7 Things You Can’t Say about Immigration Reform

June 25, 2014

Immigration reform is a hot topic this summer as the U.S. Congress appears poised to take action that could affect some 11 million undocumented residents. My denomination is on record in support of common-sense reform for biblical reasons. Our general superintendent, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, even met with the President to discuss the matter.


Even so, immigration is a sticky subject for many Christians. We are law-and-order people for sure, so going soft on violators is hard to swallow. At the same time, we’re deeply compassionate and believe in being hospitable to strangers and those in need.

What to do?

There are lots of biblical reasons to favor of common-sense immigration reform. I’ve written about that here, and there’s a particularly helpful post on Wesleyan.org.

Yet when I discuss the matter with other Christians, I nearly always hear the same series of rejoinders. These byte-sized arguments sound reasonable, practical, and even biblical. They seem airtight.

But they’re not.

Here are seven arguments you simply can’t make in the immigration debate. Let’s debunk them one at a time.

1. All undocumented residents are criminals.

Nope. About 40 percent of undocumented residents entered the country legally but have overstayed their visas. This is a civil violation of the INS code, not a crime.

If violating any government regulation (think OSHA, IRS, EPA, DOT) branded you a criminal for life, what would your status be?

2. They should come here legally, like everyone else.

That simply isn’t possible for most people. During the heyday of Ellis Island, we admitted some 5,000 unskilled workers to the United States every day. Now, the number of unskilled visas available is 5,000 per year to fill the demand for millions of low-wage jobs.

There simply is no way for many undocumented residents to normalize their status. And where there is, the process can take more than 20 years. Yes, that is two decades of bureaucratic red tape.

We welcome engineers, doctors and other highly skilled professionals but treat unskilled immigrants as criminals. Don’t we need both types of workers?

3. Undocumented workers are a drain on our social system.

Not really. Experts predict that if comprehensive immigration reform were passed today, the Social Security system would add a net $243 billion over the next 10 years.

While many undocumented workers do pay taxes, the major public benefits programs (SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, AFDC) prevent most noncitizens from gaining assistance. And those who are paid under the table could become tax payers if their status were normalized.

So it isn’t the people building houses, cleaning hotel rooms, and serving at tables who are draining the system. It is we, who allow this dysfunctional structure to continue.

4. Just deport them.

“Them” is about 11 million people, roughly equivalent to the population of Ohio. Is it even possible to deport 3.5 percent of our population? If it were, how would it affect our economy to lose millions of employees?

5. Undocumented residents are a danger to our community.

Generally, that’s not true. As a population, immigrants are actually more law abiding than native-born Americans.

6. Let’s secure the border first, then talk about reform.

That’s like saying, “Stop the ants from coming into the kitchen, then we’ll clean up the honey spilled on the counter.” The two problems are related, and they must be solved together.

7. Nobody should get amnesty for breaking the law.

Okay, but we’re not asking for that. Common-sense immigration reform is not about amnesty. It’s about imposing appropriate penalties for violators while creating a pathway to legal status for millions of would-be Americans who are here and contributing to our society.

Right now American citizens benefit from the presence of a permanent lower class, a huge number of low-wage workers who build our houses, mow our lawns, and work our fields. Some of them have lived here for decades, some nearly their entire lives. They are building our society but are denied full access to it. They live in the shadows.

How is it possible to look objectively, biblically, practically at this situation and conclude that we do not need reform?

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.