Nothing paints the divide of the culture war more starkly than the debate over illegal immigration. People in the United States and many other nations debate this issue continually, ideologically split into one of two camps—those who feel that unrestricted immigration is good for their nation and those concerned that it’s being inundated by waves of people skirting the rules in coming into the country illegally, saddling the nation with enormous and unsustainable costs.
As polarization over the issue increases, so does the rhetoric. U.S. President Donald Trump, whose 2016 election resulted in part from his strong stand on immigration, shocked many with his recent announcement that he is considering an executive order that would end automatic unrestricted “birthright citizenship” for babies born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil (a practice allowed in fewer than one in five countries around the world).
On the other side, the radical left in America has reacted to strong enforcement actions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security with calls to abolish it.
The changing face of immigration
There’s no denying that the United States was built on immigration. The ancestors of the vast majority of people in America came to its shores from many other nations, seeking economic and religious freedom and a better life. Regardless of whether they stepped off 17th- or 18th-century sailing ships onto the Virginia or Massachusetts shore, or passed through Ellis Island in the 19th or early 20th century, they arrived legally. In time, many came through a process that required they learn English, understand America’s form of government and pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag.
For legal immigrants, that process continues. But the past 40 or so years have witnessed millions coming to the United States illegally, bypassing a legal immigration process developed over a long time.
Drawn to a land of peace instead of turmoil, one governed by the rule of law rather than the whims of despotic dictators, with a rich economy offering opportunities not available in their native countries, illegals unwilling to “go to the end of the line” cross into the United States relatively easily through thousands of miles of virtually unprotected borders. After arriving, they soon avail themselves of many social services on offer and find menial jobs in America’s vast underground economy.
Making matters worse is the prospect that some could be terrorists or potential terrorists driven by a fanatical hatred of the nation extending to them the hand of security and opportunity. (Keep in mind that Islamic terrorists have killed more than 3,000 Americans in nearly 20 attacks on U.S. soil.)
The immigration issue has stoked the growing fires of division. Many feel compassion for the pitiful plight of millions oppressed in nations around the world and want to open the gates wide to any and all comers. Others see this as a tidal wave threatening to undermine and sweep away the very freedoms and opportunities that have always drawn in immigrants from abroad.
Of course it’s right to want to help, but the concerning threat here is very real—not only to America but to other countries around the world, such as Britain, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Greece, Russia, India, Brazil—and the list goes on.
Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan warned more than 30 years ago, “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.” Governors of several southwestern U.S. states recognize the threat, with former Arizona governor Jan Brewer echoing Reagan: “A nation without borders is like a house without walls—it collapses. And that is going to happen to our wonderful America.”
A costly problem
No one really knows how many illegal immigrants are in the United States. Estimates run between 11 and 13 million, making the illegal segment about 4 percent of the population. However, a Yale University study released in September 2018 puts the number much higher—between 16 and 30 million. Either way, Census Bureau and Department of Homeland Security figures show the number has increased rapidly from about 8 million in 2007, peaking around 2016. Stepped-up border enforcement and deportation efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have tamped down increases since then.
Many illegally entering the United States view the country as “the Promised Land,” so to speak, where they can get government-provided food stamps, free health care and free or subsidized housing. These services, of course, are not free. The most recent figures from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) put total federal and state costs of providing for illegal immigrants at more than $134 billion per year.
The estimated $19 billion per year illegals pay in federal and state income taxes does little to offset this cost. Put in simpler terms, each illegal immigrant costs U.S. taxpayers almost $8,000 per year, year after year.
Then there is the cost of educating millions of illegal immigrant children. These children can attend public schools, and if those children can’t speak English the government will pay for them to learn it. FAIR puts the annual tally for these costs at nearly $44 billion per year, costs borne mostly by taxpayers at a time of ballooning national budget deficits. And these costs greatly drain resources and funds that could be better spent educating America’s own native-born students, who generally perform poorly in comparison to their peers in other advanced nations.
To these direct costs must be added the hidden costs of working Americans losing out on jobs going to illegals working for less and the result of lower wages for millions of other American workers. Some economists contend that the large number of illegal workers in some industries drives down labor costs to the point of discouraging technological innovation. Becoming labor-intensive versus capital intensive, these industries lose long-term competitiveness.
The problem is compounded because most on the left and even some on the right actually want more illegal immigration, but for very different reasons. Some Republicans, sympathetic to businesses, see illegals as a source of inexpensive labor, especially in agriculture and construction. Many Democrat politicians want more illegal immigration because it creates more people dependent on government assistance—and because when these people are given U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, they will support Democrat candidates and their ever-expanding government programs.
This puts liberal progressives, who make up most of the Democratic Party, in a contradictory situation. They have routinely called for higher wages, salaries and benefits for American workers. Yet their constant call for open borders and unrestricted immigration goes directly against that. Economists know that flooding the labor market with unskilled workers only drives down wages while contributing to higher unemployment among the unskilled. Progressives can’t have it both ways.
