So what does immigration policy and practice have to do with spirituality? When one does a study in the Bible on this topic it becomes clear that they are very related. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought so earlier in my life, but two things happened to me that helped me understand this Biblical relationship better. Firstly, I lived overseas for eight years and secondly I got married to someone from another country and had to go through the citizenship process with my wife. I found that being an immigrant is not easy. Even when our process was about the easiest to get American citizenship (through marriage), it was still an arduous and fairly expensive process. I have seen some of my fellow church members wait almost two decades to get their papers in order to become American citizens. Then there is the fact that you have to leave your family, friends, language (in most cases), and comfort zone of being in your culture and go to new land where you have to learn a new culture and figure out a way to survive. If you have never had to do it, you can be assured that it is not easy on any level — physical, emotional or spiritual.
It makes sense to me now that God asked most of the Bible patriarchs and even His own Son to be immigrants. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the children of Israel, David and Jesus were all forced into fleeing their homes and residing in foreign countries for various reasons. In the Bible God made it a point to instruct His people that aliens were to be taken care of. He comanded the Israelites to leave part of their vineyards unharvested for the “poor and the alien” (Lev. 19:9-10). The Israelites were not to have one law for the alien and another law for the native (Numbers 9:14). Aliens were mentioned as a group that needed to have a fair hearing in any legal proceeding (Deut. 1:16). God even pronounced a curse upon anyone who deprived an alien of justice (Deut. 27:19). In Leviticus 19:33-34 God gives the ultimate command on how to treat immigrants, “when the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” This is the ultimate question that we need to ask ourselves in the light of God’s instructions — what if that immigrant I see in that picture or on TV were me? How would that affect the way we view the way our government conducts immigration policy? I dare say that we would all become more interested in humane treatment of immigrants. What if that were my child that was separated from me? What if that was me in that hot, overcrowded detention center? What if that was me that had to wait decades for an answer to the question of whether or not I could stay here? What if that was me that was getting underpaid for working here illegaly thereby allowing rich businesses to exploit me for their profit? What if that was me who was being exploited every day at work yet I have to live in fear that ICE will come to my house and remove me from this country?
There are many details of immigration policy that really are complex and there is much disagreement on how an immigration policy should look. However, the Bible simply asks us to put ourselves in an immigrant’s shoes and love him or her as we love ourselves when we are dealing with immigration issues. If we all did that — I am quite sure our immigration policy would look different than it does today. Then the words of Scripture might not sound so sobering, “If you do not oppress the alien… then I will dwell with you in this place…” (Jeremiah 7:5-7). Upon closer examination, our spirituality and immigration policy are related: we can’t even be in God’s presence when we are oppressing the immigrant.
Pastor Doug Hardt
Hibbing Seventh Day Adventist Church