Focus on Life: Immigration

The Focus on Life initiative was undertaken by the Compassion, Mercy and Justice Team (formerly Social Concerns) to call attention to man-made or natural conditions that are taking, endangering, or denigrating human life from conception to old age.

Jesus said in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. But unfortunately, this abundant life promised by Jesus is cut short for millions each year as a result of war, crimes, elective abortions, and natural disasters such as famine and floods.

Our goal is that by calling attention to these conditions, the FirstCov church family will be more sensitive to these issues and respond with compassion, prayer, and action where possible to help relieve the suffering. Jesus is relying on us to be His hands and feet to minister to those in need and His voice to call for justice in the world.

Immigration

Due to war, internal political turmoil, natural disasters, religious persecution, and many other afflictions, millions of people throughout the world are without a home and in many cases without a country. Groups of people, large and small, are on the move, feeling that they are not safe to stay in their native country and looking for a country that will take them in.

How to deal with this flood on immigrants has become one of the most controversial challenges for leaders across the Middle East, Europe and North America.

As we know too well, the debate about immigration has become highly politicized and polarized in most countries involved, especially here in the United States. What are we to make of this problem, and where do we turn for truth and common sense?

To gain a Christian perspective, view the Evangelical Covenant Church’s position on Immigration here.

Did You Know?

First Covenant Church of River Falls, WI began as an immigrant church and we continue to celebrate that story today. The early immigrants of the Covenant Church faced profound challenges as they entered a new nation. These Covenant ancestors were strengthened in their journey through faith in Jesus Christ, who was no stranger to the experiences of immigrants.

What Does the Bible Have to Say?

The Bible tells us that all people, regardless of national origin or citizenship status, are made in the image of God and must be treated with dignity and respect (Genesis 1:26-27).

In the Old Testament, God’s relationship with humanity centers on a covenant (agreement) with an immigrant named Abraham, and his descendants, the people of Israel, whose famine-induced migration to Egypt led to their enslavement. When God liberated them, they set out as immigrants in hope toward a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-10).

After Israel settled into the land of Canaan, God commanded that “the foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) This command reflects God’s character as the one who “loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:18)

God’s concern and care for the immigrant runs throughout the Law and the Prophets, guiding the people when they were settled in their homeland and when they were in exile, a minority population working to remain faithful in a strange land (Exodus 23:9; Numbers 15:14; Deuteronomy 24:21; 26:12; Psalm 146:9; Jeremiah 7:6; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5)

Jesus, a descendant of Ruth (Matthew 1:5), began His life as a sojourner, journeying in the womb to Bethlehem by political decree, and then fleeing to Egypt with His parents after His birth to escape political violence (Luke 2:1-7; Matthew 2:13). His ministry was marked by care for the poor and marginalized, often crossing borders, stretching boundaries, and challenging unjust laws in the process (John 4; Luke 15:21-28; Matthew 12:1-14).

Jesus also took the Old Testament commands a step further, saying, “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25:35). His death reconciled humanity with God and created a new family that included non-Israelite's who had been, “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise" (Ephesians 2:12).

Immigration Reality

After developing the Biblical context for immigration, the resolution turns to the complex reality that immigration poses for our nation today. The United States has a complicated history in regard to welcoming the immigrant and foreigner. On the one hand, immigration has created a rich mosaic of people who have contributed significantly to our cultural, economic, and spiritual life. We are a nation of immigrants, and according to the Census Bureau, forty million foreign-born persons currently live in the United States, making up 13 percent of the population. Since 1975, the United States has also welcomed more than three million refugees. A plaque within the Statute of Liberty proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

However, U.S. history also includes the permanent displacement of the only people who did not immigrate to this land, the Native Americans, through sanctioned killing and broken treaties, as well as the forced migration and brutal enslavement of generations of Africans.

Recent waves of immigrants to the United States have often been subject to unjust hiring practices and attitudes, especially during times of national economic challenge. When the people who first formed the Evangelical Covenant Church came to the United States from Sweden in the late nineteenth century, federal immigration law as we know it did not exist. Many who immigrated were able to start new lives in the United States without a visa.

How did we get Here?

The first significant prohibitions to immigration occurred when Asian immigrants were prevented from becoming citizens with the passage of the Naturalization Act of 1870, followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned immigration from China. Over the next four decades the United States also passed laws preventing entry of the sick and illiterate. In 1921 and 1924, Congress passed quotas that made it extremely difficult to immigrate, particularly for those outside of northern and western European countries.

Current U.S. immigration law is very complex, often arbitrarily enforced, and has resulted in more than eleven million people living and working in the United States who are considered “undocumented” or without legal status. Our immigration system provides limited legal ways for people to flee poverty or war, and does not take into account the high demand for jobs (both “high-skilled” and “low-skilled) in the United States.

The current system also suffers from a backlog of family reunification applications, resulting in long waits that divide families for as many as ten to twenty years, and unintended and unjust consequences related to black market documents, crowded detention centers, and human trafficking.

A Call for Reform?

Faith leaders from across the theological spectrum, along with a growing number of business leaders and politicians, all agree that current immigration law needs to be reformed.

The resolution then turns to a discussion of how we as Christians can respond: As Christians we are called to be salt and light in the national discourse on immigration by imitating Christ’s spirit of compassion and hospitality alongside an appropriate respect for the law. Our dialogue on immigration should reflect that we are talking about human beings and families loved by God and for whom Christ died.

At its core, the immigration debate is about real people, many of whom are members of our Covenant family—mothers, fathers, children, grandmothers, and grandfathers, each with their own walk of faith and story to share. The church should challenge the dehumanization of any person, whether it is occurring in political policies, the media, in our churches, or around the water cooler. This includes examining how we speak of immigration and the words we use to describe immigrants.

Therefore, let us call Covenant churches and Covenanters to:

  1. Allow our worship and our biblical story to prepare us for healthy, Christian dialogue about immigration.
  2. Enter into meaningful relationships with immigrant neighbors and immigrant churches by creating a safe space to share and hear stories.
  3. Pray and advocate for our sisters and brothers who are caught in and suffer from the complexities of our current immigration system, as well as our lawmakers and immigration enforcement personnel.
  4. Advocate for fair and humane immigration laws and policies that:
    1. foster respect for the rule of law and border control
    2. establish law enforcement initiatives that are consistent with humanitarian values
    3. reform the family-based immigration system to reduce waiting times and reunite separated families
    4. advocate for the end of profiling actions that diminish person-hood and create a culture of fear and division within society; expand legal avenues for workers to enter the United States and work in a safe and legal manner with their rights and due process fully protected
    5. address the needs of the estimated 11 million people who are currently undocumented by creating a path toward legal immigration status or citizenship for those who qualify and satisfy specific criteria
    6. advocate for labor laws that protect immigrants of any legal standing from exploitative labor conditions and human trafficking.
  5. Support international development organizations, such as Covenant World Relief, Covenant World Mission, Bread for the World, and others that address the root causes of migration from a biblical perspective, including the economic disparities between sending and receiving nations, and the life-threatening realities of violence and poverty around the globe.

With God’s help, we can be part of the solution.

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