Immigration: What Does the Bible Say?

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What Does the Bible Say?

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Immigration: What Does the Bible Say?

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Immigration has been a hot-button political issue in the United States dating back to the nation’s founding. America, like all other countries, controls and limits who may enter its territory, for how long, and on what terms, and these restrictions are a part of the laws of the nation.

In recent decades, millions of people from Latin America have bypassed this legal process, earning them the controversial designation of “illegal aliens.” Over the last year, the legal immigration of Muslims from Arab nations has come to the forefront due to the large number of refugees from the prolonged Syrian civil war and terror attacks by Islamic extremists in many Western nations.

Many are concerned that potential terrorists could infiltrate America or other Western nations under the guise of being refugees, while others are moved by compassion for those legitimately seeking to build a new life.

Advances in communication technologies make it possible for us to see the plight of people in other countries as never before. It’s natural to empathize with people and to want to help them when we’re daily bombarded with videos of starving children.

Having this reality brought so vividly to life in the minds of the average person is a driving factor in the attitudinal shift on immigration policy today. Many people praised President Obama’s 2008 statement that he considers himself a “citizen of the world,” and this idea was the premise of the immigration policy he pursued.

These and other immigration issues have led some to question the legitimacy of immigration law altogether. What gives nations the right to deny entry to people who are trying to make a better life for themselves? Should nations have laws limiting people from crossing their borders? Should anyone have the right to become a citizen of another nation if he or she wants to? Nations face a delicate balance between having compassion, maintaining the rule of law and protecting their citizens.

But what’s missing in the immigration debate is a true biblical perspective. The Word of God is a vital resource in informing our opinion on the topic of immigration. The Bible explains the source of our modern troubles, shows how nations have struggled with these same issues from ancient times, and provides insight into God’s expectations today.

We presented some of what it says on the matter in a previous article (see “ The Immigration Threat ” in our September–October 2016 issue). Now we’ll look at more of what Scripture reveals. 

Different types of immigrants in the Bible

The law of God does not give a comprehensive set of immigration guidelines, but it does include some specific commandments that can guide our understanding of God’s view on immigrants and immigration.

In simple terms, an immigrant is a person who moves to another country with the intention of living there indefinitely. Most English Bible translations do not include the word “immigrant,” but typically use a combination of the words “stranger,” “alien,” “sojourner“ and “foreigner.”

Jacob’s family immigrated to Egypt as refugees from famine, but they sought permission from the pharaoh to do so first.

Leviticus 24:22 Leviticus 24:22You shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
states, “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country” (emphasis added throughout). While some take this to mean that we should strive for a borderless world, a careful study reveals a distinction that is obscured by modern Bible translations.

Consider the following verse in light of the command to have the same law for the stranger and the native born: “At the end of seven years, you shall have a release of debts … Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother” (Deuteronomy 15:1-3 Deuteronomy 15:1-3 1 At the end of every seven years you shall make a release. 2 And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lends ought to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD’s release. 3 Of a foreigner you may exact it again: but that which is your with your brother your hand shall release;
American King James Version×
).

Simple logic dictates that there must be a difference between the “stranger” of Leviticus 24:22 Leviticus 24:22You shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
and the “foreigner” of Deuteronomy 15:3 Deuteronomy 15:3Of a foreigner you may exact it again: but that which is your with your brother your hand shall release;
American King James Version×
, despite the fact that the two English words seem indistinguishable.

The “stranger” of Leviticus 24:22 Leviticus 24:22You shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
is the Hebrew word ger, while the “foreigner” of Deuteronomy 15:3 Deuteronomy 15:3Of a foreigner you may exact it again: but that which is your with your brother your hand shall release;
American King James Version×
is the Hebrew nokriy. Other passages show that the ger and the nokriy were held to different standards:

“You may not eat anything that dies of itself. You may give it to the alien [ ger ] who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner [ nokriy ]” (Deuteronomy 14:21 Deuteronomy 14:21You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you shall give it to the stranger that is in your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to an alien: for you are an holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.
American King James Version×
).

