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Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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A new initiative pioneered by Sojourners/Call to Renewal is called “Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Included in the platform are “calls for bills that would push for border enforcement while improving guest worker programs and offering chances for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status,” according to the NYT.

The NYT piece points out the potential for this to be a unifying issue for evangelicals, even though few if any prominent politically conservative evangelicals are overtly associated with Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. “The concerns of the coalition mirror those of many evangelical leaders who have often staked out conservative positions on other social issues or who have avoided politics entirely,” writes Neela Banerjee as she points to the cases of Dr. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Rev. Joel Osteen.

The signatories to the group’s open letter include the executive director of my denomination, Rev. Jerry Dykstra of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Some of the language in the letter is a bit mealy-mouthed, as might be expected, but I think the statement does capture the spirit of some of the most relevant scriptural principles.

Perhaps the section that some conservatives will find most problematic is the fourth principle: “We believe in the rule of law, but we also believe that we are to oppose unjust laws and systems that harm and oppress people made in God’s image, especially the vulnerable (Isaiah 10:1-4, Jeremiah 7:1-7, Acts 5:29, Romans 13:1-7).”

Many argue that the rule of law regarding illegal immigration needs to be reinforced and respected first, before any of the proposed guest worker or amnesty programs can be effective, no ifs, ands, or buts. And it might also be debatable precisely how a shared “set of common moral and theological principles” ought to be translated into public policy. This raises the question of what is the intent or purpose of law.

The letter says that immigration reform must be “fair and compassionate.” Is the end of the law justice? Love? Mercy? Peace? All of the above? I’ve been trained to understand the normative principle for social ethics, and the behavior of supra-personal entities or institutions, to be justice, as distinguished from (although not opposed to) love. It seems to me that Christians working out of a shared and common sense of obligation to love our neighbors can have legitimate and valid disagreements over precisely these sorts of questions.

With all that said, I think the letter gets it mostly right, at least on this point:

“The current U.S. immigration system is broken and now is the time for a fair and compassionate solution. We think it is entirely possible to protect our borders while establishing a viable, humane, and realistic immigration system, one that is consistent with our American values and increases national security while protecting the livelihood of Americans.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • TLB

    Some questions you might want to ask Rev. Jerry Dykstra:

    1. 10% of Mexico’s population (and IIRC 17% of their workforce) lives in the U.S. Is that healthy for Mexico? Do you know who profits from that?
    2. Is it good for the U.S. to give the MexicanGovernment even more political power inside the U.S.?
    3. There are only two ways to prevent border deaths and mixed status families: completely opening the borders, or enforcing our laws. You support neither, favoring a middle course where anyone who can make it to the U.S. will eventually be granted citizenship. That will encourage even more to try to come here, with predictable results. Are you sure you’re qualified to comment on these matters?

    Eventually someone somewhere is going to start asking these “leaders” tough questions that will make them look very very bad. You might want to at least let them know what impact that might have.

  • “I’ve been trained to understand the normative principle for social ethics, and the behavior of supra-personal entities or institutions, to be justice, as distinguished from (although not opposed to) love.”

    I am uneasy with this formulation. Doing justice within the context of the state is a political manifestation of the central divine command to love our neighbours. Justice thus flows out of love. If we refrain from identifying love with mere sentimentality, then the relationship between love and justice becomes much less problematic. Justice sometimes requires the incarceration of felons, which on the surface seems to be a “not nice” thing to do. But loving our neighbours may require it.

    “It seems to me that Christians working out of a shared and common sense of obligation to love our neighbors can have legitimate and valid disagreements over precisely these sorts of questions.”

    This I can agree with.

    The principal difficulty I have with the CCIR Joint Statement lies more in what goes unsaid and less in what is said. For example, the third “we believe” statement rightly indicates that immigrants are our neighbours, yet those born in our country are our neighbours as well. Must immigration laws do justice to natives as well? Absolutely. Therefore just immigration laws must balance potentially competing interests amongst a number of affected groups, including the native-born, refugees, illegal migrants and legal immigrants. This the Joint Statement fails to recognize explicitly.

    As for this statement: “we are to oppose unjust laws and systems that harm and oppress people made in God’s image”, what exactly would constitute an unjust immigration law? Is any law unjust that maintains borders and includes some while effectively excluding others? Or do the signatories recognize that all communities, including communities of citizens, necessarily have limits? I suspect that some signatories would have the US throw open its borders to all comers while others would not. However, if the statement were to be more specific along these lines, there would be fewer signatories.

