How long have immigration laws been around?

law booksMy writing last week about a theology of foreignness has sparked some conversation about immigration law. From what I can tell, the first true immigration law in the United States was passed in 1882, designed to limit (and temporarily prohibit) Chinese immigration. Before that, it seems that laws were only made as to who could become a citizen.

I’m having trouble finding much about immigration controls in other countries. There are records, going back to biblical times, of the expulsion of certain people groups or of the enslavement of others. I’ve heard that the Romans controlled the movements of people to some degree, with Roman citizenship granting freer travel. I know that Mexico unsuccessfully tried to limit colonization of its northern lands, what is now the southern U.S. That seems to refer to homesteading and the granting of property, not the mere presence within the country.

Am I wrong to think that immigration laws as we know them are a relatively new thing? Can someone point me to better sources of information?

Why the curiosity? Partly because of the people who proudly boast: “Our ancestors came here legally.” (And I’m sure they inquired about native American immigration laws before doing so!) Another part is the idea of what the Bible has to say about immigration laws. Directly speaking, I say it says nothing, for such didn’t seem to exist at those times. Or am I mistaken?

Anyway, some of you are much better than I at researching historical facts. Please point me to the resources that will enlighten me on this subject.

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It’s time to reach out to immigrants

boleroIf I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that some type of immigration reform is coming soon, particularly regarding Latinos. I may be wrong; the political extremists have torpedoed many a thing that seemed like a done deal. But with so many reports signaling the Hispanic vote as what doomed the GOP this past election, the political will to get something done seems to be there.

Again, let me encourage churches to get ahead of the curve. Those churches that reached out to immigrants during Reagan’s amnesty program are the ones that today are making important inroads into the Latino community. Lay aside your political feelings and think about the ministry possibilities. This could well be the critical time.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Offer ESL classes. Contrary to what some seem to think, most immigrants are very interested in learning English. There are programs available to help Christians reach out in this way. A couple that come to mind are FriendSpeak and World English Institute.
  • Offer immigration counseling. This can be tricky, as undocumented immigrants can be hesitant about identifying themselves as such. Still, many churches have had success with such programs.
  • Teach your members the ins and outs of dealing with immigrants. You can find some good resources at There is also a seven-session discussion course built around the book Welcoming The Stranger. I also know that World Relief offers training for churches.
  • Consider sponsoring someone in your church to be certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Board recognition allows non-profit organizations to offer immigrant legal services without being immigration attorneys. Again, World Relief offers 40-hour, week long intensive introduction to immigration law; I’m sure other groups offer similar programs.

As I said, this could be a crucial time in the history of the church in the United States. The Hispanic population is only going to grow. The church can either grow or diminish accordingly.

Immigration stats

Migrant workers' childrenIn today’s “Links to Go,” I include an article showing how immigration enforcement has increased over the last few years. The numbers are a bit deceiving, since this includes all of the duties of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Still, since Obama took office, the deportation rate has drastically increased. 2012 hit a record high of deportations.

I’ve been open about my opposition to our current immigration laws, and my support for drastic immigration reform. Beyond the spiritual motivations, I’m going to share in the next few days some practical reasons why Christians should get behind such efforts.

So, I find these numbers a bit discouraging. Especially when I can put names to some of the numbers, people dear to me who have been caught up in the immigration quagmire.

Yet studying the facts, I did find something encouraging: most of the deportations have been of criminals. That hasn’t always been true. In 2008, only 33% of those deported fell into that category; in 2012, it was up to 55%. Most other categories have remained the same (repeat offenders, border removals, immigration fugitives). The category that means the most to me has shown marked improvement. In 2008, 25% of those deported were “non-priority cases,” which often means ordinary people who come here to work; in 2012, that was only 4% of all deportations. (Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Deporting criminals is exactly what the government should be doing. Deporting people who have come in the way that most of our ancestors did… that needs to stop. Let’s tighten our borders, while providing a way for those that want to work to be able to do so legally.

Immigrants are stealing Olympic jobs

Here’s proof positive that immigrants are stealing American jobs. 38 jobs that could have been performed by native-born U.S. citizens are instead being done by immigrants.

People like Marlen Esparza, from Mexico. She was the first female boxer to win an Olympic boxing match. Oh, and she’s also a Cover Girl model. That’s at least two jobs she’s stealing.

Danell Leyva, gymnast for the U.S. team, is from Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba. His mother came to the States legally, though his step-father and trainer both swam the Rio Grande to enter the U.S.

Foluke Akinradewo, volleyball player, was born in Canada and is a citizen of three countries: Canada, Nigeria and the U.S.

Leo Manzano, middle distance runner, is the son of a migrant farm worker who crossed illegally back and forth from Mexico numerous times.

Dozens of members of the U.S. Olympic team were born outside of the U.S. Somebody has to do something about this outrage! If they’re going to come to this country, let them be mediocre like everyone else.

Oh, and did you know that Gabrielle Douglas’ coach is from China? Talk about your outsourcing.

Paul and the runaway slave

It was about the year 60 A.D. The apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome, his first imprisonment there, living under house arrest. A slave named Onesimus came to Paul. Onesimus belonged to a Christian named Philemon who lived in Colossae. The slave had run away from his master, apparently stealing some things in the process. (money? his master’s signet ring to facilitate travel? food and clothing?)

Paul meets with Onesimus, converts him to the Christian faith, then sends him back to Colossae (along with Tychicus) bearing at least two letters: Colossians and Philemon. The letter of Philemon requests (orders) Philemon to pardon Onesimus and to send him back to Rome to help Paul. (Note Paul’s mention of “obedience” in Philemon 21, which lets us know this was more than just a suggestion)

A few points and a hypothetical or two:

  • Under Roman law, harboring a runaway slave was illegal. If someone found a runaway slave, they had an obligation to return them to their master.
  • Paul didn’t turn Onesimus over to the authorities. Being under house arrest, he had easy access to Roman law enforcement officials. Paul did not have Onesimus arrested.
  • Paul’s priority was on teaching Onesimus the gospel. Paul didn’t say, “Return to your master, make amends for what you stole, then we can talk about Jesus.” It’s also reasonable to think that Paul waited until he had finished the Colossian letter before sending Onesimus back to his master.
  • Would Paul have sent Onesimus back to a non-Christian master? We don’t know the answer to that one, but it’s interesting to think about. Runaway slaves could be punished rather severely under Roman law, especially those that had stolen something.
  • What would Paul have done had Onesimus chosen not to return? Again, we don’t know. Had Onesimus rejected the gospel, it’s possible that he wouldn’t have agreed to return. Even as a Christian, he might have said, “I don’t think it fair for me to have to return to my master, so I’m not going to.”
  • Onesimus may not have been a runaway. Frank Bellizi makes this interesting point on his blog. It’s possible that Onesimus was exercising a right to appeal to a third party (Paul) and had always intended to return to his master. I’m not convinced, but I thought I’d include that for those who’d like to study the possibility.

Lots of things to think about with Paul and the slave. What are your thoughts? Since we’ve been talking immigration, does any of this shed any light on how we should respond to that issue?

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