When I was a child, I liked to explore. I could spend all day in the woods, catching minnows and frogs in the creek and summarily mounting them on pine bark plaques to ready them for dissection. My friend Rick and I came across a most troubling sight one morning while trekking through the backwoods of the newly-developed subdivision in which he lived. Seeing an opening through the thicket of long-leaf pines, myrtle bushes, and blackberry briers, we hastened to the spot where the green grass seemed as inviting to us as a buffet table would have been to a hungry soul. We were explorers, and new vistas are the greatest treasure for those who explore.
When we arrived at the edge of the tall, green grass, we noticed yet another unexpected intrusion upon our exploration—and this one was not natural. It was man-made. A chain-link, hurricane fence surrounded a series of canals, pipes, and ponds—complete with aerating fountains. The fence was neatly topped with razor wire billowing in a circular pattern much like that of the piping around a wedding cake, but the fence was not at all inviting. Had we discovered a secret weapons factory? A druglord’s lair? As it turns out, the compound was simply a waste management facility to manage water treatment for the expanding residential development. Other than the barbed, razor wire, the entire facility seemed harmless enough—except for a single sign hanging on the fence.
The sign read: “No Trespassing. Violators will be shot!”
Rick and I were 7 or 8 year-old explorers. We were not daredevils. Neither were we fools. Far from being tempted to climb over or cut through the fence, we ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction. Not even hesitating to avoid the briers, we allowed the spiked barbs to strip themselves of their power on our pants, shirts, legs, arms, and hands. Whatever pain the red-streaked cuts from the briers caused, it would be nothing in comparison to the pain of being shot for trespassing. We lived in Southwest Louisiana, and in Louisiana if someone says he is going to shoot you, he probably means it. At least, that was our settled conviction on the matter.
Whether we were right or wrong about the intention of the landowner to carry out his stated plan of execution, we will never know. However, we do know the effect of his efforts. My friend and I did not go back on his property. In truth, we had no business on his property anyway. His property did not belong to us. In our exploring, we had to realize that not all property is public domain. Those who own the property have the right to develop and use it according to their own desires. In addition, those who own the property have the right to control the ingress and egress of human traffic on the property. In other words, owners have the right to govern who is granted use of their land and who is not. Even today, there is a beautiful, small lake full of fish not too far from my house, but the owners are very selective on whom they authorize to fish from the little lake. I can’t get permission to fish there.
There is nothing complex or difficult to understand in all of this, is there? If we all recognize that there are limits to the use of land and laws against trespassing which govern those limits, then we should be able to calmly assert the right not just of individuals but also of nations to limit ingress/egress to its lands. No country has a completely open border. Even European Union countries—which allow open borders for other EU members—still limit ingress and egress at the borders for non-EU members. Unless one wishes to argue for the elimination of nations altogether, then border enforcement is an essential and unavoidable reality.
If border enforcement is so unavoidably necessary, then what is all the fuss about Arizona? Why are there boycotts against Arizonans? From Arizona’s perspective, it appears that the problem of trespassing reached such a critical point of urgency that something had to be done. They didn’t go the Louisiana route which I unhappily discovered as a boy. Arizona did not threaten to shoot those guilty of trespassing, they simply threatened to check their immigration documents. Viewed this way, the Arizona law seems almost anemic.
The response to the law has been anything but anemic, including boycotts, threats, and massive protests. But why? Is this not common sense? Apparently not. Whether it is sensible or not is one thing, but it certainly is not common to us all. The present administration has taken issue with the law, vowing to consider whether it might not simply ignore those detained under the authority of the new law—even though the Arizona statute was designed to give the state of Arizona the legal authority to carry out the federal law in the absence of the federal government’s ability (or desire) to carry out its own, similar law.
Those who oppose the Arizona law tend to make one of two rather general arguments against it. On the one hand, there is the argument that the law will lead to racial profiling. However, the law passed was specific that the check for documents could be employed only if the persons involved were stopped or confronted for some other violation of the law. It is not a violation of Arizona law simply to be Hispanic. It is clear that racial profiling is not demanded by this law. As for whether someone may or may not abuse the law—well, that is always a possibility with any law, isn’t it?
On the other hand, the argument is often made that the law is unwelcoming to “the strangers and aliens among us.” This latter argument is one which comes directly from the Judeo-Christian injunction found in several passages like Jeremiah 22:3 in the Old Testament: “Do no wrong or violence to the resident alien….” Forgetting for a moment the hypocrisy of those appealing to Judeo-Christian Scriptures to make a moral argument, while, at the same time, attempting at every turn to expunge the culture of such a Judeo Christian mindset—I find it interesting to make this line of argument with regard to illegal immigrants. Arguments appealing to the “alien justice” passages in the Bible tend to be muddle-headed arguments in the sense that they equivocate on the word immigrant. They speak rightly about our need to protect the stranger and alien among us—that is, the immigrant, in our midst—without making a distinction between a legal immigrant and an illegal one. One is an alien among us, the other a trespasser.