    Finally it is all well and good to call for a “framework to examine and ascertain solutions to the root causes of migration, such as economic disparities between sending and receiving nations”, but people have been migrating for economic reasons for millennia and that’s unlikely to end in the near or even distant future. There may be appropriate incremental steps to improve the situation, but to speak of “solutions” seems rather unrealistic.

    If I were asked to sign the document, I suppose I could were it only a matter of assenting to what is stated. But it’s what goes unstated that keeps me from wholehearted support.

  • I’m similarly uneasy with the idea that it is the state’s job to “love.”

    I would rather reverse the relationship you describe between love and justice, that is love flows out of justice, rather than justice flowing out of love, although perhaps we are approaching the relationship from two different perspectives (i.e. order of being vs. order of knowing, or perhaps logical vs. temporal).

    Thus, in the example you describe, the justice of the state may be a necessary precondition for love, but is not itself “love”.

    Of course, the judge may issue a just sentence out of a motivation to show love and abide the love commandment. And I do not deny that there must be an element of what might be called “mercy” inherent in the proper administration of laws. But the norm for how institutions relate to other institutions (or to individuals) seems to me to be justice rather than love.

    This does not mean that the two are opposed or contradictory. There still is a way to relate love and justice in such a way that they are complementary, and perhaps one is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the manifestation of the other.

    Another aspect of the problem is the issue of distinguishing supra-individual entities as separate ethical agents at all, a criticism leveled by Bonhoeffer, for example, against the distinction between “social” and “personal” ethics. His point is that the acting judge is at the same time always a human being in concrete relationships with others (friendships, familial ties, et al.) and that a human person is occupies all of these offices at once.

  • Frank Livingston

    Some of our local churches have decided to support illegal aliens to the point whereby some of them are hiding them against Federal law. It would be next to impossible for ICE to do their jobs by arresting those involved. However, we can put pressure on them where it hurts, their pocketbook. Here is a thought; we put together a simple coupon size document that says,

    I am against illegal immigration and the church enjoys no taxes because the church is not political. However, when you support illegal immigration, you are spending my tax dollars on an illegal activity and breaking a Federal law. Therefore, I will not fund the church until it backs stops illegal immigration support.

    We send this out and encourage those who oppose illegal immigration simply cut out the coupon and put one in each donation envelope at church meetings.

  • Jordan, here is where I think a proper understanding of authority and the pluriformity of authoritative offices may provide some help. Communities, or what you label “supra-individual entities,” are generally ordered by an internal authoritative structure. The state, or political community, is no exception, containing executive, legislative and judicial offices. Even the citizens themselves, who are not part of government in the narrow sense, possess a certain authoritative office as citizens.

    Because of the existence of such offices, communities can indeed be said to be responsible agents. The state makes decisions everyday on our behalf that are binding on us. If the US decides to sign a free-trade treaty with, say, India, then Americans are fully justified in saying that “we” in our capacity as citizens of the US now have free trade with India. So yes, the state is definitely a responsible agent.

    This is, of course, far different from ascribing agency to something as nebulous as “society,” which is simply a pattern of interrelations amongst persons and communities and altogether lacks an authoritative structure. My sense, Jordan, is that this is what you may be reacting against. But one needs to make that initial and crucial distinction between communities and society.

    As for love, if we are called to live out the command to love God and neighbour (which, as Jesus says, summarizes the whole of the law and the prophets), and if we are called to a diversity of offices, i.e., parents, sons, daughters, employers, citizens, teachers, students, supervisors, presidents, members of congress, &c., then it follows that we love in differentiated ways as appropriate to these offices. I love my wife and my daughter in different ways appropriate to the offices of husband and father respectively. My love for my students is manifested in my treating them fairly within the classroom context and living up to the terms of the course syllabus. It does not call for me to hold their hands or give them gifts on their birthdays.

    Similarly if we find ourselves exercising political office, we live out the love command as appropriate to that office. Thus the formulation of just immigration policy is but one manifestation of the central command to love God and neighbour in the exercise of authoritative offices within the state.

    These are things I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, because I’m currently writing a book on authority.

    Getting back to the Joint Statement, I’d like to see discussion of the view of the state that undergirds it.