Yet it must be pointed out that huge sectors of the U.S. economy have become dependent on illegal immigrants for their work forces. In many larger cities young Hispanic men make up the bulk of framing, roofing and drywall crews. Hard workers, they find hot afternoons and sometime long workdays less objectionable than many young American workers do.
The progressive mindset runs into the same problem with their claim to championing the causes of women. While calling for greater rights for women and freedom from sexual harassment, they go out of their way to defend the “rights” of certain Middle Eastern and African immigrants to come to the United States, including many who abuse women or treat them as second-class citizens or worse.
Refusal to assimilate
Sociologists and other observers also note the resistance to assimilation by immigrants today. Centuries of legal immigrants gladly assimilated into American life, embracing American values. They learned English and happily waved their U.S. flags as they wrote back to relatives in their home nations about their pride in being American citizens.
In their desire to build new lives in this nation of opportunity, they worked, they produced and many grew rich in the process. When America found itself at war, young men among the immigrant population enlisted in the U.S. armed forces by the hundreds of thousands to protect the American way of life and the values they had come to cherish.
This does not seem to be the case with an increasing number of immigrants today, who want access to the jobs, economic benefits and government programs that America has to offer, but refuse to adopt American values and the American economic system. Many don’t bother to learn English, as they often don’t need to.
Immigrant enclaves can be found in hundreds of U.S. cities, where immigrant families huddle together to eke out a living. Here, they retain their native languages, their cultures, their values, trying their best not to be involved in the rest of society. A drive down the streets of these cities shows many business signs in languages other than English.
However, there is one aspect of America that many do learn all too quickly—how to game the U.S. system of economic handouts to get free or subsidized food, housing, education and medical care. Of course, this has also been a problem with many native-born Americans, but the problem is greatly exacerbated by thousands and thousands of newcomers.
Taking back the Southwest?
In the southwestern United States, the huge influx of immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American nations has changed the character and culture of cities, counties and even states. People of Hispanic origin now make up more than a third of the populations of California, Texas, Florida and New Mexico. A number of major U.S. cities are now majority Hispanic, such as Anaheim and Oxnard, Calif. (53 and 73 percent) and McAllen and El Paso, Tex. (60 and 81 percent).
Moreover, illegal immigrants are bringing new children into the world at prodigious rates. As reported in The Washington Examiner, nearly 300,000 children were born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. during 2014 alone, the equivalent of another Cincinnati every year (Paul Bedard, “Shock Report: US Paying More for Illegal Immigrant Births Than Trump’s Wall,” Oct. 9, 2018).
California accounted for more than a fifth, or about 65,000, with Texas accounting for 51,000, Florida with 16,000, Illinois with 14,000, Georgia with 13,000, New York with 12,000, and New Jersey and North Carolina with 11,000 each. Typically between two-thirds and three-fourths of these births are likely paid for by taxpayers (ibid.).
The contrast of these birthrates with U.S. native birthrates at barely replacement levels presents a stark demographic picture—that of the eventual takeover of the American Southwest by pure numbers.
Hispanic American leaders are very aware of this trend, and some have been encouraging it for a long while. Said Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre back in 1996: “They’re afraid that we’re going to take over the governmental institutions and other institutions. They are right, we will take them over . . . We are here to stay” (Latino summit conference in Los Angeles, September 1996).
Augustin Cebada, leader of the militant Brown Berets of Aztlan, an offshoot of MEChA (Movement of Chicano Students of Aztlan), was more strident earlier that same year: “Go back to Boston! Go back to the Plymouth Rock, Pilgrims! Get out! We are the future. You are old and tired. Go on. We have beaten you; leave like beaten rats. You old white people, it is your duty to die . . . Through love of having children, we are going to take over” (Rally at Federal Building in Westwood, Calif., July 4, 1996).
The decade before that, it was stated in the Mexican national newspaper Excelsior that the American Southwest “seems to be slowly returning to the jurisdiction of Mexico without firing a single shot” (Carlos Loret de Mola, “The Great Invasion: Mexico Recovers Its Own,” July 20, 1982).
California—now officially 39 percent Hispanic and where Hispanic births now account for half of all births—will within a few years become majority Hispanic. Mario Obledo, co-founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a former California Secretary of Health and Welfare, stated in matter-of-fact terms back in 1998 that California is going to become a Hispanic state and that anyone who doesn’t like it should leave and go back to Europe (Ray Briem and Tom Leykis radio talk shows).
Hispanic activist leaders with such sentiments aim to correct what they see as a historical injustice. They maintain that the United States illegally took Texas and the American Southwest from Mexico more than 150 year ago, and they now see a way to reverse that perceived wrong by sheer force of population. Truly did Moses write more than 3,000 years ago: “The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower” (Deuteronomy 28:43).