Recognizing the difference between the ger and nokriy, it becomes clear that this verse does not mean “either give it to an immigrant or sell it to an immigrant.” Rather, it delineates between two classifications of foreign people living in the land. This clearly shows that God’s law for Israel did not mandate a “citizen of the world” philosophy that treated citizens and non-citizens with equal status.

Different rights for different types

Any time a positive command is made in the Bible regarding the rights and privileges of an immigrant, the word ger is always involved—not nokriy. The ger had the same access to biblically mandated assistance as other poor social groups such as widows and orphans, including the right to gather what was left in the fields after the harvest (Deuteronomy 24:19-22 Deuteronomy 24:19-22 19 When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgot a sheaf in the field, you shall not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. 22 And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt: therefore I command you to do this thing.
American King James Version×
) and to receive a portion of the tithe given to the poor every third year (Deuteronomy 26:12-13 Deuteronomy 26:12-13 12 When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled; 13 Then you shall say before the LORD your God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all your commandments which you have commanded me: I have not transgressed your commandments, neither have I forgotten them.
American King James Version×
).

Numerous passages reiterate the command to show justice and mercy to the stranger (Leviticus 19:33-34 Leviticus 19:33-34 33 And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not vex him. 34 But the stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
, Exodus 23:9 Exodus 23:9Also you shall not oppress a stranger: for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
), and these are without exception directed toward the ger rather than the nokriy. On the other hand, any time the law restricts the rights of a foreigner, such as in Deuteronomy 14:21 Deuteronomy 14:21You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you shall give it to the stranger that is in your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to an alien: for you are an holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.
American King James Version×
and Deuteronomy 15:3 Deuteronomy 15:3Of a foreigner you may exact it again: but that which is your with your brother your hand shall release;
American King James Version×
, it is directed towards the nokriy, who did not have legal status in the land .

The Bible gives no explicit guidelines for how ger or nokriy status was defined and administered, although the distinctions in rights are clear.

Through examination of the Scriptures we find some actions associated with those who qualified for the rights of a ger. A stipulation for the ger is found in the Ten Commandments, where we see that the ger was expected to keep the Sabbath holy by not working (Exodus 20:10 Exodus 20:10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates:
American King James Version×
). Sabbath observance was one of the defining cultural hallmarks separating the people of Israel from the surrounding nations, as the Bible said it was to be (Exodus 31:12-17 Exodus 31:12-17 12 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 13 Speak you also to the children of Israel, saying, Truly my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the LORD that does sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy to you: every one that defiles it shall surely be put to death: for whoever does any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whoever does any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 Why the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
American King James Version×
).

Those classified as ger or ger’im (plural) were also allowed to make offerings to God at the tabernacle, but only provided that they did so “just as you do”—that is, they could not introduce their own religious customs into their worship of God (Numbers 15:14 Numbers 15:14And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet smell to the LORD; as you do, so he shall do.
American King James Version×
).

A ger could even choose to celebrate the Passover (Exodus 12:48-49 Exodus 12:48-49 48 And when a stranger shall sojourn with you, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. 49 One law shall be to him that is home born, and to the stranger that sojournes among you.
American King James Version×
) on the condition that he circumcise himself and his sons. Like the Sabbath, circumcision set Israel apart from other nations, and for a ger to show such devotion to God’s way of life meant that he was fully abandoning identification with his previous home. Those willing to make the commitment to fully assimilate into Israel in this way were granted full citizenship and became “as a native of the land” (Exodus 12:48 Exodus 12:48And when a stranger shall sojourn with you, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.
American King James Version×
).

From these commands it’s clear that the ger enjoyed a special protected status that was not afforded to the nokriy, and this status required keeping the Sabbath as a minimum level of assimilation. The ger could achieve the full rights of citizenship by becoming circumcised and worshipping the God of Israel.

The bottom line is that under biblical law, only the ger was granted beneficial citizen rights, including the right to permanently live in the country, but with those rights came obligations to assimilate into Israelite society, culture and religion.

The exclusion of these rights from the nokriy did not mean that Israel could legally deny him or her basic standards of human decency. Rather, it shows that the Israelites were not obligated to grant equal status to every foreign person living among them.

