Perspectives on immigration: safety and security concerns

The issue of immigration is a subject of discussion and debate within the Christian community. Followers of Jesus have diverse perspectives on how to address economic, security, and cultural concerns. Having shared in previous posts the primary points of diversity in the economic discussion, this post seeks to address the contours of thought among Christians regarding safety and security as they are connected with immigration.

Do crime rates increase in areas with high immigrant populations, creating a local and national security risk?

It is important to note that Christians on both sides of the immigration agree on the necessity for immigrants to understand and obey our laws. James Edwards and Jenny Hwang, representing two sides of Christian perspective, both cite Proverbs 6:30-31, “Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.” Both concede that the desperation of one’s situation is no license to commit a crime. They differ however, as do many Christians, on the extent to which crime is a widespread problem, how effective current laws are in addressing security issues, and to what extent current law enforcement either helps or harms the security issue itself.

The opening sentence of an essay written by Heather MacDonald, Senior Fellow at The Manhattan Institute raises an alarm to law-abiding citizens, “Some of the most violent criminals at large today are illegal aliens.” [1] The statement is not followed by a footnote, and no additional verification is given, however, the statement is one that resonates with many Christians wrestling with the paradox of compassion for the stranger, and protection from the predator. In Los Angeles alone, 95% of outstanding warrants for homicide target illegal immigrants. The world is a dangerous place, and one need only remind those who oppose tighter immigration policies that the terrorists responsible for using four planes as weapons of mass destruction on 9/11, were immigrants here on expired visas. [2] Is there a way for people of faith to take seriously issues of security while also maintaining a welcoming posture toward the majority of law-abiding immigrants?

Advocates for tighter security measures point to violent crime related to drug cartels and gangs. MacDonald highlights the problems present in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, calling it a “crime wave”, and a “gang plague”. [3] Edwards concurs, stating that some areas with increased immigrant populations see “great increase urban crime.” [4] Pilar Marrero, Senior Political Writer for La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in America, suggests that while there are valid issues of violent crime in these particular areas, the nation-wide concern is a result of political reactions based on shock over the attacks of 9/11 “that would exert an effect as strong as a volcanic eruption on immigration policy over the next decade.” [5]

What they describe is frightening to be sure, but do those descriptions paint a picture of what is typical or what is extreme? Hwang and Sorens suggest, “Without contesting the idea that we should keep terrorists and criminals from entering the United States, however, we cannot presume that most immigrants are terrorists and criminals.” [6] While deportations increased after 9/11 from 1.6 million to 2.3 million, the increase was shown to be unrelated to these immigrants having committed a violent crime, or being a national security threat. In fact the number of deportations due to these factors from 2001 to 2011 is just 360. [7]

In the writer’s interviews with members of the U.S. Border Patrol, the officers were quick to point out that the immigrants they interact with are “hard-working, God-fearing, and to the best of their ability to understand, law abiding.” [8] It seems part of the security issue relates to immigrants’ ability to understand what are often contradictory rules, confusing paperwork, and complicated processes for entering the country legally. My own exploration of websites for both the LIFE act and the DREAM act confirmed what the Border Patrol agents said. This doctoral candidate had a very difficult time making sense of what it would take to become a citizen, legally at least.

Is enforcement working? Over the last decade, spending related to border security has doubled, but the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country has only increased. The tightened security, rather than apprehending more criminals, has simply caused frightened immigrants find more remote places to cross our borders. Denver Seminary professor, and immigration advocate, M. Daniel Carroll Rodas, himself an immigrant from Guatemala, believes a simplified admission process would make enforcement easier on both Border Patrol agents, and immigrants.

“The US government itself realizes that it must change its legislation. The national leadership from across the political spectrum and the country as a whole know that what is in place now is not working and must be revised or replaced…[undocumented immigrants] know they are in violation of the law. At the same time they have experienced personally the law’s contradictions and inequities.” [9]

 

Concerned Christians need not condone violations of our laws in order to welcome immigrants. We should expect laws that protect us from criminals, and we should expect the enforcement of such laws. However, Christians can also recognize our complex system makes it nearly impossible for many hard-working immigrants to enter, or remain in our country legally.

 


[1] Mac Donald Heather., Victor Davis. Hanson, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan than Today’s (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007), 75.

[2] Ibid., 83

[3] Ibid., 89-91

[4] Swain, Debating Immigration 60

[5] Marrero, Killing The American Dream, 58

[6] Sorens and Hwang, Welcoming The Stranger, 98

[7] “Deportation as National Security,” interview by Pilar Marrero, http://www.impremedia.com/, June 12, 2011, accessed December 6, 2012, www.impre.com/noticas/2011/12/6/siguen-deportando-a-mas-indocu-285660-1.html.

[8] Border Patrol Personnel (off-duty), “Border Experience,” interview by author, October 10, 2012.

[9] M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 133.

Kevin Glenn

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Dr. Kevin D. Glenn is a native of Central Florida, calling Auburndale his hometown (go Bloodhounds!). Kevin is a pastor with more than 23 years of church ministry experience, a contributor to local and national religious news outlets, a consultant to churches seeking healthy growth, and author of, Hand Over Fist: An Invitation to Christ-Centered Civility. Kevin is a graduate of Trinity College of Florida, Fuller Theological Seminary, and George Fox University, where he earned the Doctor of Ministry degree under the mentorship of Dr. Leonard Sweet. His hobbies include playing drums and guitar, fishing and being a fanatical Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. He lives in Columbia, Missouri with his wife of 21 years and their two children

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