Last week a trial began in a US federal court with officials from the city of Hazelton, Pennsylvania defending the tough illegal-immigration laws they'd passed against a suit by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union claiming that such laws discriminate against legal Latino residents.
As this case illustrates, some Americans believe that officials in the cities and states across the nation will have to be the ones to pass meaningful legislation to address illegal immigration because so far the nation's leaders in Congress have done little beyond authorizing funds to build more fence on the US-Mexico border. The dozens of communities across the nation that are trying to pass similar laws as Hazelton will be watching this case intently. So will the communities who openly refuse to enforce existing laws on illegal immigration.
Concerning immigration, the majority of Americans have always recognized the United States as a land of opportunity to which people from all nations should be welcomed. After all, most Americans are members of families who immigrated here themselves. So Americans don't want to close the borders. But the problem isn't with legal immigration. It's the illegal variety that gets many Americans so angry and upset.
The citizens who pay the taxes that provide free schools and healthcare for those who illegally enter this country generally believe in giving people opportunities to provide for themselves but not in financially supporting those who break the law and drain community resources. Adding to their frustration are the pictures run on all major television stations of the hundreds of illegal immigrants coming across the borders every night and the US government's claim that it can't stop them, find them, catch them, or send them back home. Cynics have quipped that the government does a better job keeping track of cows including their origin and location in the US (for the possibility of mad cow disease) than they do with humans.
Complicating the problem is the large number of illegal immigrants who are working in low-paying jobs—such as harvesting crops—that Americans don't want. Many, including US President George Bush see the continuance of such workers in the US as critical to the economy.
Meeting with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon last week in Merida, Mexico, President Bush said "he would try to convince Congress to pass his plans to soften U.S. immigration laws and allow a guest worker program" ("Bush reassures skeptical Mexico on immigration," Swissinfo.org, March 14, 2007). Accounting for more than half of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the US, Mexicans do not like restrictions on illegal immigration into the US (ibid.).
Since America is divided over how to solve its illegal immigration problem, perhaps it should look to the Bible for some answers.
The Bible explains that the ancient Israelites had immigrants living among them and that God told them, "One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you" (Exodus 12:49). In other words, the laws of the land were to apply to everyone. Rules were not just for those born in the land or just for those coming into the land. Putting this instruction into practice today in the US could look like this:
- 1. The US could make it clear that it welcomes legal immigrants to its country, but they are expected to abide by all of its laws—that anyone who wants to enter the US must do so through the legal channels. If one doesn't, he'll be sent home. The US could secure its borders and prosecute those who practice or assist illegal immigration.
- 2. The US could tell those who enter illegally with no criminal record that they must go home and apply according to the rules. Americans overwhelmingly believe in giving people a second chance to do what is right. The US could then implement a plan in which immigrants caught illegally in the US a second time would be barred from entering for life.
- 3. Recognizing the biblical observation that "Righteousness [the rule of law] exalts a nation" (Proverbs 14:34), the US could find a lawful solution for the jobs currently held by illegal immigrants. It could establish a temporary worker status so workers could legally come to the US on a temporary basis and it could simply say that, if necessary, its own citizens will pay more for crops to be harvested. Either way, the US would then be promoting lawful conduct.