BUENA PARK, Calif. (BP)–There’s a great deal of talk in the media about President Bush’s plans to reform our immigration policies, and for good reason.
Any time that millions of people converge on America’s largest cities to march through the streets and boycott, the public eye turns to watch. The right to vote, to hold jobs without fear and to live peaceably in the world’s freest nation is what mobilizes them, and their voices are growing louder with each passing day.
The fact is simple: America must address the problems on our borders before citizenship will mean much to anybody. The gates to become an American citizen should be wide and impartial, unless, of course, you’re carrying a case of flight plans and blueprints for the Sears Tower. But there must be gates. In order to have gates, we must have fences. Those fences, without question, must be secure.
When I was reading about the president’s plan for immigration reform and reflecting on the porous border we share with Mexico, I couldn’t help but recall the words of Jesus in John 10. The good shepherd, our Lord told His disciples, enters only by the gate. Thieves, on the other hand, come in some other way. Every politician who is facing election in an increasingly Hispanic district seems to have missed that point in their push for electoral legitimacy. Illegal immigrants, they tell us, are “good people” and “hard workers” and “honest patriots.” But if they aren’t coming in by the gate -– the process of legal immigration –- then I don’t see much benefit in ascribing honesty and virtue to them. Jesus said that thieves are the ones who come in “some other way.”
Nevertheless, they are coming, and there’s little chance that their numbers will taper off. The New York Times reported April 10 that more than 11 million illegal immigrants have made their way across the border, living “shadowy lives of subterfuge.” As a pastor in Southern California, I’m especially attuned to their plight.
My soul is torn, to be honest. On the one hand, I am an American citizen and I believe in the rule of law. I also believe that our homeland security is seriously compromised by an anemic and unarmed border patrol. In fact, I serve as chaplain for the local Minute Men, and I’ve joined them on the border more than once to hear their concerns and share Christ with them.
On the other hand, I believe that the church has a responsibility to minister to the people in the shadows, wherever they hold citizenship. The New Testament teaches us that we’re all “aliens” in this country anyway, and that our citizenship is first of all in heaven. Quite frankly, I’m more interested in seeing our Hispanic friends afforded citizenship in heaven than I am seeing them become Americans. Having their souls redeemed by the red blood of Christ is more important than having their worker status confirmed by the green card of Uncle Sam.
I think it would help us all out if we remembered that. Immigration reform is needed. Safer borders are essential. Basic human rights must be given even to illegal immigrants living within our borders, so long as we remember that the right to vote in American elections is not a basic human right. A church that remembers its own alien status and marches into the highways and hedges to reach these people for whom Christ died and whom God has now brought to our neighborhoods is a prerogative of heavenly citizenship that even Congress can’t slow down in the back-and-forth of bureaucratic negotiations.
Wiley Drake is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif