Does Christianity demand mass legalization for illegal immigrants?
A new film and website produced under the aegis of the relief arm of the National Association of Evangelicals touts the pro-amnesty cause to young evangelicals. Called, Undocumented.tv, the film and website explain that their advocacy for the “undocumented,” i.e. illegal immigrants, is premised on “Caucasian evangelicals” being “especially obligated to speak for those who cannot speak.” It also explains that illegal immigration ostensibly facilitates evangelism in the U.S. and it notes that since white evangelicals “mostly sat out” the 1960’s era Civil Rights Movement, “we don’t want to make the same mistake” on what could be “the great justice issue of our time.”
But “justice” for whom? Undocumented.tv seems largely aimed at upper middle class, educated, white evangelicals who are slightly guilty about their privileges and are atoning through amnesty advocacy. All immigrants, whether legal or illegal, and no matter where they are from or why they came to the U.S., are characteristically lumped together, with their political and economic interests portrayed as interchangeable. Do legal immigrants as a whole favor mass legalization for all illegal immigrants? Does a legal immigrant Indian engineer have the same opinions as a Sudanese political refugee or an illegal laborer from Mexico? Or are these questions irrelevant in terms of what may be the ultimate goal: easy good feelings for aspiring social activists in search of a “justice” cause.
Like most Evangelical Left amnesty advocacy, Undocumented.tv largely avoids specifics, especially statistics. The U.S. accepts about 1 million legal immigrants every year. Almost 40 million Americans currently are immigrants who gained legal status. Most legal immigrants every year involve family reunification, for which there is virtually no ceiling, at least for immediate family. Only a small minority of legal immigrants annually fit professional job quotas, are refugees, or are seeking asylum. Current U.S. immigration policy, which accepts more immigrants every decade than the total population of most states, is extraordinarily generous. It is not particularly focused on attracting highly educated, easily employable immigrants who quickly benefit the U.S. economy. Instead, it prioritizes family reunification, and to a much lesser degree, refugees and asylum seekers.
Few of any of these details interest the conscience salving political advocacy of liberal evangelicals. Their amnesty advocacy would primarily privilege Latin American illegal immigrants, especially Mexico and Central America, over virtually all other immigrants. Mexico and Central America are not as wealthy as the U.S. but neither are they among the world’s poorest nations. Immigrants from those countries currently are typically not fleeing political or religious persecution. The vast majority of illegal immigrants from that region want jobs with better income, plus the social services and overall standard of living that accompany residency in the U.S., even for the “undocumented.” Their desires are humanly understandable. But a purely humanitarian immigration policy would prioritize immigration from much poorer nations, especially those dealing with famine or extreme political or religious persecution. An immigration policy purely focused on U.S. national interests might prioritize highly educated immigrants expert in highly desirable professional fields.
Somewhat illogically, Undocumented.tv, like its patron, the National Association of Evangelicals, mostly wants to ratify the status quo, legalizing ever larger numbers of unskilled Latin American immigrants, heedless of the consequences. This initiative, focused as it is on emotional appeal rather than facts, emphasizes the evangelistic opportunity of large-scale immigration to the U.S. But Christianity, especially its evangelical variant, is dramatically growing in Latin America and virtually everywhere around the world, except for Europe and oppressive Muslim countries. Christian evangelism hardly depends on unlimited immigration to the U.S. When Undocumented.tv does try to assert facts supportive for its political cause, its claims are suspect. Its website asserts immigrants, in a typical lifetime, pay $80,000 more in taxes than they cost in government services. First, the website does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, nor between skilled and unskilled immigrants. Secondly, it seemingly contradicts other data. A 2007 Heritage Foundation report showed that low-skilled immigrant households, of whom 40 percent were illegal, each cost nearly $20,000 in government services more than in all taxes paid.
Undocumented.tv celebrates that immigrants, including the “undocumented,” present a “beautiful, missional opportunity for the Church.” Undoubtedly they do. It rightly asserts that immigrant churches in the U.S. are among the fastest growing. Many evangelical groups, the vast majority of whom are not political, commendably extend their ministry to immigrants, whatever their status. But does Christian ministry automatically equal political demands for automatic mass legalization? What would the unintended consequences of such a policy be, for our nation as a whole, for legal immigrants, for native-born unskilled workers and the unemployed, or for aspiring immigrants from around the world? Undocumented.tv avoids these questions. It also does not explain HOW MANY illegal immigrants must be legalized, or how much higher legal immigration must be increased, because full social justice is purportedly secured.
Should America’s current annual rate of 1 million legal immigrants be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled? Or should there be no cap at all? Does it matter who the immigrants are, what their skills are, or where they come from? Should all the benefits and social services due to U.S. citizens be automatically extended to all immigrants, immediately? Who will pay for that? Might the economic and political consequences ultimately backfire in ways that hurt everyone, including immigrants?
A spokesman for Undocumented.tv, in a recent commentary for Jim Wallis’s Sojourners approvingly cited a New York Times declaration that evangelicals are the “secret weapon” for liberalizing immigration policies. Overwhelmingly conservative U.S. evangelicals, with their proclivity for common sense and upholding the law, are mostly resistant to mass legalization. Projects like Undocumented.tv are supposed to corrode that resistance. However polished, Undocumented.tv and similar political advocacy seem unlikely to fulfill the high hopes of The New York Times.