Immigration from the Middle East
While attention tends to focus on the large numbers of Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, turmoil in the Middle East and other factors have prompted a growing tide of immigrants from Muslim nations. How many have come to America is uncertain, since the U.S. Census Bureau does not ask questions about religion. But the Pew Research Center estimates there were about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages in the U.S. in 2017, making up about 1.1 percent of the population.
Rather than spread out, Muslims tend to cluster in communities where life centers around the local mosque. Many Americans are aware of cities such as Dearborn, Michigan, whose population of 100,000 is now majority Muslim.
A growing number subscribe to the concept of sharia law, an interpretation of the Quran that calls for the execution or maiming of criminals, “honor killings” of daughters that besmirch the family name, the stoning of homosexuals, and legitimacy for polygamous marriages, even to girls as young as 12.
Growing opposition to border enforcement
A tougher stance on illegal immigration has led to a surge of new arrests. Between 2016 and 2017, apprehensions of undocumented immigrants jumped by a third. In 2017 the Trump administration deported more than double the number of illegals the previous administration had deported in 2016. So effective has recent ICE enforcement of immigration laws been that, as mentioned earlier, many on the left want to abolish it.
Ironically, the left calling for the abolition of a federal government agency presents another contradiction to the progressive mindset, as it typically sees the answer to any national problem to be the setting up of another federal agency!
Thumbing their noses at federal enforcement of immigration laws, some states and cities have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal officials. In such refuge areas, illegals can flout the law, knowing they won’t be deported or handed over to federal officials even if they commit criminal acts.
The July 2015 San Francisco shooting of Kate Steinle by an illegal immigrant, Jose Garcia Zarate, shocked the nation. Yet more than a year later Zarate was acquitted of murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, as well as assault with a deadly weapon—which many found outrageous. Prior to the shooting, San Francisco had repeatedly refused to turn Zarate over to federal immigration officials for deportation, in spite of his having a prior criminal record.
Said then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers” (Dept. of Justice press release, Nov. 30, 2017).
But stronger enforcement has raised the fear level in immigrant communities that in the past thumbed their noses at U.S. immigration laws. “Quite frankly, illegal immigrants are supposed to be afraid of detection,” says Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group working for stronger immigration controls (quoted by Haley Edwards, Time magazine, March 8, 2018).
Of course, border enforcement—or lack thereof—is also inextricably linked to drug trafficking. The same Mexican crime lords who smuggle drugs across the southern border also smuggle human beings. Most illegal drugs sold in the United States come from Mexico, and heroin is making a huge comeback. In 2017, the last year for which figures are available, more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses—that’s nearly 200 a day and more than all U.S. deaths from the Vietnam and Iraq wars combined.
What’s behind all this?
As in many other countries, the clash of values in America forms the basis for the problem of illegal immigration. Strident calls against a border wall, for the abolition of ICE, for unrestricted legal and illegal immigration, for immediate full citizenship for those who are here illegally—all result from a trend toward growing lawlessness that has come over America.
Today, millions of Americans reject the concept of absolute law. As a nation, we have largely thrown out the Bible, which teaches that respecting and living according to the law of God is the path to peace and prosperity. We have replaced that law with humanistic thought that imagines man can solve all of his problems without some higher power. We have embraced a relativistic view that rejects all absolutes, that says situations define ethics and morals.
This mode of thinking now wants to abolish America’s borders and the rule of law based on the U.S. Constitution and other founding documents. But as has been pointed out repeatedly in the immigration debate, without law and secure borders we have no nation state.
Biblical principles provide guidelines
The fact is, we do need God to help us see and resolve our problems. And His Word gives us guidance concerning immigrants. The Bible lays down laws dealing with immigration and naturalization and provides guidelines for dealing with this issue. A beginning point is that foreigners who enter the country lawfully and accept its values and way of life should be treated with respect.
Before they were a nation, the biblical Israelites were themselves strangers in a foreign land. The Egyptians forced them into slavery—hardly a welcoming situation. When they became a nation, God commanded Israel in Leviticus 19:33-34: “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
God further laid down another principle in requiring all citizens to adhere to the same law. Leviticus 24:22 states, “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country.” Despite the claims of many on the left, American law is based on Judeo-Christian ethic. Those who come from another land should be educated in this fact.
And those who violate the law, who sneak into the country illegally, some committing horrendous crimes against U.S. citizens, must be punished by the same law that applies to everyone in the country.
Truly following a biblical ethic would mean we do not follow laws that contradict God’s laws—as Paul stated in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Immigrants are not entitled to live by laws that are contrary to the laws of their adopted country. If they insist on doing so, they should never be allowed to enter or should be deported to the lands from which they came.
Of course, we must not lose sight of the fact that most immigrants come to build a better life for themselves and their families. As Christians we should extend the hand of friendship and help as long as these people are law-abiding, are willing to live peaceably amid the culture and seek to contribute to society rather than merely take what the country has to offer.