OK. I’ll admit it. I watch Fox News. Especially around election time, I get sucked into talk shows where Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are outraged over our lack of border protection. I agree our borders need to be protected. If a child from Honduras can just walk into the United States, so can a terrorist from elsewhere in the world.
But I must also admit that as I watched news reports showing hundreds of Central American children locked behind a fence in Texas, my heart went out to those children.
Then there’s the guy who brings his family to my neighborhood to pick up thousands of leaves every fall. I’m not sure, but he may be an undocumented immigrant. I really like him and his children.
So I’ve concluded that, in discussing immigration, we need to separate the policy from the people.
While we should probably all expect better border protection, Christians need to remember that the Lord expects us to love our neighbor — even if she or he is not here legally.
Jesus was clear: We are to love even our enemies. And the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are certainly not our enemies. Jesus declares, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Psalm 146:9 tells us, “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow.” Deuteronomy 10:18 proclaims that God “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”
As people of faith, our instructions are clear: Love people. That includes the “foreigner.”
In fact, many of the characters in the biblical narrative were immigrants. Abraham was an immigrant. Jacob was a refugee. Joseph was a victim of human trafficking. Jesus was a refugee in Egypt and a celestial immigrant on earth.
Clearly, if we’re supposed to “bless those who curse” us and “pray for those who mistreat” us (Luke 6:28), we’d better love those who serve us, live in our neighborhoods and go to our churches.
The Free Methodist Church – USA has joined with 16 other denominations to form the Immigration Alliance, which exists to help churches establish legal clinics that assist immigrants. The goal is to help undocumented immigrants get honest, legitimate help in how the law applies to their specific situations.
We know that Christians are called to submit to the law. According to Romans 13:1, “Let
everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
In the United States, there is no conflict between welcoming immigrants and following the law. In fact, by definition, these legal clinics exist to uphold and proclaim the law. No law
requires us to report undocumented immigrants. It’s perfectly legal for these clinics to meet with undocumented immigrants and tell them how the law applies to them.
I was surprised to learn that unscrupulous lawyers, paralegals, notaries and others specifically prey on undocumented immigrants. They advertise that they can help people desperate to gain legal status in the United States. When people come to them for that help, they charge immigrants thousands of dollars, fail to file any papers or show up in court, and then refuse to return the immigrants’ telephone calls. This is not a matter of immigration. This is a matter of justice!
Free Methodist congregations are forming immigration legal clinics to eradicate this injustice. We desire to provide honest, legitimate help to people seeking it. If immigrants don’t currently qualify for legal status, we will tell them without charging them thousands of dollars. If they do qualify, we will help them work with the system to gain that status for an average cost of around $200.
In doing this, the church becomes known in the community as a place of trust, help and God’s love. By becoming that place, we have the opportunity to share God’s truth and His plan of salvation with people who may never otherwise walk in the door of a local church.
Jesus commands us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). By opening an immigration legal clinic, we invite the people of many nations to come to us, seeking our help. This is an enormous missional opportunity for the church. In an online video (fmchr.ch/ttennent), Asbury Theological Seminary President Timothy C. Tennent says, “The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America.”
We’re called to bless immigrants. Many undocumented immigrants are being
exploited. We want to help.
Our churches can help fight injustice and offer legitimate, low-cost legal assistance. By doing this, we’re not only fulfilling God’s command to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35) but also building trust and friendships with people who may then give their hearts to Jesus.
By the Numbers
Who are we talking about? An immigrant is a person born in one country but now living in another. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 37 million immigrants reside in the United States, representing about 12 percent of the total U.S. population (fmchr.ch/uscenbur). According to Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang of World Relief, 35 percent of immigrants are naturalized citizens, 33 percent are lawful permanent residents, 2 percent are in temporary legal status, and 30 percent are in the United States unlawfully (fmchr.ch/soerensyang).
That’s about 11.5 million people who are here unlawfully. Of those, approximately 45 percent came to the United States lawfully but then overstayed their visa, according to Pew Hispanic Center estimates (fmchr.ch/pewhctr). That leaves an estimated 55 percent who crossed a border illegally.
Stephen C. Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, told the New York Times that three out of four undocumented adult immigrants have payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks (fmchr.ch/nytssa). In a 2013 actuarial note (which can be downloaded at fmchr.ch/ssanote) the Social Security Administration estimated that it receives as much as $12 billion per year in withholdings that do not match any valid Social Security number, and most of that money is from undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants, however, are ineligible to benefit from Social Security, Medicare and many public benefits and services. These undocumented immigrants are actually contributing to the benefits enjoyed by the rest of us.
Many undocumented immigrants file taxes each year using an “Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.” They not only pay into Social Security; they also pay taxes.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Hispanics are more likely to attend church than most Americans (fmchr.ch/wsjchurch); the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center reports they also have a higher marriage rate (fmchr.ch/hispdivorce). Labor participation rates among undocumented adult males are 96 percent, according to the Urban Institute (fmchr.ch/urbaninst). Statistically, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born U.S. citizens, and less likely to be imprisoned, according to the Immigration Policy Center (fmchr.ch/ipccrime). By the second generation, 88 percent of Hispanic immigrants are fluent in English, according to the Pew Research Center (fmchr.ch/prcfluent).
President Barack Obama has issued an executive order that would allow up to 5 million of those 11.5 million people to gain legal status in the United States. The order does not give citizenship, but it allows some of these immigrants to remain in the country and follow our laws. That means nearly 5 million people may need the services offered by legal clinics.
Have you been praying for God to do something that makes people eager to come to your church? If you have a heart to help others and you would like a job where you can set the hours, the Lord may be calling you to become a paralegal and open an immigration legal clinic in your church. Becoming certified to serve in this capacity requires one week of formal training and then one week of interning at an existing immigration legal clinic. Your church would need to have an office where you could meet with people, a computer for access to a law library, and a desire to serve. If you would like more information on providing this ministry, email
In the words of Free Methodist Church – USA Bishop Matthew Thomas, “The Apostle Paul walked through a door for effective ministry (1 Corinthians 16:8–9) when one was opened to him. Serving the immigrant community is one of the biggest and best open doors for effective ministry to those who most need to be served by the church in our day. I encourage you to pray and consider whether this might be an open door for effective ministry in your church as you minister to your community.”
Here’s to opening doors in your church!0