"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!"
- excerpt from "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus
Perhaps you recognize this poem from the inside of the Statue of Liberty. What a spectacular image. Lady Liberty shining her light back to the Old World, a beacon for hopeful travelers, offering new hope in the New World.
This poem was written in 1883 to help raise funds for the pedestal on which the statue stands. Millions of immigrants sailed into the New York harbor and received a welcome into the United States. My family fits that category.
But just a few months before Emma Lazarus crafted her poem for the Statue of Liberty, the US Congress passed The Chinese Exclusion Act. This piece of legislation was the first major restriction on immigration in the history of the United States. The law was racially motivated and gave rise to a new wave of human trafficking in the post-Civil War United States.
So, which is it?
Are we welcoming or exclusionary?
What values do we bring to the conversation? If we are going to lay a foundation for a thoroughgoing biblical perspective on immigration, we need to surface our predispositions first. This is a core principle to engaging with biblical thought.
The dance of exclusion and embrace is woven throughout the Scriptures. In one breath, God's people are commanded to kill the natives in the Promised Land. In another, they are commanded to go out of their way to care for the stranger in their midst.
As we try to follow Jesus and submit ourselves to his teaching and ethics and gospel, we find ourselves in a tenuous place with the Scriptures. Some parts will resonate with us, will excite us. Others will disturb us, will tempt us to pass them over without much examination.
Whatever you believe about immigration, your predispositions show up when you start studying what the Bible has to say on the subject.
For me, I struggled when I realized that there was more to immigration than documents, that is to say that the immigration conversation is not merely a question of the law.
In the United States, we currently host over 37,000,000 immigrants. Less than a third of them are here without documents. The vast majority came to the United States legally, live here legally and are completely ignored by most conversations about immigration.
But they are not ignored by the Bible.
In fact, the Bible does something fascinating when it comes to immigration: The Bible does not assume there will be legal and illegal immigration, just that there will be immigrants. The biblical ethic doesn't provide one set of guidelines for people with documents and another for people without. God's people never built border fences. It would have been a foreign concept to them.
The Bible doesn't talk much about immigration, though it does have a lot to say about immigrants.
This is just one gap that I've had to jump across as I've attempted to think in a rigorously biblical way about immigration. The Bible was not written to me with my cultural moment in mind. Though the Bible is relevant to me, if I don't question my presuppositions, I'll miss what it has to say.
What predispositions and presuppostions do you find yourself bringing to the Bible when you try to construct a biblical perspective on immigration for yourself?