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Immigrants and Immigration (5)

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.’” Leviticus 23.22

Made for work
As we have seen, God created human beings for work. Working reflects the image of God and allows people to provide for their needs and contribute to the developing goodness of the earth and the wellbeing of their neighbors. In ancient Israel, even the able poor were expected to work.

The necessity of work is true for every human being. Enslaving people to a variety of entitlements is contrary to Biblical thinking and human wellbeing.

Any foreigners living for an extended period in ancient Israel were expected to work, even if only to glean with other poor people in the fields of their neighbors. Biblical Law makes only scant provision for meeting the material needs of foreigners out of anything like a public purse (Deut. 14.28, 29). Part of the three-year tithe was set aside for that purpose, an expression of distributive justice. In the main, however, strangers, like the native poor, were expected to work to provide for their needs and contribute to the local economy.

Anyone coming to this country with a view to making a home here must not expect to be greeted and sustained by a program of entitlements. They must come with the expectation that, like everyone else, they will have to work.

The entitlement mindset
The entitlement mindset in America today has made it possible for foreigners who live here illegally to benefit from public services paid for by American taxpayers, chiefly, education and some forms of healthcare. But we also see entitlements at work in areas such as housing, when school children are forced to abandon their classrooms to make room for illegal immigrants, or when unprocessed immigrants are shipped to military bases around the country (for a thorough understanding of the history and nature of the entitlement mindset, see Christopher Caldwell, The Age of Entitlement).

Illegal workers do not pay taxes. Paying taxes would reveal them as illegal, after all. And it is to the advantage of their employers not to have to report their wages to the IRS. And many illegal workers send large portions of their wages back to their native country to support their families. Thus, the only good they are contributing to our society is cheap labor—labor secured in many cases contrary to existing wage laws (which are themselves unjust, but they are the law of the land), and to the disadvantage of American workers who cannot compete with those who readily accept sub-par wages.

It’s simply cheaper to hire illegal aliens in some capacities because they can be paid below minimum wage requirements and without the bother of IRS and FICA “contributions.” And once they’re here and working, they become a possible source of political power; thus, many politicians work to make all manner of public services available to them, even though they are not employed.

Such work is unjust and violates the principles of neighbor-love.

Can it be helping to resolve the immigration problem in America that public services are available at little or no cost to foreigners, especially those who are here illegally? I don’t see how, and I don’t believe such practices contribute to the long-term benefit of those who receive them. I can’t imagine that, in the ancient Israelite economy, strangers would be allowed to come to Israel and live off the tithes of the people rather than take up employment to sustain themselves.

Long-term solutions
The present political climate is making it increasingly difficult to wean anyone from entitlements, since this is an efficient way for people to avoid taking responsibility for their lives and for politicians to purchase the votes of the dependent. Thus, removing illegal aliens from the ranks of those receiving public benefits, and requiring them all to work, is not likely to happen in the near future.

But in this series we’re thinking about long-term policy changes, and only as we begin to think in new ways and to prepare for a different approach to the problem of immigration will we ever be able to expect different outcomes in our immigration situation.

And only if we make a point of talking about these issues—and thus fulfilling part of our “we the people” responsibility—can we ever hope to see new policies, perhaps even policies informed by Biblical Law, come into being, for the immigration crisis and for much else besides.

If it were generally known, among those considering coming to America, that all are expected to work in order to provide for their needs, and that no or few public services are available to them or their children for free, and only for the short-term—except as local charity was able to provide—I suspect this would cut down the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

Here might be an area of public policy where real immigration reform could be accomplished as Christians fulfill their citizenship duties.

For reflection
1. Does it sound cruel, unfeeling, or unjust to require immigrants to find work? Explain.

2. How do politics muddy the waters of immigration policy? Is there any way to overcome this?

3. Do you know of any Christian organizations whose mission is to help immigrants become well-grounded in America? How might you find out about this?

Next steps—Preparation: See if you can find one Christian organization devoted to helping immigrants according to Biblical criteria. Learn as much as you can about them and see if there is any way to become involved in their work.

T. M. Moore

What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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