In recent months, prominent leaders of the Evangelical Christian movement have joined with mainline Protestant churches, the Catholic Bishops, the Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism, and other establishment religious groups in calling for an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy that includes amnesty for current illegal aliens and significant increases in legal immigration to the United States.
Evangelical Protestantism has often been the odd-man-out in the arena of religious political activism, tending to take a more conservative line than other established religious denominations on contentious political and social issues. Thus, when leaders of the Evangelical movement start singing from the same political hymnal as their more left-leaning brethren, one might assume that the moral issues of the current immigration debate are a matter of settled religious doctrine.
Yet, in the United States, arguably the most religious of all Western societies, the majority of people continue to resist amnesty for illegal aliens, insist that immigration laws be enforced, and oppose increasing levels of immigration to the United States. It seems implausible that these millions of otherwise decent, generous, church-going folks would suddenly exhibit a moral blind spot on the issue of immigration.
The disconnect between the clergy and the people who fill the pews suggests that the moral questions surrounding immigration policy are not as clear as they might seem.
It is easy to understand the position taken by religious leaders when immigration is viewed solely from the perspective of immigrants. We all understand and empathize with the human aspirations that drive people to leave one country and come to another. It is undeniable that immigration always benefits immigrants – they wouldn’t come otherwise.
What is missing from this narrow perspective on immigration is a thoughtful assessment of how immigration affects people in the receiving society (or even how large-scale emigration might impede morally desirable social and economic reforms in the sending nations). The reason the United States, and every nation on Earth, restricts immigration, however, is precisely because we recognize that what is in the individual interest of a would-be immigrant is not necessarily in the interest of everyone else in the receiving country.
Those who support amnesty for current illegal aliens and expanding legal immigration (above its already record levels) do not necessarily claim a higher moral ground. They tend, instead, to claim a higher rung on the socio-economic ladder, or see an immediate personal, political or economic benefit in more open immigration.