What the Bible Says About Immigration

Some in religious circles are invoking the Biblical verse “Thou shalt not afflict the stranger” as justification for awarding illegal immigrants a full basket of on-going social services, as well as a “fast track to citizenship”, which others believe is but a euphemism for amnesty.

In all matters the Bible teaches discernment, and there is a distinct difference between not afflicting another as opposed to requiring that we subsidize an entire life, especially when the burden of that support falls on the shoulders of already over-taxed families, themselves not beneficiaries of such “entitlements.” Basic respect and kindness is one thing—it is a sign of our humanity; onerous sacrifice and national bankruptcy is an unrequired other.

The Bible’s primary interest in this matter is a moral one: we all start out as children of God and should thus be treated with civility.  In contrast to the biblical community, many ancient societies viewed strangers as fair game to be robbed, incarcerated or as fodder for harsh sport and brutality. This, the Bible exhorts, was the way of Sodom.  Even today there are cultures and nations where “infidels” and strangers are oppressed and treated as sub-human.

The Bible is adamant: “One law shall prevail for all.”  Basic justice regarding one’s property, personhood, and right to trial is universal and transcends tribe. However, what serious American citizen would claim “affliction” if not provided complete subsidy?  Neither, then, should such a claim be made by political activists in behalf of illegal immigrants.

The biblical Hebrew word for stranger, or immigrant, is ger. Some entered ancient Israel as workers and opted to remain resident-aliens. Others embarked on the long road toward full citizenship, which meant learning the mores and attitudes of the country, culminating in absolute commitment to the nation and its people. In those days full citizenship meant religious conversion, whereas in modern societies it is obtained by pledging allegiance to the laws of the land.

Both the resident-alien and new citizen were entitled to courteous and dignified treatment and could participate in many aspects of civic life. One’s background was not an impediment.  However, the full array of benefits was provided only to those who had made a total commitment to the society providing those benefits. New citizens were not “fast tracked” or hurried and herded into citizenship; each candidate’s sincerity was of utmost importance. Requiring that normative and historic standards for citizenship be applied is not a form of affliction.

The Bible is a compassionate document, but also a cautious one, asking that we eschew hyperbole and employ discernment and balance.  No value, not even compassion, is set in a vacuum or regarded as so open-ended as to be blind to reality. No gesture can ignore the impact of how what may be good for one is harmful and unfair to thousands of others.

The requirement of charity, for example, was capped at ten percent; and while field owners were asked to leave the corners of their field to the poor and strangers, they were never asked to plough, seed and harvest additional fields, a “second job”, so as to satisfy the needs of an expanding receivership class.  Charity, as taxation, should not devolve into servitude or serfdom. Nor were citizens asked to forfeit portions of their fields or deliver the left-over grain to the mailbox of those classified as poor or strangers. Undoubtedly, God has equal compassion for those who work hard and play by the rules.  Compassion is a two-way street, something demanded even from the stranger toward the citizen/provider. The double emphasis on justice as in “Justice, justice shall ye pursue” implies that both parties receive that which is just and fair.

What the Bible, and Jesus, had in mind was maintaining a person’s dignity on a subsistence level, not a full array of 2013 cradle-to-grave amenities.

Nor did the Bible request that the decency we extend to strangers result in national suicide. It never encouraged a virtual open-border situation where the host country is overrun and loses its indigenous culture, suspends its laws, or its ability to flourish as a unique and sovereign entity. Indeed, so paramount was the ideal of protected borders, and what it means to a country’s economic and cultural viability, that God said, “And I shall protect your borders so that strangers and enemies will not fill your camp and become a thorn in your side.”  There are even reports that jihadists are among those who are entering here illegally.

None of this should be construed as anti-immigration per se. What separates our current circumstance of immigration from previous ones is precisely the welfare state the U.S. has become and massive immigration’s hefty burden on taxpayers and threat to basic services. Furthermore, the anti-assimilationist fervor among today’s multicultural ideologues raises the question as to whether America’s historic cultural ethos can survive this huge foreign influx.

Nor is this an issue of race; indeed, many of us admire the qualities of those coming from south of the border.

The Bible’s focus is on morality, and its humane ethos should not be exploited for the political agenda of those whose ultimate goal is to drastically change demographics so as to ensure their political party’s ascendancy. Nor did the Bible see its mission as fostering a replacement of existing society and its identity through massive and transformative immigration, rather properly treating the few and individual strangers who straggled temporarily into the land.

Over the years, many in the social-justice crowd have boasted that they “comfort the uncomfortable and discomfit the comfortable.” How ironic that those making the point not to afflict the stranger have a knee jerk desire to afflict the comfortable, including most middle class who daily work hard just to remain afloat. It sounds more like vengeance than it does social justice.

During the last fifty years, every social issue has been framed as a referendum or “test” of whether the American people are “good”.  But we Americans don’t need to prove our goodness. This transformative immigration issue should be decided on common sense and what is good for taxpaying citizens, our cultural future, and what constitutes compassion and justice for middle class America.

[This article was originally published by the Washington Times on November 25, 2013]

Posted in ARTICLES, BLOG, Immigration, Politics, Religion and tagged , , .
Rabbi Aryeh Spero

Rabbi Aryeh Spero

Rabbi Spero, who also served as a pulpit rabbi, has been invited to inform policy-makers, candidates, and elected officials in the halls of Congress, and in the Executive, regarding the moral and religious dimensions of policies and legislation under consideration.

Leave a Reply