We are afraid to speak in these terms, I suppose. My own guess is that the fear is nothing more or less than a fear of supposed political consequences. The conventional wisdom is that whichever party is responsible for granting amnesty will become the party of Hispanic voters. I find this thinking not only illogical, but revolting. Indeed, if there is any racism in this entire affair it is found not in the Arizona law but in those whose political calculations lump Hispanics into an easily manipulated identity group.
Such thinking is illogical. If all one needed to do is grant amnesty to get political payback, then Hispanics would already be voting Republican, considering that Reagan presided over an amnesty parade while he was in office. The truth is that Hispanics—just like the rest of us—are not a monolithic people. They should be insulted by both parties who act as though they are. The inactivity of our federal government in the face of a porous southern border which threatens our national security is being fueled by an aristocratic mindset prevalent in both parties. It is a mindset which views Hispanic people as an easily-manipulated mass of political opportunity. It is a gross form of using human beings to amass political clout. I find it indecent and repugnant.
Americans are not opposed to immigrants. Christians certainly should not be opposed to immigrants. But there are ways to enter the country without trespassing. Just as I could have entered the water treatment plant with permission from its owners, so, too, can non-Americans enter our country with our permission. I agree that we ought to be generous with our opportunities. But I do not find turning a blind eye to trespassing to be the fulfillment of biblical injunctions for justice. They seem to me to work in the opposite direction of justice.
What are we to say to my friends in Asia who have repeatedly appealed for a visa to travel to the U.S. only to be told they cannot come? Should we say, “No, you cannot come to America legally. You must pay a criminal to help you come across our southern border illegally from Mexico?” Is that the manner in which we want people to enter our country? Are we allowing only Hispanics to come into our country so we can appeal to them for their votes? Are we to view immigrants as voting blocks? Isn’t there something greater to which we are inviting all people to come? Isn’t America a place of freedom and justice for all, regardless of whether they are of Asian, African, or Hispanic descent? The present system turns a blind eye to trespassing when it is committed by potential Hispanic voters, yet continues to maintain the charade of border enforcement—that key element of immigration necessary to ensure that all people—not just Hispanics—have an opportunity to enjoy the land of the free.
Our present system is (to use one of our President’s favorite words) unsustainable if we wish to maintain ourselves as a nation governed by the rule of law. I find the present outrage against Arizona’s immigration law to be symptomatic of a sick society which has lost nearly all sense of justice and love. Our present, federal approach to border enforcement is neither just nor loving from either a legal or a theological perspective. Although it is the federal government’s duty to secure our borders, that government is willfully negligent of enforcing the rule of law. Where is the justice in this?
As for the theology, I am quite confident that the God of the Bible is both perfectly just and completely loving. In His Son, justice and mercy have kissed one another so that these great blessings of liberty might indeed be spread liberally to all. Such a generous expression of God’s love leads us to love others to be sure. It does not lead us, however, to conclude that any and all may enter into the presence of God on their own terms. In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu came before the Lord inappropriately and died as a result. The Lord calls attention to the death of Nadab and Abihu when, in Leviticus 16, He gives specific instructions to their father, Aaron, about how to approach Him without dying. Trespassing against the Lord is indeed serious business—even for the aliens living among Israel, as Leviticus 17 points out.
Although we have come to accept trespassing along our southern border as an innocent inconvenience, it is not a benign concept, theologically speaking. Indeed, trespassing is a grievous malignancy which requires us daily to seek forgiveness for our trespasses against the Lord (remember the Lord’s Prayer?). Granted, there is an enormous distinction to be made between us—as sinners—trespassing against the presence of Holy God and Hispanics trespassing against the laws of the United States of America. Yet, Americans need to remember why these laws were passed decades ago. Just as the limitations on entering the presence of God exalt His holiness, so, too, do the laws restricting entrance into the United States exalt our uniqueness and glory as a nation. The United States of America is the land in which liberty and justice is protected for her citizens. Such liberty and justice is alluring to outsiders, causing many of them to desire to partake of its benefits. If we reject some on the basis of the rule of law, while, at the same time, completely abrogating the rule of law for others (so they can vote en masse for our political party), then we have ceased to be the land of liberty and justice for all. We have become a nation of political favors for some who are able to pay back.
So, the end of the matter is simple: If we are still a nation with anything worthy of protecting, we must have meaningful border enforcement. Though I do not advocate the Louisiana method for executing trespassers on the spot, I do think we can remind ourselves of the fact that trespassing is still a crime for good reason. America matters and must be preserved. It would be nice if Democrats and Republicans could rally around this simple reality rather than calculating variant political machinations. It would also be nice if Christians could view justice and mercy theologically rather than emotionally. Aliens and strangers among us are responsible for upholding the rule of law (see Leviticus 17:8-10). We do not love them by turning a blind eye to justice under the guise of mercy. We are expected to exercise both justice and mercy.
So, in conclusion, I would commend an approach (politically and theologically) which affirms justice: Build and enforce a secure fence. Once justice is reasserted and the rule of law reestablished, then a merciful law can be drafted which opens our legal immigration system to a more liberal acceptance of Asians, Hispanics, and all people to America. We should at that point expedite the procedures for those wishing to be immigrants here. We should welcome their arrival and love them as they sojourn among us. At that point, the aliens among us would be free to choose whether they were Democrats, Republicans, Christians, etc.