Frequently Asked Questions on Immigrants and Immigration

Provided by Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

These answers are intended to be a resource for Disciples pastors, regional ministers and other leaders who are grappling with concerns and questions related to immigrants and immigration in local ministry.

What are the main reasons someone becomes undocumented?

While we often think of all the undocumented people as having sneaked into the country, 40 percent have merely stayed past the expiration of their visa. Many others were brought into the country without proper documentation by their parents. The rest found no other way to enter the country through our current system, and so came illegally.

What percentage of immigrants are Hispanics?

Thirty percent of all immigrants to the United States (and more than 50 percent of undocumented immigrants) in recent years have been from Mexico, which influences our view of immigration as an issue. Another 7 percent of all immigrants are from Central America, but around half of all American immigrants are not of Latin American or Caribbean descent, so we should not leave them out of the conversation. Many immigrants other than Hispanics are struggling with these same issues.

As I build relationships with immigrants, if I learn that someone is undocumented, do I have the duty to report them to law enforcement?

Short answer: No.

The longer answer is that there is no law that currently exits that requires citizens to report a known undocumented immigrant to any authority. Nor is there any law that exists that says citizens cannot welcome undocumented immigrants into their lives, drive them to doctors’ appointments, teach them English, watch their children and help them with their schoolwork, and advocate on their behalf. A believer can stand in full compliance to governmental authorities while still welcoming and building relationships with undocumented individuals and families. It is also important to recognize that there is no conflict between the submission to authority mandated in Romans 13 and serving undocumented immigrants: we can minister to immigrants’ physical needs, help to teach them English, share the good news of the gospel, and advocate for just policies that would better their situation, all without violating the law. Since we live in a democracy, we can advocate for immigration policies that are both welcoming of immigrants and maintain the importance of the rule of law. We can also seek justice as God commands (Micah 6:8) by addressing the structures of poverty that create the situations from which immigrants feel they must flee.

What are ethical, moral or legal boundaries when it comes to our interactions with undocumented immigrants?

It is important to note that while there is no duty to report, you cannot lawfully hire a known undocumented individual. A helpful clarification on this point is that while a church cannot hire someone who is undocumented, they can reimburse someone who is undocumented for any expenses incurred while volunteering (i.e. travel costs, purchasing of materials, etc.).

Why don’t people just get in the immigration line like other immigrants I know?

According to the August 2013 governmental reports (Visa Bulletin) our immigration services are now processing some visa applications for those from Mexico who filed an application 20 years ago in September 1993. So, for some Mexican nationals, right now the line is approximately 20 years long. Not all can apply for a visa either. The above “ideal” situation is for someone entering that was petitioned for by a family member. One can enter the county legally for certain employment, an advance degree or extraordinary abilities. There is a diversity visa lottery but that is only possible for “under-represented” countries. Refugee status can be sought for those fleeing persecution due to race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. And finally one can apply for family-based reasons. The reality is that there are people in our churches waiting for a legitimate family-based visa.

Why is the United States in a difficult immigration situation? Who is to blame?

U.S. immigration policies have not kept pace with global realities and our economy’s need for immigration. The last major reform came over 27 years ago.

Aren’t immigrants bad for the economy in the United States?

In a Wall Street Journal Study, 44 of 46 economists said they are in fact beneficial for the economy.

Do undocumented immigrants pay taxes? Don’t they become an undue burden on us without paying into the system?

In fact, 3 out of 4 undocumented workers do pay taxes and the government has taken in as much as $12 billion annually as a result.

What is a short summary of what the Bible says about how we should treat immigrants?

Matthew 25:35, is the most compelling passage, where Jesus says that by welcoming a stranger (in the original language, an alien to our land, an immigrant), we may be welcoming him.

I do hear people talk about “welcoming the stranger” but what does that really mean related to immigrants?  What do the ideas of hospitality and the immigrant have to with each other?  Aren’t these separate issues?

In the original language, the word hospitality literally means loving the stranger or the immigrant. We often think of hospitality as only having friends over for dinner or letting extended family stay at your house for the weekend, but it really means welcoming the stranger into your life. This theme of hospitality runs throughout Scripture and is tied directly to the practice of love of the stranger/immigrant.

Aren’t there other groups to whom we should be showing our compassion who are in greater danger and need than immigrants?

Repeatedly in Scripture, God shows his heart specifically for the “triad of the vulnerable” including the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. Through the Psalmist he said: “God watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice” with adulterers, sorcerers, saying each will face God’s judgment. God commanded his people not to mistreat or oppress an immigrant precisely because “they know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because they were immigrants in the land of Egypt.” God’s people are called to “Treat them (the immigrant) as if they were native-born”.

As a pastor/or leader, if someone in my church has immigration issues or legal questions they need advice on, how should I respond?

First, it is not wise to try to resolve these issues on your own. As Disciples we have embraced immigration justice seriously. Our general ministries have funded the position of immigration legal counsel, housed in Disciples Home Missions, to help us with immigration law. Our attorney is Tana-Liu-Beers. You can send e-mail to tana@dhm.disciples.org. She also has a website: www.disciplesimmigration.org

Is there is an easy reading and thoughtful book about immigration?

The book is “Welcoming the Stranger” by Matthew Soerens & Jenny Hwang – ISBN 978-0-8308-3359-7

Other resources:
Refugee and Immigration Ministries website www.discipleshomemissions.org/refugee-immigration-ministries

Adapted from materials produced by the Wesleyan Church


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