Among the concerns present in the current conversation on immigration is the assumption that crime rates increase in areas with high immigrant populations, creating a local and national security risk. What does the research reveal?
It is interesting to note that Christians on both sides of the immigration issue agree on the necessity for immigrants to understand and obey our laws. James Edwards and Jenny Hwang both cite Proverbs 6:30-31, “Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.” Both concede that the desperation of one’s situation is no license to commit a crime. They differ, however, as do many Christians, on the extent to which crime is a widespread problem, how effective current laws are in addressing security issues, and to what extent current law enforcement either helps or harms the security issue itself.
The opening sentence of an essay written by Heather MacDonald, Senior Fellow at The Manhattan Institute raises an alarm to law-abiding citizens, “Some of the most violent criminals at large today are illegal aliens.”  The statement is not followed by a footnote, and no additional verification is given, however, the statement is one that resonates with many Christians wrestling with the paradox of compassion for the stranger and protection from the predator. In Los Angeles alone, 95% of outstanding warrants for homicide target illegal immigrants. The world is a dangerous place, and one need only remind those who oppose tighter immigration policies that the terrorists responsible for using four planes as weapons of mass destruction on 9/11, were immigrants here on expired visas.  Is there a way for people of faith to take seriously issues of security while also maintaining a welcoming posture toward the majority of law-abiding immigrants?
Advocates for tighter security measures point to violent crime related to drug cartels and gangs. MacDonald highlights the problems present in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, calling it a “crime wave”, and a “gang plague”.  Edwards concurs, stating that some areas with increased immigrant populations see “great increase urban crime.”  Pilar Marrero, Senior Political Writer for La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in America, suggests that while there are valid issues of violent crime in these particular areas, the nation-wide concern is a result of political reactions based on shock over the attacks of 9/11 “that would exert an effect as strong as a volcanic eruption on immigration policy over the next decade.” 
What they describe is frightening to be sure, but do those descriptions paint a picture of what is typical or what is extreme? Hwang and Sorens suggest, “Without contesting the idea that we should keep terrorists and criminals from entering the United States, however, we cannot presume that most immigrants are terrorists and criminals.”  While deportations increased after 9/11 from 1.6 million to 2.3 million, the increase was shown to be unrelated to these immigrants having committed a violent crime, or being a national security threat. In fact, the number of deportations due to these factors from 2001 to 2011 is just 360.  In addition, as concerns are voiced over the entrance of Syrian refugees to the United States, it is often overlooked that half of those refugees are children. 
In my interviews with members of the U.S. Border Patrol, the officers were quick to point out that the immigrants they interact with are “hard-working, God-fearing, and to the best of their ability to understand, law abiding.”  It seems part of the security issue relates to immigrants’ ability to understand what are often contradictory rules, confusing paperwork, and complicated processes for entering the country legally. My own exploration of websites for both the LIFE act and the DREAM act confirmed what the Border Patrol agents said. As someone with three earned educational degrees, including a doctorate, I had a very difficult time making sense of what it would take to become a citizen, legally at least.
Is enforcement working? Over the last decade, spending related to border security has doubled, but the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country has only increased. The tightened security, rather than apprehending more criminals, has simply caused frightened immigrants find more remote places to cross our borders. Denver Seminary professor, and immigration advocate, M. Daniel Carroll Rodas, himself an immigrant from Guatemala, believes a simplified admission process would make enforcement easier on both Border Patrol agents, and immigrants. “The US government itself realizes that it must change its legislation. The national leadership from across the political spectrum and the country as a whole know that what is in place now is not working and must be revised or replaced…[undocumented immigrants] know they are in violation of the law. At the same time, they have experienced personally the law’s contradictions and inequities.” 
Concerned Christians need not condone violations of our laws in order to welcome immigrants. We should expect laws that protect us from criminals, and we should expect the enforcement of such laws. However, Christians can also recognize our complex system makes it exceedingly difficult for many hard-working immigrants to enter, or remain in our country legally.
 Mac Donald Heather., Victor Davis. Hanson, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan than Today’s (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007), 75.
Are immigrants a fiscal drain on public resources?
In addition to the job concerns raised in my previous post, immigration specialist and devout Christian, James R. Edwards, explains another economic concern often raised by Christians seeking to understand and respond to the immigration issue. “Immigrants who pay few taxes and draw heavily upon public services have been a significant burden on the communities in which they have settled.”  Such a problem is met with a mixed response from researchers. One study observes that immigrants do not pose an overall financial burden on the citizenry. However, the same study says in contrast that in a localized context, a concentrated immigrant population can and often does prove to be a financial issue for the community.  Such a burden is attributed not to the immigrants themselves, but to an insufficient appropriation of resources to these particular geographical areas. However, in many of these locations, immigrants and natives often live in close proximity. The lack of coordination between local, state, and Federal authorities results in insufficient federal funding to these locales. Unfortunately, such problems result in negative perceptions toward immigrants.
