Welcoming The Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang
The current debate on immigration is a hot button issue in the United States right now. As I was trying to get my mind around the issues, I quickly became overwhelmed as I waded through the rhetoric of both sides! What was true, what wasn’t, etc. In the midst of that confusion, I found Welcoming The Stranger a very helpful look at both sides of the debate from a Christian perspective.

Soerens and Hwang Yang first give an overview of some of the big issues  involved in the debate. They examine needs of those who are emigrating as well as the pressures that immigration puts on our society. On one hand, I gained a new perspective and sympathy for those on the lowest economic rungs of our country who often stand to lose the most from an influx of immigrants. Yet I was surprised to learn that a lot of so-called facts that are thrown around in the current debate about the negative effects of immigrants, both legal and illegal, are simply not true.

For example most illegal immigrants pay $80,000 more in taxes than they ever take in public assistance. Another myth-buster is that immigrants are actually a very low-crime population. A third is that an illegal immigrant having a baby here does not give the parents any extra benefits in gaining legal status. Those oft-maligned “anchor babies” are not the sneaky way to gain citizenship that some Americans claim. There’s been a lot of fear mongering that is just simply untrue.

Next, the authors take a look at the issue from a Christian perspective. While there are economic and political considerations, what should be the attitude of a follower of Christ to the immigrants already in our country, as well as those who are wanting to come? Unfortunately, too many in the church are only concerned about economic impact even though the supposed negative effects of immigration are largely untrue. Soerens and Hwang Yang challenge us to view the issues differently:

“Welcoming the stranger (the ‘immigrant’ we could say today) is the most oft-repeated command in the Hebrew Scriptures, with the exception of the imperative to worship only the one God. And the love of neighbor is doubtlessly the New Testament’s constant command…However we approach immigration policy, we must first approach immigrants themselves as neighbors—with love. The love to which we are called is a conscientious decision based on commitment and trust, not simply a warm feeling or emotion.”

In another section, I found the examination of the history of immigration in our country to be particularly eye-opening. As the author of Ecclesiastes once noted, there’s nothing new under the sun. The debate that we’re having today is almost identical to the debates over immigration that have raged over the last several centuries. While it’s easy to look back in retrospect and see the benefit of immigration, the current opponents of reform are usually unable to see how it benefits us at this time, even though the issues are comparable to what they were 100 years ago.

Finally, the authors took an in-depth look at what is broken in the system and why there’s such a desperate need for reform. I hadn’t realized how ponderous and complicated the current legal situation is. Much of the illegal immigration into our country occurs because there is no legal avenue for those who are desperate, or for family members to be reunited in a timely way. Many of the currently suggested reforms could be key in strengthening families (and thus strengthening our country), as well as reducing illegal immigration to a manageable load so that our Government can focus on keeping out those who will cause harm.

Have you read the book? What were your thoughts? Other books you’d recommend to better understand and respond to the immigration crisis? Share your thoughts below!

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