Scripture Tells Us That We Shall Not Oppress a Stranger

"Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too."
     --Barack Obama (full transcript of speech here)

To summarize the President's executive action:

1. The US has never had a plan to deport all 11 million undocumented persons currently residing in the US.

2. Congress has given enough funding to deport about 400,000 persons annually. The Obama administration has been faithfully doing that work and will continue to do so. In fact, the Obama administration does this work so well leading immigration activists have called Obama "Deporter in Chief" as his administration is deporting at a higher rate than what was seen under George W. Bush.

3. Obama's executive action is a plan to move away from random deportation to a selective deportation in order to not break up families. It's not a "how many?" will be deported but a "whom shall be deported?".

4. Per the discretionary power of the Executive branch, it is perfectly legal for the US President to decide which 400,000 will be deported annually, the priority now focused upon recent immigrants, those with criminal histories and those who pose national security risks.

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14 thoughts on “Scripture Tells Us That We Shall Not Oppress a Stranger”

  1. Here's another way to explain it.

    The President has been asked by Congress to execute and enforce immigration law, specifically 6 U.S. Code § 202 (see:

    Given that we can Congress has only provided funding to deport about 400,000 annually (out of over 11 million) Part 5 of 6 U.S. Code § 202 states that the Executive Branch must "[Establish] national immigration enforcement policies and priorities."

    Last night President Obama complied with the law and announced his deportation policies and priorities: Of the 11 million we won't deport families, prioritizing future and recent immigrants and those with criminal histories.

  2. Thanks Richard! The text in Exodus 23:9 is probably the most relevant passage for Christians in this debate. I'm currently working on a presentation with the title "You Were Once a Stranger." The appeal God urges here is to empathy. "You should know how it feels to be an alien in a strange land because you once were." It is amazing to me the degree of ethnocentrism found in this country. Unfortunately, not many preachers I know will make this analogy. The people waving the salary check over their heads don't want to hear this because conservative political views trump the biblical text.

  3. I do not agree that "Establishing national immigration enforcement policies and priorities" equates to making something a law. Policies and procedures are the specific means used to carry out the applicable laws in question. The use of an executive order in this fashion changes the law. It takes something that was a violation of the law prior to this order, and makes it no longer illegal.

    There has bee a concerted effort as of late to substitute the term "illegal alien" with "undocumented worker" in an effort to shift the focus off of the fact that those persons in question have in fact broken the law.

    To categorize this as anything other than amnesty is incorrect. Amnesty is defined as "a general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction." or "an act of forgiveness for past offenses, especially to a class of persons as a whole."

    As a christian, and a the offspring of immigrants who endured much to enter this country legally, I must refer back to Romans 13: 1-7. As long as the law does not violate God's commandments, disobedience of the law is not a biblical option. If we believe a law to be unjust, then we must strive to change it through the legal system that is in place.

  4. I wonder about two things. I'm not sure I have good answers myself. I'm just wondering, but I think they would have bearing on how I look at immigration.

    1. If a law is "unjust" isn't it already in violation of God's will?
    2. Does "submission" (hypotasso in Romans 13:1) always mean "obedience"? Or, is there room for faithful, submissive disobedience in the face of a law we find "unjust"?

  5. A few thoughts,
    I think the problem comes in when we use our own standards, instead of the word of God, to determine whether something is "just" or "unjust". God has put a system of authority in place. Does everyone who holds authority use it in a manner pleasing to God? Of course not. They will surely be held accountable by God for their actions, just as everyone else is. Some laws may be "just", while at the same time seeming "unfair" to those who happen to come down on the wrong side of it. The law is the law, no matter how we feel about it. That is why we should work to change the law from within the system if possible.
    This leads me to question 2. Hypotasso does mean to obey, and to submit. If you submit, you "accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person". We are supposed to submit ourselves to God (not man), and the authority that He has placed over us. If that authority in question requires us to disobey God, they are the ones out of order. In that situation, we have the responsibility to respond in a Godly fashion. In doing so, however we must be ready to face the earthly consequences of our actions. Defying the law in obedience to God does not absolve one of the penalty for our violation. We should consider our suffering an honor, if we suffer for Christ.

    See Daniel 3: 8-30, Acts 5: 24-32, and 1 Peter 3:13-17

  6. I have so much trouble getting self-righteous about American immigration laws, when this country was founded on the genocide of its first peoples. Our ancestors came and took this land by violent force, and yet here we stand, pretending to be righteous judges of who can immigrate by peaceful means.

