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God’s Heart on Immigration

You have probably heard a lot in the past few days about DACA, DREAMers, immigration reform, deportations, a six-month delay period, etc. Let me provide a brief summary about what all these mean and how I – a pastor and faith community leader – feel about it all.

I know that Christians are divided on this. Some have told me I am wrong for supporting people who have not followed the laws on immigration. I look to what the Bible tells me about God’s heart for the stranger and the immigrant.

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and it was established by the Obama administration in 2012. The purpose of DACA is to provide temporary relief from deportation (that’s called deferred action) and work permits to eligible young undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country when they were young, some of them as babies.

Currently there are about 750,000 kids and young adults (7,600 in Wisconsin) benefiting from DACA. They are able to work lawfully, attend schools, and live their lives without the fear of deportation.

DACA does not provide permanent legal status and it’s not a pathway to citizenship. Those benefiting from DACA are protected for a period of two years and then they have to reapply to become eligible once again.

Last Tuesday, the Trump Administration announced that it was putting an end to DACA and gave legislators in the House and the Senate six months to come up with a federal legislation that would deal with this issue. This means that hundreds of thousands of young adults who are currently working and getting an education are in limbo, wondering what their future holds. Will they be able to continue to get an education, work, or even remain in this country?

One could argue that DACA is the result of many failed attempts to pass a bill called the DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. It is from the DREAM act where we get the name DREAMers when referring to undocumented young adults. Unlike DACA, the DREAM Act calls for an immigration reform that would give young adults, who graduate from any high school in the USA or who get a GED a pathway to citizenship. Since the DREAM act is a more comprehensive immigration reform, it has failed to pass several times since it was first introduced in 2001.

Now that you understand some of the terminology, let me express how I feel regarding this issue.

First, let me explain that I am an immigrant from Honduras who came to the USA when I was 15 years old. But, I am not writing this from an immigrant perspective; I’m writing as a Christian pastor and a faith leader in the community.

When talking to the faith community, there is a big divide when it comes to immigration, especially when dealing with immigrants who entered the country without authorization from the government.

Many people, even in the faith community, refer to this group of immigrants as “illegals” because they have entered the country illegally. This group of individuals use portions of the Scriptures to defend their case. One example is found in one of Paul’s letters written to the Romans; “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2 NIV)  

By referencing these verses, many believers see undocumented immigrants not only as people who are breaking the law, but also as sinners who have no right to remain in this country.

As a pastor of an international church that serves a large number of Hispanics, including some who do not have proper documentation to remain in this country, I have been told that “I am in the wrong for serving such individuals who cannot be true Christians since they are living in sin.”

I am not going to give an exegesis of what this verse really means because I believe the verse is very clear. As Christians, we are to submit to the ruling authorities and in this case, the ruling authority is the USA government, it’s laws and constitution.

What I will do though is look at God’s heart according to the Scripture to try to understand why there is another group of Christians, like myself, who are very vocal about supporting immigrants, even those who have entered the country “illegally,” and want to see a more comprehensive immigration reform take place in this great country.

God is a loving and merciful God who has a heart for foreigners (immigrants). In the Scriptures, we find many verses that express God’s concern for those who live in a foreign land and on several occasions, He asks His people to not only receive the foreigners but also to love them as their own.

In the book of Leviticus, one finds a passage where God Himself is giving specific instructions to His followers about how they should treat immigrants; “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34 NIV).

This verse doesn’t need a theologian to interpret it. It’s clear enough.

One great thing about my God is that He is unchanging, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He loved and cared for the immigrants then and He feels the same way today. In His love and mercy, God wants to bless and help every human being regardless of their “legal” status. He is a God who welcomes people with open arms and not one who pushes them away or builds barriers to keep them afar.

Does this mean that God is in favor of breaking the law for the sake of love? No! God wants all people, especially the faith community, to follow His Word and as such, to follow the rules of the land.

But God does have something to say about laws that are not righteous or just. In another book of the Bible, Micah, we are told what God thinks is good, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[as] with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)

God wants us to act justly and to love mercy. Removing people from their homes against their will, splitting families, denying people of a better future, turning our backs on people, thinking of yourself before others, etc. are not acts that show justice or mercy, which means that God sees them as something that is not good and is not required of us.

If we are Christians or a Christian nation that was founded on Christian values, God is expecting something of us, something good; He wants us to act justly and love mercy. And when the laws or the ruling authorities come against God’s will, God calls us to “obey God rather than human beings.” (Acts 5:29)

Any law that opposes God’s law of justice and mercy is not a law that Christian are called to abide by. It is for this reason that there are many churches that are serving as places of sanctuary for immigrants who are being persecuted for not following a law that is not just or merciful. I applaud them for doing such thing.

My desire in writing these words is not to create more division in an already divisive nation but rather to bring awareness to what I believe is God’s heart in the matter of immigration. The truth is that we are all foreigners in a foreign land. This earth is not our home. But while we live in it, God has called us to show love and mercy to those who need it and to act justly.

My prayer is that legislators on both sides of the political spectrums will ask themselves what justice, love, and mercy looks like and vote on a bill that is founded on that – a bill that shows the character of God and demonstrates His heart towards people. Such a law will protect this nation but at the same time follow His heart.