Further, God sternly warned the people of Israel against approving, accepting and adopting the culture, religions and religious practices of the nations around them, knowing this would corrupt the nation (Leviticus 18:24-30 Leviticus 18:24-30 24 Defile not you yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: 25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof on it, and the land itself vomits out her inhabitants. 26 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojournes among you: 27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) 28 That the land spew not you out also, when you defile it, as it spewed out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 Therefore shall you keep my ordinance, that you commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that you defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
; Deuteronomy 12:28-32 Deuteronomy 12:28-32 28 Observe and hear all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you for ever, when you do that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God. 29 When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; 30 Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. 31 You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. 32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
American King James Version×
; Deuteronomy 18:9 Deuteronomy 18:9When you are come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
American King James Version×
). 

The biblical origin of nations with borders

A shallow reading of the instruction in Leviticus 24:22 Leviticus 24:22You shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
that there be one law for the stranger and Israelite alike could lead to the false conclusion that God’s will is for all nations to have open borders and the “same law” for everyone, admitting all people regardless of their background, beliefs or intentions.

We have shown that this was not the express command of God’s law, but the Bible also sheds light on other fundamental questions relevant to the discussion. How did immigration come to exist? What rights does a nation have to enforce its borders? Should countries have borders in the first place? For that matter, should we even have separate nations?

The Bible describes an ancient time when this modern vision of a borderless world was a reality. Prior to the events of Genesis 11, there were no nation states. The whole world was united as one people and one culture, and even spoke the same language. Those of that time infamously came together to build the Tower of Babel in defiance of God. Because of their disobedience, God miraculously intervened to alter the course of human history:

“Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9 Genesis 11:9Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from there did the LORD scatter them abroad on the face of all the earth.
American King James Version×
).

The differentiation of humanity into separate language groups drove them to live in different places, and over time they grew apart culturally. Acts 17:26 Acts 17:26And has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
American King James Version×
confirms that God “has determined [mankind’s] preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 32:8 Deuteronomy 32:8When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
American King James Version×
states plainly that God “set the boundaries of the peoples.” God’s direct intervention precipitated the existence of multiple nations, and this reality persists to this day.

Every country has some form of government that exerts control over its territory, and immigration involves the movement of a person between two lands that are ruled by different political authorities. Paul outlined the attitude that God’s people should have toward world governments as follows: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1 Romans 13:1Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
American King James Version×
).

Continuing in Romans 13, Paul explained that these authorities have a God-given responsibility to uphold justice and enforce order by punishing evil within their jurisdiction.

But as we know, history is replete with examples of governments that pervert justice and commit unspeakable atrocities. In Paul’s time, the world-ruling Roman government was guilty of many such evils. Yet Paul still honored its rulers and officials as being set in place or appointed by God.

He taught that Christians should obey the laws of human governments except when these directly conflicted with the law of God (for example, Daniel was right in refusing to cease praying to God in Daniel 6).

Followers of God throughout history have shown respect for the laws of the land, including immigration laws.

Examples of immigration in biblical history

An instructive biblical case study on immigration is found in the family of Jacob, also called Israel, migrating to Egypt to escape a famine. In the ancient world, famines—usually caused by regional drought—were a somewhat regular natural occurrence that caused people to migrate to other areas. The family of Israel arrived in Egypt under circumstances similar to that of those seeking refugee status today, and the process they went through gives insight into the immigration customs of the time.

What’s relevant to today’s immigration debate is that Israel sought legal permission from Egypt’s ruler before entering the land: “And they said to Pharaoh, ‘We have come to dwell in the land, because your servants have no pasture for their flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now therefore, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen’” (Genesis 47:4 Genesis 47:4They said morever to Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for your servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray you, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.
American King James Version×
).

