Freedom and Immigration

For a moment, consider what type of situation would drive you to get up and move to a different country? For most of us, unless their was a strong appeal of adventure or a cause, being faced with moving away from friends and family, all that we are familiar with, and being faced with learning a new language, culture, and starting over from scratch would be a painful prospect. Surely for many, it would take a dire circumstances. Perhaps being so desperate for work, and faced with a starving family, you might consider this? Or if you had a child that was in need in medical help that couldn’t be found where you lived?

A number of evangelical organizations have called for today to be a day of prayer and action for immigration reform. I thought I would try to participate and contribute by writing a short blog post on the subject. In writing this blog post, I wanted to draw our attention to consider the thoughts and aspirations of people around the world. Immigration is a contentious subject, many want to secure our borders to ensure that the rule of law is properly enforced. Others are focused on providing a path to citizenship for those who are here without any personal decision to break the law. Fortunately there is hope that a growing movement towards a bipartisanship solution that both recognizes the importance of consistently enforced laws, and values the dignity of those who are here and contributing to our society without any willful efforts to break laws. However, I am writing this post as an encouragement to not just look at these proposals from the perspective from how it will affect you or me, but from the perspective of those throughout the world. As we consider immigration by putting ourselves in others shoes, and how we might look at America from the outside, from a global perspective, from God’s perspective, I believe it should not only shed light on these hot topics, but point us towards changes that are needed that are rarely even discussed.

Certainly one of the most prized values in America is freedom. The high value placed on freedom has been primary in shaping our country, from social structures, government design, to our economy. America’s economy in particular, has had a history of being characterized by giving people the freedom to innovate and work hard to create something of value and to reap the benefits of their work and creativity. And this experiment in economic freedom has been nothing short of a spectacular success. America’s economy over the last century has revolutionized how we live in a way that has no equal in history. Now they are certainly problems with America’s economy, and economics is far more complicated than simply reducing rules (sometimes lack of certain regulations and interventions actually inhibit opportunity and freedom), but in general our economy, designed around the principle of giving people the freedom and opportunity to choose how and what they will do to innovate and contribute has been an incredibly productive system.

One of the most fundamental tenets of such a free economy is ensuring minimal barrier for people to take advantage of opportunities they see to work and participate. Taking advantage of opportunity can involve many things, but certainly one of them is the freedom to move to where opportunity exists. And domestically, America has basically always given its people freedom to move and find work where it exists. Restrictions on movement of laborers represents not only a economic drag, but a fundamental violation of the principle of giving people freedom to work, contribute, and innovate. And immigration restriction is exactly that type of violation of freedom. Giving freedom of movement at the state level, yet arbitrarily creating heavy restrictions at the national level represents an inconsistent, hypocritical treatment of the principles of freedom. Every visa denied, at least at economic level, represents a deterioration in the free global market, and a strike against another human’s opportunity to pursue using their God-given talents to create value.

When we, as a country, welcome an immigrant, we are taking our commitment to freedom seriously, and treating freedom as a value worth affording to every human, not just those born on US soil. We are giving a person, or a family a new opportunity, and making good on our claim to be the land of opportunity. As the great economist J.K. Galbraith said:

‘Migration is the oldest action against poverty. It selects those who most want help. It is good for the country to which they go; it helps break the equilibrium of poverty in the country from which they come. What is the perversity in the human soul that causes people to resist so obvious a good?’

Many fear the effects of immigration, but in reality, freedom of movement makes us all stronger. Some fear crime related to immigration, despite the fact that research has shown that immigration does not increase crime. Immigration gives us more of opportunity to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the culture and nations of the world, as well as diversifies our economy.

But more importantly immigration needs to be viewed not from the narrow perspective of just how we fear it may affect ourselves, but we need to consider the perspective of others. Again, what dire situation, or great opportunity might drive you to move to a different country? Anyone willing to face the incredible challenges of moving to another country has a tremendous drive for something better, for himself and for others, and this is exactly what we need to be rewarding. If we truly believe it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are created equal, we must treat freedom as a value worthy of every person, not just Americans.

This is not just philosophical argument. The Bible also continually commends welcoming immigrants. The Hebrew word for immigrant is “ger” (also translated to alien, stranger, and sojourner), and is mentioned 92 times in the OT. One of the clearest articulation of God’s concern for immigrants is found in Deuteronomy 10:17-19:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Another key principle Biblical principle for countries is importance of generosity. The Bible continually teaches us to be givers, and without delineation between individual giving and collective giving. In fact, in Ezekiel, Sodom is specifically condemned for their lack of generosity (despite usually being known for their sexual immorality):

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” – Ezek 16:49

It turns out that by far the most generous people in our society, in terms of sending money abroad, is our immigrants. Remittances, the transfer of funds by immigrants back to their country (usually to their family), far outweighs all international charitable contributions of all our charities combined. Immigrants make us a voluntarily more generous country.

In the debates about securing borders vs paths to citizenship, unfortunately it seems little is being said to advocate for simply allowing more visas, increasing the flow of immigration, and reducing excessive government restriction on the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, or even just a decent paying job to feed your family.

But, as I try to defend the alien, the poor in other countries, my post is a probably poor ramblings in comparison to the powerful and convicting words found at the pedestal at the Statue of Liberty:

“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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