In contrast to Edwards’ assumptions regarding the taxes paid by immigrants, Stephen Moore, an economist with the Cato Institute, observes that many immigrants do indeed contribute tax revenue toward the public services they use. In fact, Moore finds the average immigrant pays nearly $80,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their lifetime. This is based on the immigrant paying an average of $105,000 more to the federal government than benefits received from the federal government while receiving on average $25,000 in benefits more from state and local governments than is paid to state and local governments. 
The data collected from naturalized immigrants suggests they generally have a positive effect on public resources and nation-wide economics. As one author states, “immigrants do not further split up the pie; they enlarge it.”  The glaring problem in this comparison, however, is the missing factor of undocumented immigrants. One can do little more than speculate on the extent to which undocumented immigrants impact the economic well-being of native and naturalized citizens. This is a very important consideration for which information is limited. No doubt the factor of undocumented immigrants fuels the debate since that unknown factor skews existing data. Proposed immigration reforms must account for and address the problem of undocumented immigrants. Such options will be discussed later in this series.
Christians will differ on how to address the economic issues related to immigration policy. But believers can certainly agree that no person, immigrant or native should be measured by their potential capital output, but rather by their status as bearers of God’s image.
Although I now live in New Mexico, I’m a native of Florida. Florida natives are an interesting and rare breed. Florida natives possess a certain pride and frustration revealed reflected in a popular bumper sticker message directed at the many seasonal residents of the sunshine state. The message is simple and straight-forward, “Welcome to Florida, now go home.” Another is equally popular, “We don’t care how you do it up north.” Still another is functional in its tone, “When I get old, I’m moving north and driving slow.”
While these messages are sent in good fun, they convey several misconceptions. First, is the misconception that seasonal residents are bad for the economy. In reality, much was gained when the snowbirds came to town. Church attendance increased, businesses enjoyed the additional activity, and the increase in population allowed for greater real-estate revenue. While these half-year residents may not have paid as much in taxes as natives, they certainly contributed to the welfare of the community. Yes, they drove slowly, but they came as most of us came; from somewhere else. The second misconception is perhaps the most important. While my great-great grandmother was Seminole, my self-identity as a “native Floridian” is arguable.
Members of the Seminole tribe could point to the invasion of their land by my Scottish-born ancestors with much more disdain and reason for lament than my shallow rejection of snowbirds. The Seminoles are the true Native Floridians, I am the immigrant. In fact, we are a nation of immigrants, making the issue of immigration one that requires a wise, careful, and thoroughly biblical response.
While the messages sent from my bumper sticker to snowbirds generated friendly jibing, Immigrants in the United States have often encountered serious intolerance along with negative, if not inaccurate stereotypes. While it is accurate to point to historical and political realities for their impact on one’s attitude toward immigrants, a fair question can be raised; where do those attitudes come from? Are there underlying factors connected to the formation of society’s perspective toward immigrants on an individual level?
To this question, several proposals have been offered. These include how one’s attitudes are influenced by the condition of the economy, how perspectives are shaped by concerns over safety and security, and how one’s affinity for their own culture impacts their capacity to accept the cultural particularities of another. There are many studies that provide helpful information regarding general attitudes toward immigration policy. 
People of faith, Christian faith in particular also form their perspectives on immigration through the lenses of economy, security, and culture. Religion, however, has been mentioned as an almost incidental element in the formulation of one’s attitude toward immigration. Until recently, the role of religious thought and practice as a key element in the formulation of such attitudes has been overlooked as an area of serious study. While researching this series, it was interesting to note the appeal that more attention be given to religion’s role in this area by researchers themselves. Sociologist Steven Warner called the absence of material a “huge scholarly blind spot”. 
Of course, just as there are widely diverse perspectives in each of the three conditions mentioned above, adding religious affiliation to the interpretive mix in no way yields a unified religious response. This is illustrated through my affiliation with a ministry to border residents and its director. The research reveals a primary concern often expressed by potential visiting church groups is whether or not the immigrants they would serve are “legal or illegal”. In more than a few cases, church groups elect to avoid ministry efforts toward undocumented immigrants. It was believed by these groups that to do so would serve to enable illegal activity  While it has been no surprise for Christian groups to state their convictions on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, my source with the border ministry has been surprised to see more and more groups view immigration as a moral issue, and therefore decline opportunities to minister to what they call “illegal aliens”. The news, however, is not all negative. My source reports that other groups increasingly seek out his ministry in order to seize opportunities to minster specifically to immigrants they know to be undocumented. 
Why would some groups decline to engage in ministry to undocumented immigrants based on Christian conviction, while others cite Christian conviction as a reason to seek such an opportunity?
The information above illustrates a significant divide among Christians in their attitudes toward immigration. While the reason for the differing responses above are cited as Christian conviction, this series of posts will observe the way in which one’s Christian beliefs are constantly at odds with one’s sense of economic, security, and cultural self-preservation, and how this struggle impacts one’s understanding of the information available on immigration issues. This leads members of the Body of Christ to very different mechanisms by which they process and interpret the economic, security, and cultural factors of the current immigration conversation. The goal of this series is to heighten one’s awareness to the diversity of perspective within the Body, and to provide a synopsis of the differing views of Christians in a way that promotes greater understanding and education. My hope is that even with differing perspectives on immigration policy issues, Christians will see immigrants as people in need of compassionate ministry, love, and respect. They are what all of us were at one time; strangers in need of a place and people.
