How Should Christians Treat Illegal Immigrants?

Caravans of migrants marching toward our southern border. President Trump promising to build a wall. Sanctuary cities refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Politicians calling to decriminalize the illegal crossing of US borders. Congress’s frustrating failure to reform immigration laws, making a path to citizenship next to impossible for the 11.1 million illegal immigrants currently living in the US.

These events have pressed upon us a question that evangelicals need to answer: How should our churches treat the people who live in our communities without legal status?

This question is especially relevant for churches in Greater Boston and other New England metropolitan centers, where significant numbers of undocumented immigrants reside, work, shop and send their children to school. The Boston Herald reported, “The illegal migrant population grew more in Massachusetts than any other state in the decade from 2007 to 2017.”[1] The Pew Research Center estimated that 180,000 residents of Greater Boston are illegal immigrants.[2]  So how should churches in the urban centers of New England treat these immigrants?

Scripture deals very directly with this subject, and its answer is loud and clear: We are to treat them with love.

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:18-19 ESV).

This verse explains that the Israelites themselves had once been “sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Famine in the land of Canaan forced the patriarch Jacob and his family to migrate to Egypt as refugees seeking relief. Many of the undocumented/illegal immigrants living in New England fit this definition: they, too, are sojourners who have fled hunger, poverty, and danger to seek refuge in our country.

Granted, this is an extremely complex issue, but passively ignoring the difficulties faced by undocumented immigrants is clearly not an option for Christians. God’s command to love them might include providing ministries like ESL classes; helping with affordable housing; donating furniture and free legal services. But most importantly, Christians should befriend them, invite them into our homes, pray with them and welcome them into the fellowship of our churches where they can hear the Good News about Jesus and be saved. The one thing we cannot do is ignore them. But sadly, that is the very thing we have too often done.

Sam Taylor serves as the Boston area regional coordinator at the Baptist Convention of New England.

[1] Massachusetts illegal immigrant population spikes, increase since ’07 leads nation, By Rick Sobey, The Boston Herald, June 12, 2019 at 8:06 pm

[2] Greater Boston home to 180,000 undocumented immigrants, report finds, By Matt Rocheleau, The Boston Globe.com, February 17, 2017, 12:24 p.m.