The Religious Left & Immigration

The Religious Left & Immigration


Like the secular “open borders lobby” generally, religious leftists have traditionally sought to weaken — and even eliminate — many regulations and controls on immigration into the United States. Blurring the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, these activists depict any calls for the strict enforcement of immigration laws as expressions of racism, ethnocentrism, and xenophobia. While sharing all the major goals of the open-borders lobby generally, the religious left goes a step further by incorporating also a spiritual dimension into its activism – emphasizing that in God’s eyes no person is “illegal,” and claiming that Christian ethics require that all immigrants – regardless of legal status – should be welcomed with warmth, hospitality, and compassion. The “sanctuary” policies that many cities and towns have adopted to protect illegal immigrants from law-enforcement authorities, drew their original inspiration from churches that provided aid to illegal aliens who had fled from the civil wars that raged in their homelands (Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala) during the 1980s.

A noteworthy mouthpiece of the religious left’s position on illegal immigration was the former president of the National Council of Churches, the late Methodist minister Robert Edgar, who denounced advocates of immigration-law-enforcement as “fear mongers” who “have used nearly every scare tactic they can think of to reduce us to a highly suspicious lot all too willing to not love the alien as ourselves and to evict them from their homes, get them fired, separate them from their families, in an all-out rampage of oppression and prejudice.” Citing Leviticus’s warning that “you shall not oppress the alien,” Edgar asserted that immigrants had become the “contemporary scapegoat” of Americans who harbored “racism” in their hearts. “Demagogues keep preying on post-9/11 fear to whip up hatred and suspicion of people who have come here in search of the same thing my northern European ancestors were seeking,” said Edgar.

In 2007 Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian evangelical ministry Sojourners, helped lead a religious coalition that asked Congress to reduce the waiting times for people seeking legal residency; to help illegal aliens reunite with their families; and to create a “path toward citizenship” for all illegals residing in the United States. Said Wallis: “Immigration is for us a religious issue. It’s what God wants and expects…. Immigration policy is clearly broken and must be fixed. So let’s fix it, but with compassion. The Bible tells us again and again about the need to care for the stranger in our midst.”

Joining Wallis in this coalition was Rev. Dan Soliday, CEO of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, who called on lawmakers “to create an immigration policy characteristic of a faithful people – compassionate, just, respectful of human dignity and valuing family bonds.” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, concurred: “We believe that Congress can pass legislation that treats the immigrant in a humane manner and applies the rule of law…. At the end of the day, how we deal with the immigrant is a diagnostic of the spiritual health of our nation.” “Churches across this country are preparing to provide sanctuary for those seeking protection from egregious actions against their welfare and families,” Rodriguez added.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) embodies faithfully the religious left’s position on most immigration-related matters. Asserting that “all people in the U.S.—regardless of immigration status—have a right to work with dignity,” the organization in 2019 condemned the “detention and deportation pipeline” by which the United States “deports over 300,000 people annually and holds approximately 400,000 people in immigrant detention facilities across the country.”

According to the National Council of Churches (NCC), “comprehensive immigration reform” – i.e., a pathway to amnesty and citizenship for the millions of illegals currently residing in the United States – is both a “divine mandate” and a “patriotic act.”

In July 2019, Pax Christi USA (PCUSA) charged that “immigrant and refugee children” were being “detained in cages [and] separated from family members [while] living in unsanitary, unhealthy conditions” near America’s Southern border. This, said the organization, was a violation of “Catholic social tradition [which] teaches us that every person deserves equality and respect.”

On the premise that “as Christians … we are called to love the stranger in our midst and to treat that stranger as we would our own family,” the United Methodist Church (UMC) affirms the right of all immigrants—regardless of their legal status—to enjoy “equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination.” By UMC’s telling, America “benefits and prospers” as a result of the labor of immigrants who “enter the United States without permission,” yet it “denies many of them basic rights like fair wages, health benefits, the opportunity to be with their families, and social services.” “Undocumented” immigrants, says UMC, face epidemic levels of “racial profiling and intolerance toward Latino/Hispanic Cultures”—and thus are constantly plagued by “fear and anguish” at the prospect of “federal raids, indefinite detention, and deportations which tear apart families and create an atmosphere of panic.” Their illegal entry into the U.S., the Church elaborates, can actually be blamed on American economic policies that have had ill effects on the migrants’ homelands, consequently forcing millions of them to seek relief elsewhere—only to be “denied legal entry to the U.S. due to quotas and race and class barriers.” To address the problem, UMC advocates the passage of a “comprehensive immigration reform bill” providing “a reasonable path towards citizenship.”

The Presbyterian Church USA is a major supporter of “immigration reform and the full recognition of immigrants’ rights.” To alleviate “the suffering created” by America’s “unjust” immigration system, the Church advocates a “Comprehensive Legalization Program” for those currently residing illegally in the United States.

Asserting that “the Bible is unambiguous in calling us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land,” the United Church of Christ supports “a fair and expedient process for undocumented immigrants and their families to attain citizenship.” When scores of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, the Church not only opposed suggestions that the border should be sealed in order to stop the influx, but also declared that “as people of faith we have an ethical obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us.”

Additional Resources:

A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy
By James R. Edwards, Jr.
September 2009

Religious Perspectives on Immigration
By Stephen Steinlight, Mark Krikorian, James R. Edwards Jr., & Dominique Peridans
October 2009

Faith in Open Borders
By Mark Tooley
March 11, 2010

Religiously Marching for Immigration
By Mark Tooley
March 26, 2010

Immigration Newspeak
By Mark Tooley
January 14, 2011

Amnesty Inroads Among Evangelicals
By James R. Edwards, Jr.
September 2010

Religious Leaders vs. Members: An Examination of Contrasting Views on Immigration
By Steven A. Camarota
December 2009

Pro-Amnesty Movement Blessed by Church Bosses
By Peter B. Gemma 
Summer 2013

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