Christian perspective on the economic impact of immigration can be summarized through two different questions. One, can our nation afford the number of immigrants crossing our borders? Two, can our nation afford not to have the number of immigrants crossing our borders? To be sure, one could speculate that both sides would agree such questions on their own are temptations to see immigrants as fiscal units rather than as individuals made in God’s image. This, however, must be held I tension with the reality of the concerns raised by immigration’s economic impact.
The influx of immigrants takes jobs from native workers.
Citing studies by Harvard economist George Borjas, immigration specialist and devout Christian, James R. Edwards, observes that the large number of low-skilled immigrants puts “downward pressure on low-end wages”, making it difficult for low-skilled citizens to compete for the same jobs, since the immigrant will usually do the job for much less money. This, according to Edwards, “is not a good thing for America’s low-skilled workers, leaving them vulnerable to…direct job competition, wage depression, and flooded labor markets.”  This claim assumes an influx of immigrants sufficient to create such an environment of job competition. However, other factors are present to temper this claim.
The condition of America’s current and future labor force must be taken into account. It is projected that from 2006 to 2016, the U.S. economy will grow at an average rate of 2.8%, a modest projection to be sure, but one that will generate an increased need for workers in the labor force. Among citizens, no increase in the labor force is expected between now and 2020, leading to an aging native labor force.  In addition, Jenny Hwang, devout Christian and director if the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, notes that “low U.S. fertility rates will not only slow labor force growth, but increase the ratio of retired people to working people.”  In short, there are simply not enough native–born workers to replenish the low-skilled labor force as its needs grow with the economy, unless those gaps are filled by immigrants.
The citizenry that makes up the current labor force is also becoming more educated. In 1960, 50% of American men dropped out of high school to work a trade or join the military (my father being among them). Presently, less than 10% do so. However, of the 50.7 million jobs projected to be created between now and 2016, half will require no more than high school diploma. 
The suggested solution to this situation is to tighten and limit the extent to which immigrants can fill the gaps mentioned above. Such attempts, however, have been problematic and have produced shortages. Hugh Morton of the National Association of Home Builders points out that “contractors struggling to find quality roofers, concrete finishers, etc…found immigrant trade contractors a godsend.”  In 2011, crackdowns on immigrant workers in Georgia led to an astonishing 50% of its agricultural produce being left to rot in the fields – at a cost to the state of more than $400 million, with total losses prompted by the act topping $1billion. In Alabama, immigration limitations have cost the state $11 billion since June of 2011.  New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg said of immigrants, “New York City alone is home to more than three million immigrants, who make up 40% of our population…our City’s economy would collapse if they were deported. The same holds true for the nation.”  The entrepreneurial spirit of many immigrants accounts for a number of business and services that would otherwise not exist due to the culturally distinct manner by which some immigrants perform their service. 
Low-skilled jobs are not the only areas of employment where Christians raise economic concern. Highly skilled positions are also addressed, although concern does not appear to be as intense in this area. Edwards confirms that among the gains and benefits brought to the nation through immigration, those related to work done by “highly educated and entrepreneurially talented immigrants” is seen as a valuable contribution to the economic picture. Notable examples are, Sergey Brin, Russian immigrant who founded Google, Inc., John and David Tu, Taiwanese immigrants and founders of the multi-billion dollar Kingston Technology, Dr. Alfred Quinones-Hinojosa, neuro-surgeon at Johns Hopkins University, who picked tomatoes in the fields of California as an undocumented immigrant before working his way through school, eventually attending Harvard Medical School. It is clear from these examples that the contribution of immigrants to the fields of science and technology in the U.S. are unmistakable. Another Taiwanese immigrant, Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo, explains,
“Yahoo would not be an American company today if the United States had not welcomed my family and me almost 30 years ago. We must do all we can to insure that the door is open for the next generation of top entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists from around the world to come to the U.S. and thrive.” 
It would seem that while concerns are valid regarding the number of immigrants entering the U.S., there appears to be sufficient room for both citizens and immigrants in both high-skill and low-skill jobs. However, more research is needed, including an answer for why contractors would have trouble finding roofers, masons, and concrete finishers at a time during which so many are out of work, and why American students continue to score low in math and science, while the best educational institutions and the most state-of-the-art research facilities in the world reside in the United States. It appears the world makes the U.S. its destination of choice while its own citizenry struggles to seize the opportunities in its own back-yard.
Next Post: Are immigrants are a fiscal drain on public resources?
Tanya Maria. Golash-Boza, Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2012), 47.
 Warner Steven, “Religion, Boundaries, and Bridges.,” Sociology of Religion 58, no. 3 (1997): 217.
 Border ministry source, interview by author, August 26, 2012.
Testimony the Committee on Judiciary, United States Senate (2006) (testimony of Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York).
 My research revealed numerous branches of business supporting this claim. In the interest of space, a brief list would include; food services, tailoring, art, alternative medicine, exercise, and non-traditional education, just to name a few.