If you're not familiar with the situation, the horrifying truth is that the conditions in these young people's countries is so bad they they and their parents believe leaving their homes and families and risking their lives sneaking to an unknown land is safer than staying where they are. This article and this article outline the conditions in some of these countries. The reality is that children and teenagers are being raped and murdered by gangs and drug cartels at incredibly alarming rates and the governments of these countries are not in any place to offer any real help. These children are refugees, plain and simple. They aren't coming here just to make a few more dollars; they are coming out of fear for their very lives.
This is clearly a messy and complicated situation. I am not a law enforcement official, I am not a politician, and I am not an expert in foreign policy. I am, however, a Christ-follower (albeit a quite imperfect one), and I have been contemplating what the faithful Christian response to a situation like this ought to be. Let me state that again, I am contemplating what the faithful, Christian response should be. I am not as interested in what the proper nationalistic response should be. I am aware that the faithful Christian response and the proper nationalistic response may very well be at odds with each other. I am going to quote a good friend of mine because I don't think I could have said it any better myself. He said,
"I can think of many nationalistic reasons to turn away refugees. I can also think of nationalistic reasons to accept them, especially once it's become politicized like this (international image, etc.) But I can't think of any Christian reasons to turn refugees away. So for me it comes down to whether my first allegiance is to Christ or to the U.S. If it's not to Christ... well, that's a different discussion altogether."
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Again, in Luke 14:1-6, Jesus healed an ailing man on the Sabbath.
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.
Admittedly, Jesus was addressing Jewish laws, not Roman laws. I do not, however, believe that negates the principle he was trying to teach, namely, that people in need are more important than laws. Jesus consistently took to task those who believed that the upholding of the law was more important the people for whom the law was given to protect.
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus delivers a version of what has been come to be known as the golden rule.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Basically, Jesus says that the entire Old Testament is summed up by the golden rule. So here is a simple question - if you or your children had to flee for your life to another country, how would you want to be treated? Would you want yourself or your children to be put on a plane and shipped back to where you are likely to face rape, murder, or conscription into a gang? No? Then maybe we shouldn't treat others that way.
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus teaches about the final judgment.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Emphasis added).
This may actually be the most significant text to consider in light of the current situation. The Greek word that is translated "stranger" in this passage is ξενος (xenos), and it means stranger, foreigner, or alien. I think it's important to note here that Jesus doesn't specify legal or illegal. Jesus teaches that caring for those in need is the same as caring for him.
Finally, I believe a brief look at the Old Testament is helpful. I'm aware that we are not bound by the Old Testament legal code any longer, however there is still much we can learn from it in terms of God's heart for people.
The book of Leviticus is full of commandments and guidelines regarding how the God's people were to conduct themselves in the land that God was going to give them. It included the way they were to treat strangers and foreigners.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." (emphasis added)
Just remember, nearly everyone who reads this is the descendent of someone who was at one time a stranger in this land looking for a better life. Some of our ancestors came legally, others illegally, and yet we are all beneficiaries. Let's not be so caught up in protecting our own interests that fail the very people God has called us to serve.