Kevin’s Conversations: Why A Wall?
There is no question that the United States has an illegal immigration problem. Just the fact that we have 11 million or more undocumented immigrants living within our borders is a tell-tale sign that our systems have not been working so well. It is a problem that needs some fixing and is certainly a topic of great interest in our country right now.
We have plenty of other significant issues in our nation. There are hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who are homeless. We know many stories of veterans who placed their lives and well-being on the line to serve our country and are now suffering from a lack of care, some who double-up in the homeless category. There are tens of thousands of people who are human trafficked in our nation, many of them children. Our murder rate is higher than many other developed nations. Hundreds of thousands of babies are aborted every year. Despite the progress we have made in race relations over our history, there still exists many racial imbalances in our society. We have an opioid crisis that is sweeping across our country at a rapid rate. And on and on and on.
None of these matters are to be taken lightly, nor are they an either/or. Just because we care about one does not mean that we don’t care about others. None of us have the capacity to pour ourselves into each and every one of these matters. Nonetheless, despite this litany of problems, the United States remains a land of opportunity and a place that many desire to come to in search for a better life.
Over the past few years, I have chosen to learn more and eventually speak more to the immigration issue. I am far from an expert on the wide-ranging topics that comprise this overall issue, but I believe I have learned enough to be able to speak some manner of reasonableness to the matter. Immigration gained my interest and attention for several reasons. First, I am concerned for the welfare of those who are choosing to leave tough conditions (sometimes life-threatening) in their native countries to seek a better life for themselves and their families. I am also concerned for the welfare of my fellow U.S. citizens who have been or could be impacted negatively by the actions of those coming into our country. Another big concern has been the way this issue has been so strongly politicized and the resultant ways it is causing people to think, speak, and act, most especially my Christian brethren. In addition to all this, Michael’s faithfulness to speaking to the subject all these years has added to my desire to learn about it.
Unmistakably, the subject of a wall on our southern border is bringing much consternation right now. It is obvious that a wall would serve as a deterrent to border crossings to at least some degree. It is not so obvious as to how efficient and effective and economical it would be to undertake such a project across nearly our entire southern border. There are already many sections of wall along this border in mostly populated and easier terrain areas. Much of the remaining area along the border that is unwalled is less populated and of rougher terrain. There are experts and institutions who have spent significant time and resources studying the issue who have said that trying to build a wall along the entirety of our southern border would be folly and would have many negative economic, environmental, and functional consequences. Some of these experts and institutions even coming from the politically conservative side of the aisle.
Despite the deceptive propaganda of some, it should be well understood and acknowledged by anybody who is willing to cede to facts and common sense, that a wall would have very little impact on the drug trade that flows through the border. Drugs are the largest volume of criminal activity that comes through our southern border. Outside of that, human trafficking is a horrid and significant happening that enters through our southern border. It is also believed that most human trafficking passes through our ports of entry, thus a wall likely would have a smaller impact on this condition, too. And then looking at crime numbers as a whole, many studies have shown that undocumented immigrants commit, at worst, the same level of crime as U.S. citizens, and in some cases, less crime than the average citizen. And the numbers of crime committed by undocumented immigrants even include the drug smugglers and human traffickers who are caught after having come through ports of entry. Thus, it would appear that the common undocumented immigrant who is sneaking into our country or overstaying their original legal entry is better behaved than even the average U.S. citizen.
The big questions then are, exactly who are we trying to stop from coming into our country and why? If our overriding concern is that of building a wall, it would seem based on fact and circumstance, we are essentially saying that it is the common undocumented immigrants who we must primarily keep out. Many of whom are fleeing bad, desperate, and sometimes even life-threatening conditions in hopes of extricating their lives along with those of their families. Many who fill the jobs that most Americans will not. Many who pay taxes, including Social Security taxes that they will never be able to collect back. These same many who are able to take advantage of very few governmental benefits. The large majority of these contribute positively to society. This group who commits less crime than the citizens already here. (And yes, it is terrible whenever an undocumented immigrant does commit a serious crime. They should suffer the attending punishment and/or be deported. It is terrible when their crime has devastating effects on another person or group of people, while understanding that those effects are no more terrible than if the crime was committed by an American citizen.)
Is this really the issue that should be of such great importance to us? Is this what we really think is worth dumping untold billions and billions of taxpayer dollars into? Is this really the great crisis that raises our political ire? That we desperately need to build a wall that will keep out a small percentage of serious criminals while keeping out a much larger swath of well-meaning, impoverished, and distressed people?
As I have written a good many times before, I believe as Christians we need to look at everything in our world first through a lens of how God calls us to see things, one seeing His Kingdom, and not through a political or national lens. When we do this on the immigration issue, we first see many exhortations from God to care for the poor and needy and disadvantaged and alien. This does not mean that we should then expect our nation and governmental leaders to just let in anybody who wants to cross our borders and then provide for their every need. But our thinking and desire should start with having concern for those who are innocently trying to escape dreadful circumstances in hopes of finding some relief. One would think we would hope to be able to help and bring as much relief to those in need as much as feasibly possible. From a perspective of national law and policy, there are not simple or easy answers as to how to best do this while also juggling concerns of national security and welfare. We should not expect our government to come up with the perfect solution, as such a solution probably does not exist in this fallen world, nor would we even all agree on what a perfect solution is. Nonetheless, our interest in this issue should start with a concern for others, most especially for those in substantial need as God bids us extra in His Word to do as such.
What we should not be doing is taking the lives of millions of mostly impoverished people and using them as a hammer to win some political battle. When we end up regularly seeing and speaking of these people as if they are thugs and criminals and undesired, politics is winning out over God. When we take a caravan of people fleeing terrible conditions and proceeding to our country with the desires to apply for asylum, a perfectly permissible and legal process, and demean and demonize and wrongly misrepresent them as invaders and infesters and illegals, politics is winning out over God. When we treat this whole large group of undocumented immigrants primarily as an opportunity for political gain, politics is winning out over God. When we regularly condone and even repeat harsh and abrasive rhetoric in describing these immigrants or those who oppose us on the issue, politics is winning out over God. When we support or justify policies to separate children from their parents or to remove DACA protections from those who previously made themselves vulnerable and accepted offers of protection from our government, politics is winning out over God.
It is okay to be concerned with border security. In fact, we should be concerned with such because we should care about the welfare of our fellow citizens and want our government to protect us from outside threats. But is this current dogged insistence of a wall really doing us much good? Or is it causing us to take what is primarily a humanitarian problem that involves millions of precious people made in the image of God and turning it into a disgraceful political clash?
If we really were concerned with border security, wouldn’t we be more concerned with investing in technology, techniques, and intelligence that could fight drug and human smuggling much more effectively than a wall? Or in ramping up airport security that documented data shows is the overwhelming entry point that terrorists try to get into our country, and not our southern border? Or if we were really concerned about the millions of people who come into our country or overstay in an illegal fashion, couldn’t we be more concerned with trying to reform immigration law so that we could allow more of these needy and well-meaning and even positively-contributing people into our country or make the laws less confusing and more understandable for those who originally came legally? Because right now, our laws make it next to impossible for the large majority of impoverished people below our border to come in a legal fashion and other laws are very confusing and often changing as to how and until when those who originally came legally can stay. And if at all possible, wouldn’t we be more concerned with trying to find ways to increase asylum quotas instead of favoring the reduction of them? If these people had some real avenues to come legally, there would be less incentive to come illegally and thus undoubtedly would reduce the cases of those doing so.
Yet the paramount concern seemingly remains with getting a wall. A wall that is apparently imperative and of immense importance. We’ve already established that there could be a lot of negative consequences to the building of a wall, and at the very least, it would have minimal impact on the majority of serious crime and threats that cross over our southern border. And that those who would be impacted the most by a wall would be the well-intentioned and indigent immigrants who have little other real options to enter our country or to escape their destitute and dangerous living conditions. Is this really the message we want to send? That this is the people group that we must campaign against so strongly and vigilantly? Walls are traditionally built by nations to keep out the enemy. Is this who we are saying are the enemy? As Christians, is this really what we believe God would have us make a priority? As a nation that is recognized to be filled with many Christians, is this really what we want to be seen as being against?
The Good News is that Jesus came and died, offering his life as a sacrifice, and rose gain, defeating death. For all who believe, He reconciles us to God. Jesus has done something for us that we do not deserve nor would we ever be able to do for ourselves. Although I fail in speaking this message as often as I ought, this is what I want to be known for. I want to be chiefly known for what Jesus has done and not for what I am against. I am concerned that our behavior as Christians is making us known more for what we are against, and worse yet in this case, being against a group of people who are primarily poor and needy and desperate.
Immigration is a complex and difficult situation, therefore there are not simple solutions to it. We are never going to come up with the perfect answer to resolve all aspects of the issue. But that doesn’t mean we should stop from trying to make things better. We should be concerned about the security of our country and we should be concerned with the plight of people in need. We should desire to find solutions with a focus on caring for all the people involved, and not a focus on winning political battles. As Christians, let’s try to keep looking at people through a lens of how God would want us to see them and not through a lens that sees them as political collateral.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You should love your neighbor as yourself.”” Galatians 5:14 ESV