Recently, a “crisis” developed along the southern American border concerning illegal immigrants under the age of eighteen. In fact, since the start of 2014, more than ninety thousand minors have crossed over the border illegally, and this number represents a fivefold increase from three years ago. Why the sudden surge? Violence in three particular countries—Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—is reported by the children as the leading cause for moving north. In fact, in 2013, Honduras had the highest number of homicides per capita, making it the “murder capital of the world.” (Additionally, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was the city with the highest murder rate per capita in the world last year). A UN survey cites more statistics detailed here.
In my mind, the way the issue is framed incorrectly focuses on the symptoms of a much broader disease, and with attention diverted toward the effects, while the root cause of the surge is ignored.
A significant portion of the observed violence in Central America can be attributed to the American drug war. Here is how the cycle works: Demand exists domestically, and many nations in Central America fulfill that demand. Those countries that are known exporters of illegal drugs subsequently become American targets, and severe violence results from foreign governments who attempt to thwart their local producers. Moreover, these foreign governments are given financial incentives to engage in such measures even if it means destroyed livelihoods and an inflicted culture of violence on their own populations. So one of the steps to assuage the current border crisis is to remove the strong motivators pushing these children out of their own countries in the first place.
The other side of the coin is that fully opening up the border to foreign children certainly will not be without cost to taxpaying Americans. As it stands now, the law makes it very difficult for unaccompanied minors from Central America to be deported. Instead, they are required to be given an asylum hearing after they enter the country. It has proven very easy for these children not to show up for their legal hearings and instead blend into the nebulous void of undocumented domestic immigrants. They may successfully blend in and become productive members of society, or they may choose to enter into a more nefarious path. If they choose the former, everyone wins, but if they choose the latter, everyone will end up paying for a problem they never asked for in the first place.
The central point is that it may be easy to vigorously protest against and disdain these children for being “lawbreakers,” but this ignores the fact that it is American foreign policy and American law that actually exacerbates this problem. In order to promote greater collective justice, we must first start with guaranteeing individual justice, and not engaging in foreign policy that promotes unfairness.
Everyone is certainly entitled to their own political, social, and economic opinions. What does frustrate me, however, are the folks who attempt to use religion as a moral and/or ethical justification for disallowing children who attempt to come into the United States as a means to escape violence at home. To them, the reasoning behind the move is irrelevant, but what is relevant is that the behavior is “illegal” and thus reprehensible. Such groups proudly proclaim that “Jesus would never break the law” or “good Christian behavior” mandates strict obedience to authority. I am in no position to judge the uprightness of another, but when relating to others, the scriptures are very clear—treat other people how you would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12) and be kind to foreigners in your land (Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19).
In Luke 14:12—14, Christ says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” The kind of behavior that Christ desires, therefore, is to invite in those with neither property nor a place in society who also lack the ability to pay you back.
In Hebrews 13:2, it says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia or, literally, “love toward strangers.” This does not mean having your friends over for dinner on the weekend or extending a kind hand to those who were first kind to you. This means extending yourself toward people without, not because it’s necessarily “fair” or “balanced” but because the Christian lens transcends the circumstances of the present and realizes the relationship toward others is an integral component of how we conduct ourselves.
When I lived in the haze of libertarian ideals, I would have smugly declared that poor, victimized children escaping violence was not my problem and that the government going to their aid was just another example of the state using the resources of many in order to help (welfare) a few through the means of forced taxation. Hans-Herman Hoppe, for example, writes that the idea of open borders or “free immigration” is, in fact, a terrible idea because it yields a “forced integration” of foreign populations on native ones. Essentially, he proposes a policy of skill discrimination to be awarded to decentralized local authorities who are able to sift through those who wish to enter based upon “skill, character, and cultural compatibility” as well as “superior intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values—with the predictable result of a systematic pro-European immigration bias.”
The scripture’s response is simple: yes, it’s not “just,” and you are giving something to someone who will likely never ever pay you back—and that’s the point. The current humanitarian crisis along our border represents a pressing need that governmental authority can actually help to amend, especially considering that fact that governmental authority helped to create the dilemma. True justice and reconciliation demands that those directly involved in the evil act take responsibility and be held accountable to the victims. (Is it more ethical that our tax dollars are being used to arm the Iraqi government, fighting a war that we originally started? What about drone strikes that kill civilians in Yemen? Would mass protests be better suited for those issues?) To ascribe to what is perfectly just in a legal sense strangles mercy, and once mercy is abandoned, then there is no hope for anyone.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal