A welcoming immigration agenda

by D.C. Innes
Posted on Monday, December 31, 2012, at 1:18 pm

Last week I argued on strictly economic grounds that the United States needs to pursue an aggressive immigration agenda, not only admitting more immigrants but also actively recruiting them. But life is more than economics. Immigration policy is also a matter of national hospitality.

It’s a biblical principle that when God has been good to you, you should bless others with the goods you have received. “Freely you have received, so freely give.” This is true of one’s home. A good home—whether from means or from cheer—is a home to be shared. Though sharing spends the means, it enriches the cheer.

Christine Pohl has written helpfully on this subject in Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. “Hospitality,” she writes, “is a way of life fundamental to Christian identity.” But she offers this caution:

“People who become known for their generous response to strangers often find increasing numbers of strangers at their door. … Sometimes, as the numbers or the frequency of guests increase, hosts find themselves stretched to their limits. Energy, resources, space, identity, and cohesion of the family or the community are strained. Faced with such pressures, host communities either work out guidelines or give up hospitality, or the community itself gradually disintegrates.”

The gift of a good home, if it’s to be shared, must be maintained as giftable.

The same considerations can be applied to the welcome we extend as a nation to immigrants. (I make this argument in Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics.) God has given us a good land and the grace to build a humane (though all too human) society on it. One of a number of ways we can share this is by opening our doors to the persecuted, the suffering, and “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But according to that same moral imperative, immigration though generously permitted must be controlled so we maintain the goodness of the gift to be shared. For example, the welcome must be proportional so that we don’t admit so many so fast that the country the arrivals find here becomes indistinguishable from the countries they left.

It’s true that nations once had open borders, but international migration was controlled by the natural limitations that the methods of communication and transportation of the day imposed. The long journey by boat in confined quarters dissuaded all but the most adventurous or desperate.

But word travels fast these days and our population could more than double within a year. If all the needy and the crushed from the far reaches of the globe were to flow into our nation, the good we attempt to share with “the tempest-tost” would get lost in the flood. In attempting to give to too many we would fail in our efforts and at the same time rob our neighbors, our children, and our descendents.

But love is costly and people are not morally free to escape its risks, whether privately or as a nation. Our immigration policy should be faithfully and bravely hospitable. That’s not just sound economics. It’s also true religion.

D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

Read more from this writer