Acton Institute Powerblog

Illegal Immigration and the Church: Philanthropic Lawlessness

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Some Christian churches are joining the New Sanctuary Movement, an organization that vows to “protect immigrants against unjust deportation.” But what about the laws of the land? Brooke Levitske looks at the highly charged immigration issue and concludes that “the New Sanctuary Movement’s lawbreaking solution is neither a prudent civic response nor a necessary act of compassion.”

Read the complete commentary here.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Ryan Lanham

    A rather conventional and bland classic conservative bent…as usual.

    What of social justice? What of Luther? What of the Reformation? What of MLK? All were lawbreaking. All applied laws to some and not to others.

    I should have thought an intern could think a little more independently…try to imagine downplaying C.S. Lewis and finding something a bit more current and relevant.

  • Ryan Lanham, "A rather conventional and classic" "liberal" personal attack on your part, wouldn’t you say? Levitske’s reflection is excellent and unassailable in its moral logic, which is why there might be no other choice but that of a personal attack.

    What of Luther? What of MLK? These historical figures fought against unjust laws, or social situations that had no base on Christian morality. Our immigration laws may be in need of reform but they are based on the internationally recognized right of nations to secure borders. The same right which Mexico, for example, has and enforces vehemently.

  • Brooke,

    I don’t buy it. Immigration laws are some of the most moronic laws in the country. A friend of mine waited 8 years to get permission to live with his wife.

    Career criminals are let go and not deported; while PhD’s (and honest hard- working gardeners for that matter) are held up for years in red tape.

    The immigration laws get the amount of respect they deserve. Isn’t one of the basis of Liberalism to use your own good judgement rather than trusting in the State to make decsions for the individual?


  • John Grundy

    The Bible clearly states we are to be subject to the civil law only until the extent it does not supersede God’s Law. That begs the question: is civil law encroaching upon God’s Law regarding immigration? That is the real issue at hand. Read your Bible: what does it say on how to treat the alien in a strange land? I hope we as a nation have the courage to act as our heart and the Law dictate and not on the laws of man.

    I struggled with this issue over a year ago. So I decided to see what the Bible had to say. After reading scripture, I could not rationalize away what scripture clearly stated on how to treat the alien.

    Exodus 22:21 (New International Version) 21 "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

  • carlos

    I do not agree… I see lack of vision and theological knowledge.

  • But my friends, how is the illegal alien "mistreated or oppressed" in this country? It seems to me they have jobs, medical and social benefits for which they pay no taxes, they send money home, and even exercise the right to freedom of speech and assembly and petition a government which is not even theirs. One must not confuse the compassion which the Bible calls us to with prescribing lawlessness which from the beginning and in the end hurts those we claim to care for.

  • Martin Connors

    I had no idea that the Acton Institute or its employees would allows something like this to get published on thier site. I guess breaking up families and deporting people is the answer instead of dealing with the problem in a compassionate way.

    It would be a far different world if Jesus were deported.

  • John Grundy

    Jose good points, I enjoy your reasoned dialogue. By oppressed I mean breaking up families with deportation. With the number of illegals I believe this could possibly cause a humanitarian crisis if sent back to Mexico. I believe we all realize that this situation is a big mess. I can not help but wonder how much of this is the fault of U.S citizens, employers, state and federal government. We created and maintained a labor market for the illegal immigrant. If this illegal labor market did not exist, the illegal workers would not be here. Employer’s hired, government turned their back, and the U.S. citizen enjoyed the benefits of cheap labor primarily in services, and especially in housing by keeping the cost of new builds down. Many U.S. citizens have became wealthy over this cheap labor force by breaking the U.S. law. The U.S. enjoyed the benefits of illegal labor, it was just too easy to keep sleeping while we all should of been on watch.

  • Jose A. Amoros

    Martin, I don’t know where in the article it says we need to break up families and deport people. What the article addresses is precisely what your position seems to be, "dealing with the problem in a compassionate way" which doesn’t preclude dealing with it in a rational way. Enablers of drug addicts and drunks think they are acting in a compassionate way also.

    John, illustrates in part my point, of which I have written many times before in La Voz and in my blog, which is precisely that we are involved in such a vicious circle that EVERYONE benefits (hypocritically sometimes) from the problem of illegal immigration. I don’t want to extend myself here but here it is precisely where the immorality of the situation resides.

    In the meantime we are enabling the governments and oligarchic elites south of the border to export their workers while doing little to improve their own societies while becoming more dependent on illegal immigration for informal revenue.