  • Prof. Koyzis,

    I look forward to seeing your book on authority. I’m working on an essay on restorative justice, which gets at many of the issues we’re discussing.

    I think you are right to say that all human action in whatever capacity ought to be motivated by love. But that is not precisely the same thing as saying that the objective norm for an institution’s action is love.

    Again, I think part of the difficulty might be in trying to relate the action of an individual with the action of a “community.” So, I would say that just public policy provides the context within which individuals can love. You are right, too, to point out the fact that true love involves doing things that may appear to be “loveless” in a superficial way.

    Perhaps this might help clarify. You say that your love for your students is properly manifested by treating them fairly. I think that’s right. But could we then say that the motive for your action is love, but the norm for your action is justice?

    As regards the statement, I think you are also right to question the view of the state. Many of these kinds of initiatives tend to emphasize “love” at the expense of “justice” (which as you have said is not truly “loving”). How would they fit Romans 12, for example, into the statement? They’d have to flesh out a bit more on the importance of the rule of law beyond the seeming lip service it receives.

  • William E. Garland

    U. S. illegal immigration is largely from Mexico, which encourages, aids and abets the violation of US law so that its wealthy ruling class need not devote some of its assets to the problems of Mexico’s poor. A society that will not use its own wealth to address the its peoples’ needs acts wrongfully when it attempts, as Mexico has, to foist those problems on others. Its intended victims need not submit.

  • frank mcfare

    The church has an obligation to help illegals purely on humanitarian grounds.It is even a shame that conservative who claim to be pro life are fighting this bill.Conservatives always claim to embrace a culture of life while at the same time supporting a culture of distruction and separation of families in the name of law-enforment;a law that has been unenforceable for years and years.You do not kick out somebody who has been in this country for a long time,has American born teenagers and has contributed a lot to this country.That’s immoral and conservatives are hypocrytes and they ought to be ashamed.If conservatives care about life at conception,they should care about it all the way.They should care about American citizens born of the so called ‘illegal immigrants’.They should realize that human needs are universal.These people cross the border to provide for their families just as everybody does.Well,one might say,they have to come in an orderly and legal way.Well that’s what the current comprehensive immigration bill tries to address.Conservatives are so determined to see the bill with all well reasoned provisions in it collapse just because they are full of hatred,jelousy,envy and fear of diversity.That’s not pro-life;it’s the cultivation of culutre of death that conservatives so vehemently try to denounce.Now i have just realized that they do that not out of conviction but just gain votes from Christian voters.Radical conservatives on immigration do not speak for me and so many real conservatives.The sole idea of pushing for enfrocement-only-approach with the hope of making the life of someone who has been in this country for a long timetouger with the hope that he is gonna leave on his own is demonic and satanic;it is void of christian values.

  • WEG,

    So to punish the Mexican ruling class, we are going to drive out people who want very much to enjoy our more free society?

    It seems to me that people can use their own common sense better than having it foisted upon them by the Government.


  • William E. Garland

    The goal is not to “punish” Mexico’s rich ruling class but to cause Mexican society to assume a proper burden to which it should devote its assets. No penal sanction is imposed if Mexico is compelled to devote its wealth to addressing its problems. The overall cost of illegal immigration, which some estimate at between 1.5 and 2.0 trillion dollars, will be borne mostly by the U.S.’s middle class through increasd taxation and America’s lower income wage earners through depressed wages. Mexico’s wealthy will rejoice at the expense of Americans of modest income, a patently unjust result.

  • Well William,

    This part

    “The overall cost of illegal immigration, which some estimate at between 1.5 and 2.0 trillion dollars, will be borne mostly by the U.S.’s middle class through increasd taxation” just reads like fiction, as the top tax brackets pay a huge proportion of the taxes in the US.

    I think it is much more likely that hardworking Mexicans who find a way to better profit from their labor will be the ones rejoicing rather than the nebulous wealthy of Mexico.

    Why punish the people who exercise good economic judgment by working in a freer economy?


