website and blog of Dr. Kevin D Glenn

Of Walls and Borders 3: Security Concerns

April 25, 2016

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.” [1] 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. [2] 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”. [3] Edwards concurs, stating that some areas with increased immigrant populations see “great increase urban crime.” [4] 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.” [5]

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.” [6] 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. [7]  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. [8]

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.” [9] 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.” [10]

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.


[1] Mac Donald Heather., Victor Davis. Hanson, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan than Today’s (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007), 75.

[2] Ibid., 83

[3] Ibid., 89-91

[4] Swain, Debating Immigration 60

[5] Marrero, Killing The American Dream, 58

[6] Sorens and Hwang, Welcoming The Stranger, 98

[7] “Deportation as National Security,” interview by Pilar Marrero,, June 12, 2011, accessed December 6, 2012,

[8] World Vision Staff. “What You Need to Know: Crisis in Syria, Refugees, and the Impact on Children.” World Vision U.S. March 11, 2016. Accessed April 25, 2016.


[9] Border Patrol Personnel (off-duty), “Border Experience,” interview by author, October 10, 2012.

[10] M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 133.


  1. I found the steps on the USCIS website. That is the Customs and Immigration Service. They are quite straightforward once you meet the minimum criteria. Basically, it is that you must be a legal resident alien with a “green card” for at least three years, you can then start the application process. It doesn’t give the amount of time it takes to complete the process because it is dependent on many variables, the most common is the number of current applicants. It is not a difficult process but it does require the person to adapt to U.S. customs and norms and pledge allegiance to the U.S.

    • Thanks, David. I think we just have a difference of perspective and experience on this. In my research, as well as in my experiences in helping folks through the process, it has proven to be a lot of complicated back and forth.

  2. I didn’t say it was easy, but it is worth the effort. Dealing with any government agency is an arduous task and I feel for anyone having to go through this, but if they truly want to become citizens they must follow the same guidelines as everyone else. If natural born citizens had to go through this process at 18 or 21 there would be less people in this country and maybe some of those people who make these silly rules would leave also.

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