  • Daniel Johansson

    While I understand all of your points, I believe you mischaracterize the reason many immigrants come to America. Apparently you do not believe people come here for life or death reasons, it is a question of a good life at home (say in Mexico) or a better life here (in America). I believe this is unfair and illegals willingness to send money home gives evidence to this. People don’t come here simply as a matter of choice; for many, it actually is a life and death decision. They come here because there is no work at home and they need to feed their families. For this reason, I believe by persecuting the alien (and sending them home), there is a strong chance we are disobeying God.

  • Daniel Johansson

    I would also like to point out that the US (in aggregate and by a wide margin) benefits from having illegals here. We get people who are willing to work at wages which are below those that our own citizens will not (perhaps because of their illegality, but perhaps not). To the extent that harm is done to the US by illegals, most of this so-called damage is due to the existence of welfare type assistance programs that they can take advantage of. These systems generally should not exist in the first place, so you can hardly blame illegals for damage (these systems damage the US regardless of whether aliens are using them or not).

    Bottom line – if people want to come here and work hard, then we should allow them in. If our own citizens won’t work hard, I’m not willing to feed them.

    I should also point out the illegal immigrants are not a US problem; they are the results of a problem elsewhere. Mexicans come here illegally because of poor conditions at home, as do Haitians, Central and South Americans, etc. These poor conditions are not Americans fault or problem. Until these other countries allow their own systems to develop and flourish so that they can properly care for their own, they will continue to experience illegal flows across their borders. And we Americans will benefit.

  • tj

    "Instead, illegal immigration raises two separate matters of conscience, which pro-sanctuary Christians blur and equate. The first is the question of immediate need and the Christian duty to extend compassion. The second is the long-term issue of how best to preserve the common good."

    I thought Christians were supposed to think about the consequences of their actions and eschew short-term gains. I think there is a bit of instant gratification involved in allowing the impoverished masses to pour into this country illegally. Allow amnesty, think of their problems as solved, go to your Sunday Socials or your Bridge games.

    Meanwhile corrupt countries like Mexico continue to export their poverty. No one holds Felipe Calderon or Carlos Slim accountable for the fact that the country with the 15th largest economy in the world can’t find money to fund a decent public education system and won’t invest that money in businesses that will provide jobs for its people.

    Brooke Levitske’s article is the first sign I’ve seen that Christians are capable of getting past the tyranny of the urgent, the millions of illegals pouring over our southern border. There are often negative consequences to mass migration especially when the population is a low-skilled one that can only command subsistence wages. Christians can’t abdicate their responsibilities as citizens of the US.

    I posit that the source of the problem and the solution to it lie with the Mexican government. If they continue to disregard the basic needs of their citizens, I’m not too far from advocating that we take our troops out of Iraq and instead use them to occupy and stabilize Mexico.

    And there is something at stake beyond the economic needs of illegal immigrants, our national sovereignty. Failing to stem the tide of corruption creeping into our country along with millions of illegals will leave us all at the mercy of corrupt oligarchs.

  • Edward Stout

    Well this is real simple. Helping illegals at a church with maybe a meal or medical care if it is a emergency is acceptable. Since there here. Because no one wants to see anyone die of lack of food or injury, etc. But with that said any church that allows illegal aliens to hide from law enforcement is breaking the law. Just like sanctuary cities are breaking the law. So are sanctuary churches. Yes people some churches are breaking the law. And both cities, churches, and people and businesses who help illegal aliens in none emergency ways. ARE BREAKING THE LAW AND SHOULD GO TO JAIL AND GET A LARGE FINE AND POSSIBLY LOSE LICENCE TO DO BUSINESS AND PRACTICE. IT’S THAT SIMPLE.

  • Coming from Chicago,

    “Failing to stem the tide of corruption creeping into our country along with millions of illegals will leave us all at the mercy of corrupt oligarchs”, is certainly laughable.

    We have plenty of supply of corrupt oligarchs locally. I am not convinced that new immigrants come to become corrupt oligarchs. There is too much local competition in the USA.


  • Bob From Delaware

    Breaking up Families. Well, let’s put that this way. Explain to me how you can enter this country ILLEGALLY and be rewarded with citizenship for the so called anchor? I don’t believe the 14th admendment of the constitution says that. But, that being said, I don’t want to break up a family either, so just take the little anchor with you when you’re deported. What’s so hard about that. These illegal aliens have caused a number of problems, and the churches who think they are above the law by harboring these "ILLEGALS", better think twice.
    It’s time to say goodbye to all the "ILLEGALS" and their little anchors.

