Just last week a reporter covering the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention asked me about the debate in the Christian community over the treatment of illegal immigrants: should we demonstrate Christian love and concern for their salvation or should we oppose amnesty legislation and enforce the immigration laws? The answer is yes – we can and should do both.

America is a nation of immigrants. From the beginning, people have come here for freedom and prosperity. As early as 1783, George Washington wisely explained the privileges and duties of those seeking to become citizens of our Country:

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment. (Emphasis added.)

The Statue of Liberty still beckons from the New York Harbor, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We should never turn our backs to those who show by their “decency and propriety of conduct” that they deserve to live here as an American citizen. But as Washington explained, citizenship entails not only the rights and privileges which flow from it, but also the duties and responsibilities which entitle an individual to its enjoyment.

Immigration is the legal means by which one becomes a citizen of the United States. It has historically required an application process for citizenship, including a test, an investigation, and an oath of allegiance to our Country and Constitution. To call those illegally residing here “immigrants” is an insult to those who have demonstrated the patience, responsibility, and fortitude to immigrate here legally.

When a person – from any country – enters our Country illegally, makes no application for citizenship, does not learn our language, does not care for our customs, and seeks only the benefits of living in America, they have not “immigrated” here at all. They are not “immigrants,” but rather, “illegal aliens.” Recent “May Day” demonstrations by illegal aliens that feature Mexican flags, anti-American slogans, and racist statements against “gringos” only confirm the intentions of many illegal aliens to not assimilate into our culture and way of life, but to displace it with their own. Their lack of “decency and propriety of conduct” show they neither desire nor deserve to be legal citizens.

Nevertheless, regardless of a person’s status as immigrant or illegal alien, the Bible does say in Leviticus 19 that one should “love [the stranger] as thyself” and should not mistreat him. Leviticus 24:22 states that the same law shall apply “for the stranger, as for one of your own country.” Deuteronomy 27:19 warns that “Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger.”

As Christians we are always to be concerned for the salvation and wellbeing of others, regardless of their citizenship. Justice requires that the laws be applied equally to citizens and aliens alike. Neither is to be treated unfairly or given special treatment. But because illegal aliens are not citizens, they do not enjoy the protection of regulations pertaining to such things as wage, labor, and housing. On the other hand, although they often pay little or no taxes, they receive the benefits of government welfare, health care, and education paid for by lawful taxpayers.

Nor are our immigration laws being applied equally. Illegal aliens from Central and South America are given special treatment when their presence here is excused, while those from other parts of the world suffer years of waiting and mountains of red tape to obtain American citizenship. Many legal immigrants are fleeing religious persecution, political oppression, or even civil war. Those who propose amnesty are actually rewarding and encouraging unlawful behavior by those who get here by simply crossing a river, a desert, or a dusty road just to seek a job.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have been deceived to think that our duty to love and care for illegal aliens means that we should ignore immigration laws and disregard our borders. But as President Ronald Reagan once said, “A nation without borders is not a nation.” Our borders are compromised by illegal immigration, infiltration of terrorists, and by government policies of regional partnership that actually dilute the sovereignty of the United States. The choice is not between our Christian duty and our border laws – it’s a matter of life or death for our nation.

The same God who commands that we treat aliens and “strangers” with righteousness and justice also clearly defined the physical borders for the nation of Israel, in detailed geographical terms, in Numbers 34. Israel, then and today, would not exist without borders?and neither will America.

We should love and care for “the stranger among us” and always be mindful of their need for salvation. But we also have a duty to apply all laws equally and fairly without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin. Our immigration laws must be strictly and justly enforced. It’s not only a matter of national survival – it’s our Christian duty.

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