This exchange demonstrates that the accepted practice even in ancient times was to obtain legal permission from the government. Moreover, we observe in Genesis 47:6 Genesis 47:6The land of Egypt is before you; in the best of the land make your father and brothers to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if you know any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.
American King James Version×
that their stay came with terms specifying where they would live, what their profession would be, and that some of them would serve Pharaoh directly. The word for “dwell” in Genesis 47:4 Genesis 47:4They said morever to Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for your servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray you, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.
American King James Version×
is gor, from the same root as ger, discussed above, and this is how Israel became “strangers” or ger’im in Egypt.

The family of Israel at that time was large enough to be its own community, with a total of 70 people divided among 12 family units. They had no apparent intention of integrating into Egypt’s pagan culture, which developed into mistrust with eventual disastrous results.

Exodus 1 gives the cautionary tale of how the Israelites’ isolation from Egyptian society and continued population growth created friction with their hosts that reached a critical point when the politics of Egypt took a sudden turn and a new ruler came into power: “And he said to his people, ‘Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us’” (Exodus 1:9-10 Exodus 1:9-10 9 And he said to his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falls out any war, they join also to our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
American King James Version×
).

What followed was the harsh enslavement of the people of Israel. The indiscriminant killing of sons born to the Israelites was the turning point of oppression when God determined to intervene. He delivered Israel out of slavery in Egypt and thoroughly punished the Egyptians who had shown such malice toward an enclave of people descended from peaceful legal immigrants.

While nations do have authority that is appointed by God, that authority is limited by the command to uphold justice. The king of Egypt had the right to determine whether the family of Israel could enter and live in his land, and he could have refused Israel’s request to settle there if he chose. He also exercised the right to restrict where they could live and what their occupation would be, as well as to draft some of them into the service of his government.

By contrast, the later king of Egypt had no right to enslave the vast community descended from these people and murder its children. Rather than legally negotiating and giving them the choice of whether to stay on new terms, he bypassed any legitimate process out of fear and hardness of heart. This is the full context and weight of the command later given to Israel: “You shall not oppress the stranger … because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21 Exodus 22:21You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
).

Still more on what the Bible says about immigration may be found by searching on the Internet for these recommended articles: Rick Lanser, “What Is God’s Perspective on Immigration?” biblearchaeology.org, Jan. 28, 2017; James Hoffmeier, “Jeff Sessions Got It Right on Immigrants and the Bible,” ReligionNews.com, Jan. 10, 2017 (Hoffmeier has also written a book on the subject: The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible, 2009.)

Immigration in America today

Today the United States maintains three basic classifications—citizens, permanent residents who hold green cards, and temporary visitors who are granted visas. Green card holders may work and travel freely, and are allowed to apply for full citizenship after five years, granting them the privilege of voting among other rights.

Students, tourists and foreign workers are issued temporary visas that allow them to pursue preapproved activities. For example, someone with a tourist visa cannot enroll in a university, and a student visa does not confer the right to seek employment. Visas automatically expire after a predetermined period, after which one can apply for a new visa, leave the country, or else be in violation of the law.

It’s also illegal to enter the United States as a non-citizen without a visa. Those who do not follow the law put themselves at risk of being forcibly removed from the country or otherwise punished.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to more than 3 million people who had illegally entered the country from the border with Mexico. This allowed them an opportunity to obtain legal visas while absolving them of punishment for their unlawful entry.

However, illegal immigration has continued because of the ongoing lack of security at the nation’s southern border. According to data from the Pew Research Center, more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants live in the United States today, and many feel that another amnesty program is not the answer.

Even legal immigrants who have obtained citizenship can find themselves in jeopardy under extreme circumstances. The Japanese internment during World War II is a dark period in American history. By an executive order from President Franklin Roosevelt, 110,000 Japanese immigrants living in America were forced to relocate to prison camps out of fear that they would carry out attacks against America. Over half of these legal immigrants were United States citizens.

Eventually, it was ruled that the incarceration of American citizens without due process was unconstitutional, and the internment ended in 1945. It took decades of fallout for the injustice of the internment to be fully acknowledged. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued a formal apology and vowed that such a mistake would never be repeated. Remaining survivors of the internment were granted $20,000 each in compensation in 1988.

Today, there are 3.3 million Muslims with U.S. citizenship, and there is mounting concern for what may happen if even a small percentage of them become violently hostile. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, America has experienced more than 100 additional deaths and hundreds more injuries in attacks carried out by Muslim American citizens, converts or immigrants.

These practical fears are driving the current debate on immigration. How many people can—or should—Western nations safely provide refuge to? What level of scrutiny is appropriate when accepting refugees from countries known to harbor Islamic extremists?

The future of immigration

The coming Kingdom of God is the only true solution to today’s immigration and refugee crisis. When all nations have come under the glorious rule of Jesus Christ, having put away their foolish ambitions and turning from all false religions to worship the true God, there will be no more wars to force people from their homes.

Isaiah 19:19-25 Isaiah 19:19-25 19 In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the middle of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD. 20 And it shall be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a savior, and a great one, and he shall deliver them. 21 And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yes, they shall vow a vow to the LORD, and perform it. 22 And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be entreated of them, and shall heal them. 23 In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. 24 In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the middle of the land: 25 Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.
American King James Version×
indicates that the great diversity of peoples and cultures in the world today will continue to exist. Their customs must necessarily be changed to instill God’s value system and to eliminate any trace of the worship of other gods, but they will remain distinct peoples.

For today, the most important thing we can do as Christians is to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom and that our current leaders will exercise sound moral judgment. America’s leaders must recognize the necessity of maintaining the rule of law if we expect to continue to provide a safe haven for anyone, and most people agree that major reform of the American immigration system is needed.

One hopes the debate will bear out an improved legal process that helps those truly in need without compromising the stability of the nation or the safety of its citizens.

 


Challenges Immigrants Face

The life of immigrants, whether by choice or by circumstances beyond their control, is difficult. In addition to the normal hardships of life, they are frequently met with exclusion and distrust in their new home, and this is why God commanded specific protections for them (Exodus 23:9 Exodus 23:9Also you shall not oppress a stranger: for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
).

My wife and I, both Americans, have been living in Tel Aviv, Israel, for more than a year while I continue postdoctoral studies. Given the temporary nature of our stay, we would fall under the biblical category of nokriy . Despite the heavy Western influences on Israeli culture, we have learned firsthand that life in a foreign land can be stressful.

Aside from dealing with the ordinary hassles of moving to a new place, culture shock creeps in. Everything is different —the money, the language, the food, the standards of politeness, and a million little things that take a cumulative toll on the psyche. With the looming presence of cryptic Hebrew and Arabic characters at every glance and the sound of numerous unintelligible spoken languages, a task as simple as buying groceries can become intimidating and time-consuming.

On a recent flight to Israel, I spoke with a young woman whose family fled from instability in Iraq during the mid-1990s. They sought refuge in neighboring Saudi Arabia, but found themselves in a hostile environment. Saudi officials took everything of value from them, including her mother’s jewelry. She recalled how several refugee women and young girls she knew were raped.

Eventually her family was extracted from Saudi Arabia by American human rights workers. Extended family members also resettled in America, but the resettlement program scattered them throughout the country. Her father had only $500 to his name when they arrived.

It is sobering to realize that they had a far better outcome than most refugees in the world. Refugees in America are eligible for citizenship after five years. She has become a ger in the United States (using the biblical Hebrew term explained in the main article here), and she enjoys the full rights and privileges afforded to every American citizen.

Her story is shared by hundreds of thousands of Americans today. According to estimates by the United Nations, more than 20 million people throughout the world have been forced from their homes by war, with 4.5 million refugees from the recent Syrian civil war alone.

Most Syrian refugees have found temporary homes in the neighboring Muslim states of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, sparking intense debate within those countries about whether to allow such massive numbers of them to permanently settle there.

About 1 million Syrian refugees have traveled through Turkey into Europe seeking permanent resettlement, having given up any hope of returning to their homes. Canada has taken in more than 40,000 of them, while the United States has absorbed more than 16,000.

With so much hardship in the world, many feel a moral obligation to admit as many refugees as possible, irrespective of the potential danger and long-term effects on a nation’s culture and stability. Every Western nation is currently undergoing its own internal debate as to how many refugees it is able and willing to take in and on what terms.