  • CJ

    First we must separate justice from charity. Two distinct virtues.
    In the dark ages prior to Vatican II, moral theology was based on two principles. 1. No one had a right to sin. (If such a right existed, a murderer in jail could sue because his right is infringed.) 2. No one derives any right from his sin. (If that right existed, a thief would have a right to what was stolen once he got it to a safe place.) Without these principles there is no moral theology.
    It is a sin to violate immigration law. Therefore no one derives any rights from that action. That pertains to justice. Justice is the operative virtue of the state – taught by classical ethics, the part called politics. It is also taught by Deus Caritas Est. An illegal alien therefore would only have the right to health and comfort in jail until he is deported.
    Now, Charity is the province of the Church, again taught by classical ethics and Deus Caritas Est. Claims based on charity are different from claims based on justice.
    In matters of extreme need, of which I do not see in the case of people able to get across the border illegally, their need may have a prior claim (of justice) outside the traditional process of justice. But that does not apply here.
    In matters where there is another level of need, of which I do see, there is a claim in charity, which is the province of the Church. The Church should (a) assist the people to return if they are here illegally (b) assist the Mexican Churches to change their economic system and (c) under the administration of the Mexican Churches assist the people financially until the society is straightened out.


    PS Did you see that a Mexican national is richer than Bill Gates? The money is in the economy.

  • CJ

    “It is a sin to violate immigration law”, is that from the Heritage Foundation Catechism? Immigration Law is most certainly written by some of the most fallible men in America.

    Shouldn’t people use their own common sense to determine where to live? Paraphrasing Lord Acton, shouldn’t freedom grant the ability to do as one ought, rather than as Washington demands?


  • Daniel Johansson

    OK, there are a couple problems here. First, people do have the right to sin if they want. Jesus gave people this right all the time. They just have to be willing to deal with the consequences – eternal damnation. I believe people have not entered this portion of the equation into their calculus, but so be it. Murder is a sin, not so much because it violates Man’s law, but because it violates God’s law. The more Man’s law corresponds to God’s law, the more wholistically prosperous a people group will be. Where the two conflict, it is our responsibility to obey God not man – and again be willing to pay the consequences, maybe jail or a fine or whatever.

    Anyway, I agree that no one has a right to sin and expect Heaven. However, you have made a huge jump to go from there to "It is a sin to violate immigration law". Why is this a sin? If you’ve been to the third world, I’d be surprised if you didn’t have a bit more compassion. These people have been oppressed for generations, they have no hope and no local options. In their mind (and in reality), the only way they are going to make anything happen in life is if they go to where things CAN happen: America. I have friends who live in Haiti – desperately poor, very smart. I used to tell them that their country needs them, but now I don’t know. They have NO HOPE! All they can do is maybe scratch together enough for food – maybe. They’ll never have a job, never be constructive. These are all things we are commanded to do by God and because of their system, they are precluded from doing so. And who cares if Carlos Slim is the richest man in the world. He’s not immigrating, and neither are the people that work for him. The people who are leaving are the ones that DON’T work for him and other capitalists/entrepreneurs who are not allowed to provide for their people because of bad government/management.

    I’m not advocating completely wide open borders. I’m saying our system can handle many more immigrants. If we want to improve their lot in life, we’d let them become citizens, get them out from underground, and get them into the system.

  • Ah yes, another instance of the popular axiom: “If X is conventional or conservative, then X must be wrong.”

  • Sam

    Great article Brooke! Shoot me a line sometime and let me know how you’re doing!

  • John-Otto Liljenstolpe

    The article by brother Levitske suggests that the Sanctuary Movement is encouraging Christian congregations to violate the law by hiding immigrants who are under deportation orders. I challenge him to provide a quotation by any spokesperson for this movement that supports that charge. Other commentators while recognizing that immigrants from Mexico are, in many cases, fleeing extreme poverty, fail to acknowledge (perhaps like most Americans they are altogether unaware of) the role of US foreign and trade policy in contributing to that poverty.

  • Born in the USA

    ICE needs to raid these churches and show that hiding criminals is illegal. Who are they to say laws should not be upheld in America? Seperation of Church and State! Raid a couple of Churches and that will be the end of this nonsence!

  • sbkayser

    Thank you for posting this… I will use it in my next editorial. One my latest titled ‘Nobel Pundits Find World Poor Bankable’ exposed the sadism of organized charity.

  • Karen Weber

    Great article, Brooke!