  • William E. Garland

    I respectfully disagree with your claim of “fiction” since the estimate is based on a very careful study by the Heritage Foundtion. The top brackets in the US do not pay a “huge proportion” of US taxes. Whilst individually they may often pay significantly more in taxes than the middle class, those of high income (the threshold generally placed at between $150,000 and $200,000 of gross, annual income) are too few in number to account for a huge proportion of tax revenue. The US treasury realizes more dollars from social security, medicare, income and excise taxes on the poor and middle class.
    Illegal aliens are not punished if denied profit or advantage resulting from criminal conduct (see 8 U.S.C. 1325), rather the US taxpayer and workers are punished though increrased taxes and depressed wages because a foreign government will not make prudent use of its wealth to address its domestic problems, but foists them on another society.

  • Well William,

    You can go about punishing foreign governments as you like, but I welcome people who want to work hard. All of our combined punishments of Mexico in the last 231 years or so haven’t really accomplished much in terms of resolving equity issues, so I am ready to change our course.

    If the government insists on criminalizing economically rational decisions like working for a living, and rewarding people for not working, we have turned the American Dream on its head.


  • William E. Garland

    The US is not “punishing” a foreign government if in insists that that nation refrain from aiding and abetting violations of its laws. Mexico has gone so far as to publish a pamphlet instructing how to avoid detection when illegally entering the US and its diplomats repeatedly violate diplomcatic rules by interfering in the US political process.
    The US is not “cinalizing “economically rational decisions” but criminalizes illegal entry. As for rewarding people for not working I agree that the government should not award or foster such conduct but rather encourage all lawful residents to work productively. The problem still remains that Mexico will not use its wealth to address its problems and the US has every right to demand that this be done before those problems are foisted on the US. More than half of the billionaires in South America reside in Mexico and often pay less in effective taxation than middle class US citizens. It’s unjust to call on the US taxpayer to solve Mexico’s social problems until it devotes its own assets to that purpose.

  • William,

    I can ask the guys mowing my neighbors lawn if they think paying Social Security and Property Taxes is a “call on teh US Taxpayer to solve Mexico’s soical problems”, when they can neither benefit from public education nor collect Social Security benefits. Sounds to me like calling on the Mexican worker to solve the US Fiscal Mess.

    I think we are going to disagree on this. I don’t think we want or need to change the economic system in Latin America by limiting our economic freedom in the USA. The answer to authoritarianism cannot be more authoritarianism.

    If moving from a corrupt economic regime in Latin America to a relatively free market in the USA is not a rational economic decision, then what is?


  • I’m really curious about your line of argument, john. Are the guys mowing your neighbor’s yard legal immigrants/workers, or are they illegal? If they’re illegal, are they actually paying those taxes?

    Does it bother you in any way that the Mexican government openly helps its citizens break US Law? Does it concern you that the US government makes such a lackluster effort (at best) to enforce its own laws? Do you believe that we should have any control over our borders at all or should we simply have an open border with no restrictions whatsoever? Do you think there are any legitimate national security concerns relating to a porous southern border?

    Is this purely an economic issue? Or is there a deeper issue relating to respect for the rule of law?

  • William E. Garland

    Those mowing your neighbor’s lawn, if illegal aliens, are entitled to receive certain benefits. Free public education for illegal aliens’ minor children is required by a US Supreme Court decision. Public education accounts for more in local taxes than any other expenditure, and the cost is increased by the need for education in Spanish. Federal law requirers their treatment in hospital emergency rooms even if they pay nothing. Hospitals in border areas with large numbers of illegal aliens are closing because they cannot afford paying for the illegal alien care. The Heritage Foundation study shows that illegal aliens pay in taxes much less than the cost of benefits received. Mexico’s concerted effort to drive its lower income population into the United States thrusts on the US taxpayer, not Mexico’s, the net cost of providing public benefits.
    Mexican illegal aliens do not solve the fiscal problems of the US, they aggravate them. I don’t want Mexican workers to solve a US problem, I want Mexico to solve a Mexican problem using its resosurces to accommodate its populace.
    The illegal alien’s movement to the US may well be a rational decision from their perspective, but allowing that movement is an irrational one for the US.

  • William E. Garland

    The Senate’s immigration legislation (S.1340) has been replaced by a new 418 page version (S.1639),of course lacking any indication of where changes have been made from the prior draft. The Senate leadership wants a prompt vote on it. The complexities of the bill, full of cross references and amendments to other legislation, and its serious, long term implications for our society make trying to rush it through before it can be read and disgested an affront to the public. Even an attorney familiar with legislation will need several days to read it and understand its provisions and their interaction with other laws.

