How Should We Respond To The Huddled Masses?

Unless you’ve been holed up in a concrete bunker for the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard how US Border Patrol detention centers are overflowing with immigrant kids from Central America. While we’ve all been poolside sipping Orange Crush and lamenting the limited effectiveness of aerosol sunscreen, little Lupita has been traveling from Guatemala in a sweltering boxcar, followed by a fifty mile march through the desert in triple-digit heat.  It’s kinda’ like an Outward Bound summer camp adventure, only your counselor is a coyote named Miguel who demands $4000 for delivering you to a safe house outside of Tucson, provided you agree to smuggle a couple of pounds of heroin in your Hello Kitty backpack.

And believe it or not, this camp has a waiting list a mile long.

There have been over 57,000 unaccompanied children apprehended by US Border Patrol since October. That is twice as many as the same period last year. Some of the children traveling alone are preschool age. It’s a crisis of Biblical proportions that is bringing the topic of immigration to the forefront.

Many Americans are taking a compassionate approach, asking the Federal government to do everything in its power to assure these children are kept safe here in the states while we evaluate their circumstances, or reunite them with their parents abroad. Some governors are even rolling out the welcome mat to temporarily house immigrants. Churches are opening their doors to the kids to offer sanctuary.

Others are adopting a no tolerance policy. Residents of towns such as Murietta, California have blockaded roads to keep these children from taking refuge within their city limits. They argue that the situation magnifies our existing border control problem that is overcrowding our emergency rooms and social services, and putting a strain on the US Border Patrol. The belief is that anyone who wants to enter our country to work should follow the proper channels which include waiting in a 5-10 year queue, ponying up hundreds of dollars, obtaining a formal job offer, and proving that no one else in the U.S. could perform the job. Otherwise, they need to go home.

As an American, I can see the validity of both responses.

As a Christian, I can’t see how intolerance wins. Whether the immigrant is five years old or fifty-five.

AM statue of liberty2

Don’t get me wrong. The border situation is a real problem. Some years ago, my wife and I heard from both sides of this debate at a conference in Arizona. Local residents shared tales of gun-toting smugglers knocking on their doors in the middle of the night demanding money and shelter. The US Border Patrol told stories of rescuing immigrants near death and assuring they were sent back home safely. They also explained how they had apprehended bad guys crossing the border, bringing drugs and preying on the addicted. Some of them even intended to do our country harm.

But the truth is, the vast majority do not.

Our family has spent the past few weeks living and serving with some amazing missionaries in one of the poorest sections of Los Angeles. A place made up largely of undocumented immigrants. It’s not an area that shows up on tourist maps. It is the most densely populated neighborhood west of the Mississippi, with 150,000 people in a two square mile area. The streets are marked by gang tags and poverty.

Yet we celebrated the most joyous Fourth of July we have ever experienced, surrounded by immigrants who see their current situation as far better than their lives of the past. They basked in the glow of their freedom and opportunity, playing music and lighting fireworks until dawn. Their BBQ grills were working overtime, perched precariously on narrow apartment balconies. The coals were still warm in the morning as they left for work. Work that most Americans don’t want to do.

Picking our vegetables.

Landscaping our lawns.

Cleaning our homes.

They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and cousins of the current wave of immigrants. Most of whom are poor and hungry, fleeing abject poverty in countries where there is absolutely no opportunity to improve their standard of living. Others are running from corrupt governments or police forces. Children face rape and death threats if they don’t join gangs and agree to participate in the violence. Coming to the United States is their only alternative.

But some argue that they have broken the law, so we should round them up and kick them out.

As an American and a Christian, I can’t help but think how wrong this is.

For one, it goes against our quintessential American “Bootstrap” belief. This new wave of immigrants is crossing deserts, dodging drug dealers, swimming the Rio Grande, and scaling 16-foot fences to find a better life. The only thing the rest of us had to do to gain citizenship was successfully traverse the birth canal while our mothers’ feet were firmly planted in stirrups north of the border. It confuses me that a culture that has a core value of hard work and determination would criminalize the former yet reward the latter.

Even if your mom had narrow hips.

