It's all over Scripture. I like the frankness off Leviticus 19:33-34 “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land... love them as you love yourself.” (NLT) But you can find similarly worded commands in Exodus 22, Psalm 94, Zecheriah 7 and all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus also thought pretty highly of foreigners in his day, saving his highest compliments for them (Luke 7:9, 17:18)
God has a special place in his heart for foreigners. I do too. I do not mean to imply that I am more godly than others because of my regard for foreigners. I have sympathy for their plight, because I was one once.
I am not an immigrant to America. I was born in Iowa. I did, however live in the Middle East for more than two years where I was a foreigner. I moved to a country where I did not speak the language. I had no friends. I did not have a job lined up when I got there, or a residence visa, (although I did enter the country legally with a visit visa). I placed a lot of hope and not a small number of prayers in finding a job that would grant residency to me and my family. I studied hard to learn the language, I was told that I excelled in my study. But in the end, my Arabic was still broken, at times incomprehensible to native speakers. My friends were very patient with me to figure out what I was saying, and to word things simply enough that I could understand them.
Sometimes I think people are under the impression that immigrants coming to America have it made. They have arrived, after all. They made it to the greatest country on earth. They have freedom and opportunity at their fingertips. They can just sit back and relax and enjoy the blessings of prosperity. We get even more cynical about those who enter or stay in the country illegally, that is without the proper residence permits. We act like they maliciously came in to this country to steal someone's job and claim government benefits they are not entitled to.
I don't think most Americans realize what it means to be a foreigner. We don't realize how much we depend on the relationships of family and friends, how cut off we really are when they are not around. We don't realize all the rules, both laws and social mores we take for granted, that a foreigner simply would not know. It's difficult to do simple things like pay bills or get a drivers license when they are done so differently than in your home country. Most of us have never really tried to master a second language, or know how difficult it is to live in a place where you don't speak the language. Immigrants are often victims of trafficking and exploitation. They often simply don't understand all that is going on around them. Or they are just too desperate to care. I don't think most immigrants would put up with half the crap they take if the situation were not so dire, if people back home were not depending on the money they send for their next meal.
Immigration has returned to the national dialog as a contemporary shibboleth. Your stance on immigration will show who you are: bold progressive, limp-wristed moderate, or true-blooded American. I hesitate to say anything, because I hate to put too much weight on politics. We won't solve the issues of immigration with politics or a new piece of legislation. But there are some clear spiritual issues that need to be addressed. You can not follow Jesus and hate the foreigners living among us. You can not love the foreigners living among us and refuse to acknowledge their existence. You can not love the foreigners among us without feeling compassion for their dire situation or taking action to bring justice to them.
Denying justice to the foreigner. That was one of God's indictments against sinful Israel in Ezekiel 22:29. That is exactly what is going on today in America. Undocumented Immigrants have no legal status. When they fall victim to a crime (which happens quite a lot) they avoid reporting it for fear of being deported, or imprisoned. They broke an immigration law. You've probably broken some laws too: driving over the speed limit, and possibly some far worse things. Does that broken law make it justifiable for someone else to steal your wages or force our daughter into prostitution? As long as we force immigrants to live off the grid, they will never receive justice, let alone the compassion we owe them.
First, we have to face the fact that immigrants are not going anywhere. Expelling them all is logistically impossible. It would also be devastating to our economy, driving up prices on a number of goods and services that are supported by the low wages immigrant laborers (both legal and illegal) usually earn
Second, we need to let God convict us that the status quo is not acceptable. We can not continue to deny justice to immigrants simply because they broke an immigration law. The evil being done to them far outweighs any evil they have done. I do not know all the ins and outs of this new immigration bill being debated in Congress. No doubt it is imperfect, made by imperfect people. I do know it is far overdue. It puts us in the right direction of providing justice and compassion for immigrants. I think that is what God would want us to do.
Finally, we need to let the love of Christ compel us to see immigrants as people made in the image of God, loved by God. We need to stop looking at them as a special interest group in the midst of a political hot-button issue, and just look at them as people. As people, living in a strange land, they could probably use some help from time to time getting around, knowing where to go to get things done. They might need some help learning English if they haven't mastered it yet. Most of all they probably need a good friend, someone they can depend on, because that person is a committed follower of Jesus. And when you put aside your prejudice and befriend one of these foreigners, you might be surprised how much they enrich your life as well.