Kingdom Hospitality

I suppose you have probably heard by now. Arizona has passed a very strict immigration law.  Here is a New York Times writer’s quick summary of the new legislation:

The bill makes it a state crime for immigrants not to carry authorization papers, requires the police “when practicable” to check the immigration status of people they reasonably suspect are in the country illegally and allows people to sue cities and counties if the law is not being enforced.

Those for the bill are obviously concerned with drug and human-trafficking related crime that is associated with some illegal immigration. Recent drug wars in Mexico-side border towns, and the murder of an Arizona rancher that was believed to be killed by someone crossing the border illegally brought this issue to the forefront for Arizona government. It is understandable that the people of Arizona and their leaders would be concerned about this issue.

On the other hand, those against the bill oppose the extreme nature of the enforcement it authorizes (and even requires, under penalty of lawsuit). Apparently, under this new law, immigrants are required to carry their authorization documents at all times. Additionally, police officers are required to demand to see documents from anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant.

So, in other words, if a police officer sees someone who looks like an illegal immigrant (and keep in mind they look very similar to legal immigrants and naturalized citizens), they can demand to see their papers. If such papers are not produced, the suspected illegal immigrant can be jailed and/or fined. Essentially, the law allows for any Hispanic (or other nationality or ethnicity) to become a suspect.

Let me remind you, in considering all of this, of the Bible’s definition of hospitality:

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

That, of course, sounds an awful lot like Jesus’ “Golden Rule,” and for good reason–God has not changed His mind. We are to treat other people the way that we would want to be treated, even if–especially if–they are strangers in our land.

That does not mean that illegal immigration is not and should not be illegal (that is another matter for another time). But, it does mean that, as Christians, our efforts to enforce the law must not conflict with God’s law of loving others as we love ourselves. And I certainly would not like a law that might encourage officers to stop and interrogate me just because I fit the stereotypical description of an illegal immigrant.

Will this law definitely encourage racial profiling? I don’t know. But, we should at least reflect a little before we decide to voice our approval over such a measure. “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” [Romans 14:22]


6 thoughts on “Kingdom Hospitality

  1. Might this be a case where civil disobedience is warranted? i guess not specifically since the law doesn’t demand that i report an illegal alien if i know of one (does it?). But there is increased hostility toward foreigners (especially ones from south of the border) in our country. Is this an area where Christians are obligated to be particularly counter-cultural? Should we be especially welcoming to those that many around us strong feel should be shipped out? i’m wondering mostly because a great many Christians i encounter typically either assume that their politically-conservative values are necessarily Christian, or they at least try hard to Christianize those political positions, and it never seems quite right to me.


    • Guy,

      This is a tough issue all-around for me…at least the illegal immigration side of it. Certainly we should be especially welcoming to foreigners. I often hear distasteful comments from Christians who think immigrants should learn English before coming here. I, on the other hand, think we should learn Spanish to be able to help and communicate with our sojourning neighbors. “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

      The illegal part of it is tough for me, though. While I think we should be welcoming, I also understand the point of having some procedural regulations for entering the country. Those who don’t follow the procedures are breaking the law, and should expect repercussions for that. We are to be subject to government as long as its laws do not violate God’s, and I don’t see that typical immigration laws keep us from observing God’s laws.

      Still, we must love immigrants, even illegal immigrants, as we love ourselves. What does it look like when you love someone and uphold the law by deporting them? I’m not entirely sure, but I know these are the two demands that we must learn to balance.

      We must, as you said, be “particularly counter-cultural” in the way we respond to immigration (legal and otherwise).

      Thanks for the discussion and your thoughts,

  2. It makes me think of what happened in Hazleton, PA and Riverside, NJ when they made it illegal just to rent apartments to undocumented folks. (Landlords were suddenly in charge of verifying everyone’s documentation status.) The laws worked, and the illegal immigrants fled town. Unfortunately, most of the legal immigrants fled as well, feeling targeted due to their ethnicity and not willing to live in a hostile environment where it seemed that immigrants, any immigrants, were no longer welcome. The economies of these towns PLUMMETED. Both towns have since rescinded their respective laws, even though neither one has recovered economically.
    Very interesting.

    • Kristy,

      I am convinced that many times we discuss the problems of illegal immigration when in our hearts we are really responding to immigration in general. I have written about this some in the past, but I believe much of our anxiety comes from a fear of people who are different. So, many people respond harshly toward illegal immigration primarily because they do not really like having to deal with foreigners (though they certainly do not admit this).

      It is sad when our unspoken, and often unrecognized, biases turn our communities against each other. Hopefully the church can become the healing point that we are supposed to be. Hopefully we can “make disciples of all nations (ethnos=ethnicities),” sharing the good news of reconciliation.


  3. Interesting comments. I think most Christians have forgotten what the Bible says about the widow, the orphan and the alien.

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