A gracEmail subscriber writes: “Please share your thinking on what a Christian perspective on aliens, illegal or otherwise, in our country should be. How should we feel toward them? How can we significantly minister to them? What political issues cloud the real issues for a Christian?”
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Although this questioner lives in the USA, the question concerns a worldwide reality. According to the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, Switzerland (IOM), 192 million people now live outside their country of birth. This means that about one person in every 35, roughly three per cent of the world’s population, is a migrant. Those are the people who have personally moved from one country to another. If we include descendants of immigrants from several generations ago, the “alien” category would encompass almost the entire human race.
My son Jeremy, an immigration attorney, tells me that the word “alien” is politically incorrect; the term of choice now is “foreign national.” “Immigrant” is a legal term, he says, for anyone seeking permanent residence, while a “non-immigrant” is someone seeking temporary residence. (When I was growing up, an “alien” was a creature from outer space; an “alien sinner” was anyone not yet baptized and “alien baptism” was baptism performed in a Christian denomination other than one’s own. How times have changed!)
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the foreign-born population of the United States nearly doubled in the 1990’s to 31 million, which represents 11% of the US population. This is actually comparable to the peak arrivals of foreign-born persons during the early 19th century. The greater difference lies in countries of origin. Of the 11% of U.S. residents in 2000 who were born elsewhere, 51% came from Latin America, 25.5% from Asia, 15.3% from Europe and 8.1% from other places. By contrast, almost all foreign-born persons who came to the USA in the 19th century were Anglo-Saxon Western Europeans — white people of at least nominally Christian (and primarily Protestant) faith and culture. The notable exception were the Irish Catholics who, being different, gained acceptance only after enormous struggle.
In other words, before the late 20th century, those coming into the U.S. overwhelmingly resembled the people who were already here. The “U.S.” was filled by people like most of “us” and the newcomers also looked like “us.” The significance of the fact that most foreign nationals of recent arrival are simply different from most of “us” is almost too enormous to be fully appreciated. That reality also challenges us to ask whether our emotional responses and intellectual reactions spring from the spirit of Christ or originate in our fallen human nature.