the Capitol in the March for America. It's time for Christians who support immigration reform to make their voices heard.

No comments: