If you want to see tempers flare up quickly on both sides of a volatile issue, just start a conversation about illegal immigration. If ever there was an example of an issue where the fringe elements on each side are permitted to dictate the terms of debate, immigration fits the bill! Unfortunately, those who believe this issue is as simple as choosing sides between Republicans and Democrats--or between CNN and FOX News, fail to understand the deep complexity of the issue at hand. What's worse is that followers of Jesus, for the most part, don't appear to have realized that God speaks much in His Word about how just nations are to treat the alien and stranger from another land.
The latest manifestation of this unfortunate shouting match is now occuring in my state. This week, the Maryland legislature is considering a bill that would grant in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. As usual, reactions to this bill have been predictably strong and shallow. On the far left are those who are simply content to ignore the law. On the far right are those who have confused respect for the law with the worship of law. Since I have written on this issue in a more comprehensive fashion before (here, and here), this post will be relatively short. But as much as my politically conservative friends might lament my position here, I feel compelled to give a rationale for why I do believe this bill should become law in Maryland:
1. From a financial point of view, the reason we grant "in state" vs. "out of state" tuition has to do with whether students and their families have actually contributed financially to the public University system in a given state. Unless I am mistaken, I believe this legislation stipulates that the families of illegals have to pay income taxes in Maryland before their children can qualify. If this is not true, then I would join others in opposition to its passage. Those who aren't paying taxes in MD should not have "in state" rates for the same reason my kids won't get in state tuition if they choose to attend JMU--because our family doesn't pay income taxes in Virginia and thus, we don't contribute to the public support of James Madison University. If they pay taxes in Maryland, they have contributed to the public support of our institutions of higher learning. Thus, I have no problem with them receiving the same benefits as my family.
2. From a practical point of view, we have to remember that in most cases, we are talking about the children of illegals, who were brought here by their parents, thus having their illegal status chosen for them. We might rightly call them victims of their parents illegal choices. Since we aren't living in an ideal world, and consequently will continue to live with these individuals among us, we should ask a very simple question: Would we rather them remain uneducated, possibly start down a spiral toward volitional criminal activity themselves, and take from our society, or would we rather offer them the opportunity to contribute to our society?
3. Finally, from a Christian point of view, those who claim the name of Christ must speak first and foremost as His followers, not as Republicans or Democrats. Anyone with the ability to read and common sense can clearly see that our current immigration situation represents the epitome of mistreatment of "aliens and strangers," and embodies the very kind of unjust law that Christians should oppose with all our might. As one who works with immigrant Pastors (our Association of churches worships every Sunday in eight different languages) and helps them legally navigate the nightmare that is the USCIS, I can readily testify to the fact that when our pastors try to obey the law (as they should) and do the right thing, they are jerked around, malligned, and in some cases, even abused by the system, while simultaneously, thousands every day cross our borders illegally. In short, our current immigration system does indeed reward lawbreakers, but it also punishes those who try to obey the law, and makes victims out of the children of both groups. This is unjust law by any standard! Isaiah 10 contains strong words for those who would write and support such law, and as a Christian, I am forced by my obsevations of our current situation to favor extending grace to the children of illegals. But more than this, I believe evangelical Christians should join with President Obama in calling for comprehensive reform of this ungodly mess that we call immigration law.
I certainly welcome any comments, counterpoints, and respectful disagreement here. But we must remember that this issue is far more complex than the talking heads in either political party have made it out to be.