  • john

    i think people never change over the time, they have the same needs and if the law change the needs are the same. look what a profet write in the scripture. Ezekiel 16.49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. The government did a good thing by trying to help people..i read the whole comprehensive immigration reform…was a really smart move, and was also a prove that they are fallow… God we trust. many people think to much about themself and forgot that is better to have God on the lid.

  • Litl Bits

    Churches do NOT have license to break any law they want!
    What needs to happen is this: churches need to be warned that they are in obvious violation of Federal Laws and: (1) they WILL lose their tax-exempt status; and (2) they WILL be prosecuted for ‘aiding and abetting’ lawbreakers!

    We need to get real on this issue! Illegal aliens ARE ILLEGAL! We are threatening the very existence of this Republic by repeated ignorance of our laws! IF we do not enforce our own laws – IF we do not protect our own country – we are doomed to failure! Does ANYONE read and HEED History? We are following the very pattern of failed ‘democracies’ – all of which lasted little over 200 years because their citizenry became apathetic and did not fight back against the forces which turned these same ‘democracies’ back into totalitarian nations! WAKE UP, AMERICA!

  • Miren Ivankovic

    Solid article, and I agree with its topic, however, these numbers are still very small, and to generalize the issue is still way too premature. However, let’s not forget the benefits we receive from this "new," and much needed labor force that is COMPLEMENTING, not substituting our own labor force. And yes, they do pay taxes (some, like sales tax) and since they make their employers wealthier, they pay income tax (indirectlly) as well. Perhaps some clergy has more economics sense then we give them credit for.

  • William Joseph Ford

    Some people show a marvelous ignorance of the distinction between civil and criminal law.
    1.The illegal immigrant violates only civil law by his presence here in the USA.Look it up.
    He is by his mere presence in the U.S. in no sense in violation of Criminal Law.
    2.The provision in the 1986 law,commonly named for its principal sponsors Simpson(Sen)and Mazzoli(Hse)was the first time employers became liable for criminal penalties by knowingly hiring an Illegal.
    If you go the site for Numbers USA,you will discover that that provision was authored by a woman deeply involved in that organization’s drive for Zero Population Growth,and even for Negative growth.Mr.John Stanton founded and or sponsored the founding of the three major anti-immigration groups in the U.S.because he had discovered in his efforts in behalf of ZPG in the U.S. that the greatest growth in population came about because the U.S.still allowed immigration.Absent immigration the U.S. would in his judgement have had negative population ‘growth’.
    Oh,I forgot to mention That when he discovered this to him unpleasant fact Stanton was then head of the organization Zero Population Growth.Worth mentioning isn’t it?
    There are many laws in our history that are worthy of nothing but contempt.If we had not so contemned them,the nothern states would not have forbidden all state officers from cooperating with the pre-civil war slave catchers.But catching slaves was in accordance with provisions of the U.S.constitution.
    After the civil war the re-imposition of white supremacy and re-subjugation of the former slaves was accomplished by law,and finally ‘ratified’by the Supreme Court in Plessy versus Furgeson.
    But of course we should all have supported white supremacy in the South:such was the law of the land,was it not?Sit-ins and boycotts and eventual national embarrassment led to the repeal of Jim-Crow.
    The Law must accord with the Higher Law ,the Law of God’s Nature ,the Natural Law,else it is not Law.This is the argument of Aquinas.
    St.Augustine argued the Law without Justice is not law,but a robber-band.Rather succinct isn’t it?
    The history of American Immigration laws is shameful.The first major law was against ‘the Yellow Peril’,in the 1880’s.
    Next in 1920,against the peoples’eugenically and culturally inferior’to the ‘good northern white stock’.The anti-immigrationists argued the ‘we’already had enough of the best stock’
    So the laws of 1920 and 1924/6 created almost insuperable barriers to immigration of the ‘eugenically inferior’ Eastern and Southern Europeans:the ‘barbaric and unwashed’ Slavs,Poles and Russians,and the ‘swarthy types’ of Greece,Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean;but most importantly of all,in their eyes,the ‘Venal,greedy and unassimilable Jews’forever to be foreigners in any land because the kept the laws of Moses.At least in the eyes of those who wrote the first immigration laws.
    So if you see your ancestors among the disfavored many,you will know how your forebears were thought of by the lawmakers of the past.
    So please do not repeat the calumnies and restrictions of liberty so popular in the teens and twenties of the twentieth century, for you have been misled by sophists to act against American and your own self-interest.
    If it seems appropriate to present further information on this topic,I will create another post.Thank you for your kind attention.
    Finally,Somebody once said"whatever you do unto these the least of My bretheren,this you do unto Me’.I think you know His name.
    Fraternally in Christ,Bill Ford