  7. Power and Conquest just about sums up how most nation states came into being, from ancient Israel to modern Europe. Oh, and speaking of first peoples, many tribal groups stole their land from other tribal groups before we stole it from them. They didn't permit open immigration either. Not that any of this justifies conquest as a means of nation building, but it is unfair to single out the US as unique.

  8. I won't say that the US is unique, but I will say that it's noteworthy. This conquest wasn't done by some bronze age or medieval monarch, or by some autocrat or totalitarian party that's since passed on.

    The genocide of the First Peoples was done by the same government we swear allegiance to. Granted, it was an earlier version, but there is complete continuity between Andrew Jackson (7th President of the United States) and Barack Obama (44th President of the United States). They are Presidents of the same nation, occupying the same position.

    A lot has changed, but we're still the same nation. We celebrated our Bicentennial in 1976, less than 100 years after the "Indian Removals" were completed and the frontier declared closed.

    We carry this in a way that, for example, today's Irish do not carry the conquest and extinction of the early neolithic and copper-age people that predated Celtic Ireland.

    You could even argue that we carry this in a way that the Russian Republic does not carry the wars and conquests of the Soviet Union, though those happened in the 20th century.

    We are the same country, with the same government, and the same (somewhat amended) constitution. We carry the weight.

    And yet I still see waves of self-righteousness about illegal immigration.

  9. Also, I don't subscribe to the idea that "not all First People were peaceful and enlightened, therefore we can shrug off our nation's guilt for genocide."

    I've heard it before. Yes, the Comanches and Apaches were very warlike, and even if that did justify action against them, it's hard to say it justified genocide, and it certainly did nothing to justify genocide against the Iroquois, teh Chocktaw, the Crow, the Chickasaw, the Cherokee, the Sioux, etc.

  10. Are you suggesting that based on the "sins of our fathers" the United States has no moral right to set and enforce policies regarding immigration or simply that indignation over illegal immigration is not justified? Just trying to understand.

  11. RE: the appropriateness of the use of "genocide" to describe the building of our nation at the expense of indigenous groups.

  12. Exodus 23:9 seems to lay out a general principle. That is, that it is God's desire that His people remain sensitive to the needs of the stranger/alien. The passage does not prescribe policy solutions to be applied among all nations for all times.

    In this sense, I see Exodus 23:9 much like Deuteronomy 15:4 "there should be no poverty among you," as an enduring principles that can be applied in various ways in different cultural and historical contexts. ld

    I would submit that immigration laws in the United States have historically honored the intent of this passage, as well as remaining faithful to the "huddled masses" inscription on the Statue of Liberty. We have been, and remain, a welcoming people, albeit within guidelines and limits prescribed by law.

    My concern about the President's recent Executive Actions is that they have the effect of circumventing rather than enforcing existing law, playing havoc with the principles of separation of powers and checks-and-balances which provide the basis for the Republic. Whether or not they are lawful is a matter for the courts to decide. That his actions violate the intent of the Founders seems clear enough.

    FWIW, I personally like the bi-partisan bill passed by the Senate and the unwillingness of the House to take the bill up, or to propose an alternative, frustrates me. Even so, unilateral action is not an acceptable solution. It expands Executive Powers in ways that set a dangerous precedent.

  13. William North,

    Three wishes for you:

    Grace, Mercy, and Peace, from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Law-ful is not Mercy-Ful,
    Hitler would use Rm13:1-7 constantly
    No being aware that God did not
    appointed us to# wrath: 1Thess 5:9

    The perfect will of God: Psalm 40: 6; 51:16;
    Hosea 6: 6; Mt 9:13; 12: 7; Hebrews 10
    Is evident that the law is good + bad = bad
    no man putteth new wine into old bottles Lk5:37-39
    So, New + Old = Destruction

    This is why Christ is the end of the law
    and our peace Rm10:4, Eph 2:15
    because #fLaw worketh wrath Rm4:15
    therefore #PutAway Ephesians 4:31

    God has not appointed us to Wrath

    Of them/us contrasted in 1 Thess 5:3,9 & Heb 1:1,2
    Because adversarial, contentious has 4 consequences
    Rom2: indignation, wrath, tribulation, anguish
    Asif 4 horses Revelation that has 1st & 4th #woe

    Even in the end there is no mention of law:
    The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. amen

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