  • marc,

    When the “rule of law” prevents me from getting my yard mown, then it is more of an authoritarian construct than law worthy of respect.

    The lawn guys are gone now, but I did inquire to a Latino concrete crew this morning. They told me they always pay Social Security taxes etc. Workers comp is anyones guess (my guess is No). Everyone pays property tax in Illinois, you can’t avoid it.

    And WEG, why not campaign against the real issue then…bilingual education is absurd, our health care system of sending people to emergency rooms for routine service is a farce, public education in the inner city is a training ground for prison. Why not battle against these real evils, instead of demonizing people who want to work for a living?


  • Well, you know – the “rule of law” prevents us from doing lots of stuff. for instance, I was a bit hungry the other day while I was out, but didn’t have any cash on me. I was going to just saunter into the local Taco Bell and take a tasty crunchwrap supreme by force, but that pesky “rule of law” got in the way.

    Seriously man, that’s a pretty casual dismissal of a pretty fundamental principle.

    As to your Latino concrete crew: did you by any chance inquire as to the legal status of the workers? Your implication was that illegal workers paid all of the taxes you mentioned, which was the basis of my query. “Latino” does not equal “illegal.”

  • Marc,

    But what if the rule of law is prventing you from doing the moral thing? Take a look around the Acton website, Lord Acton, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine had quite a bit to say on this. We are not in a vacuum ethically or morally on the immigration issue.

    Take a look at Lord Acton’s statement

    “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought. Liberty enables us to do our duty unhindered by the state, by society, by ignorance and error. We are free in proportion as we are safe from these impediments”

    Are the people wanting more fences, more laws, more government control of our everyday lives really on the side of Liberty?


  • William E. Garland

    Mr. Powers inquires of me, why I do not “campaign against the real issue”. What have I said that can fairly be claracterized as “demonizing” anyone? I demonize no one, but demand that no benefits be relized from violating our laws. I see the real issue as Mexico’s having primary responsibility to deal with Mexico’s social problems, but instead evading by a concerted effort to foist them on the US whilst simultaneously realizing its second largest source of foreign revenue through remittances from the US. Also, illegal aliens demand the benefits of US society but simultaneously drain billions of dollars out of our economy, often having evaded its taxes through cash transactions.

  • WEG,

    What is it about people wanting to work for a living that constitutes a “social problem”? Are the concrete workers laying a foundation down the street here a “social problem”? If that is the case, how can we get 10x the number of these “social problems” to do the hard work this coutnry needs.

    Since when does not paying taxes drain billions from the economy? Not paying taxes takes money out of the hands of Politicians and puts in the hands of workers, employers, and investors.

    Seems like one of the best ways to build an economy is to not pay taxes. Ask any Hedge Fund manager or CEO of Fortune 500 Company if he thinks paying taxes builds the economy.

    Regardless, most everyone in the US pays property tax, which in Illinois is about 50% of the total tax take. It is pretty much a waste, but nullifies the argument that immigrants pay no tax. (Sales tax? Gasoline tax?)

  • Sean

    Civil Society Helps ( helps perpetuate fraud against U.S. citizens. The courts in Minnesota are ill equipped and uninformed about the immigration fraud these kinds of groups promote. See to learn about a common immigration fraud tactic.

    With false accusations from an immigrant residency seeker and the help of VAWA laws, a stable American citizen can be reduced to living in poverty. All of your assets can be seized and given to the immigrant residency seeker even if you are not found guilty. You will immediately be forced to surrender a portion of your income to the immigrant residency seeker. The courts will order you to turn your motor vehicle over to the immigrant residency seeker even if the car is in your name and the residency seeker does not have a drivers license. Your illegal immigrant spouse becomes legal and you become illegal. The court system will abuse you and strip you of your rights while social programs that promote immigration fraud thrive.

  • kellykullberg

    Jordan, thanks for pointing out the need to uphold the rule of law, and the whole counsel of Scripture on citizenship. America has a long history of peaceable, legal immigration and I don’t see a reason for that to be disrespected now. Order yields peace and hospitality. Also, given that about 18 million Americans are currently looking for jobs, let’s encourage leaders to bring jobs first, so immigration doesn’t necessitate growing the welfare state. Our goal is hospitality, not hostility. “Justice” (perhaps mercy is a better word) to the immigrant ought not be injustice to the citizen. God loves us all. Thank you.