Second, if we let our laws dictate what is “right”, we run the risk of criminalizing compassion.  While it is true that many of our Founding Fathers were Christians, our country was not necessarily founded on Christian principles.  In fact, our closely held values of freedom are rooted in the idea that we may believe whatever we choose to believe – the separation of church and state.  When we confuse this idea, we start to believe our laws might be a good litmus test for determining what is ethical.

And it simply isn’t true.

Consider this big bucket of crazy:   It is perfectly legal in most states to sell drug-free urine. While such a sale could jeopardize the health and safety of the public should, say, an addicted bus driver pass his drug screen, we chalk it up to creative capitalism and look the other way.

However, if a flesh-and-blood human being can save the life of his child by crossing an imaginary line in the desert sands of Arizona, we cannot allow it. Your peril is not my problem. Stay out of my country. The one my ancestors stole from the Native Americans and carved out of the land God created.

Using laws to define what is “right” in the eyes of Jesus is about as accurate as flipping a coin.

Finally, Christ calls us to love our neighbors. The Jesus we profess to follow based his entire ministry on transforming the law into compassionate, uncommon sense. If Jesus had been about the law, he would have come to us as a congressman. Instead, he was a humble carpenter. A carpenter who saw himself in the faces of the stranger, the marginalized, and the misunderstood. A carpenter who threw banquets for the downtrodden. He never calls us to protect our borders. Instead, he demands that we protect our hearts from callousness and shield ourselves with grace. His words tell us this is how our time on earth will be measured:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.  Matthew 25: 34-40

What are we so afraid of? Speaking some Spanish? Increasing insurance rates? Crowded emergency rooms? Clearly there is a cost to each of these, but it seems like a small price to pay to assure that my brother in Christ has a roof over his head and enough food in his belly. But fear?

Fear is for the faithless.

Certainly, we need to protect our citizens from danger. And some people do wish to harm us, whether directly through bomb blasts or indirectly through drug deals. These are the ones we should pursue with vigilance.

But the determined father?

The desperate mother?

The frightened son and destitute daughter?

They are here. Among us. Christ in our midst. And for them we should open our arms wide. Like a Good Shepherd. Offering a warm embrace. A safe place to call home.

If only for a while.

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31 responses to “How Should We Respond To The Huddled Masses?

  1. Nancy

    Fear is for the faithless. Right on.

  2. Laura

    This topic is a tough one especially for a Christian. I don’t believe that there will ever be a correct answer or solution to this on going problem.
    You can’t believe or go by what the media says, being that they only say what they are told.
    I for one feel very bad for these children, but on the other hand there has to be a stop to children coming in this way.
    If people would just take the time to research and see what kind of harm is done to these children and women on their journey here, they would be more eager to put a stop to placing children in harms way.
    Children belong with their parents no matter where they live or how poor they are.
    I used to live in Guatemala and for 12 years I had seen and helped those children the media are talking about. (Moving back in 10 days)
    Believe it or not they are the most happiest, greatful and loving children I have ever met.
    Do they deserve better? Absolutely! But I do believe in doing things the right way. Our hearts want to help, but the United States has their own crises with children that need to be adopted and loved. If people really want to help they should move to those countries to help educate and feed those in need.
    My husband was in the same situation these children are in right now. As hard as it was we made things right by the law and we paid the price for his parents wrong doings.
    I guess the bottom line is, life is not fair, laws are not fair, but we do serve a mighty God. And He will show each one of us our roll in helping all who are placed in our paths. I guess the question is, are we really willing to help?

    • Yes, this topic is “a tough one,” but not because “there will never be a correct answer or solution.” The topic is these precious souls who are entering our country right now; the answer is helping these precious souls now. There are other topics, such as: how to help the folks have a better life in their own country. But that is another topic. This one is about having compassion, a Christ-like attitude, now. May God bless our leaders as we answer the question, “are we really willing to help?”


        what about spanish legals who learb\n to speak english went thru the process to become amr\erican citizens that the children are being ship every state in the union without any strings attache so the hispanics will be the majority in 2043 so the will rule the united states no one is not concern about that well i do

  3. Thanks for speaking up on this issue.

  4. Kimberly

    ” . . . and He was filled with compassion.” That is what we read about Jesus, in the gospels, with regard to almost every situation He faced. How would Jesus respond at the borders of America, facing all these children? He would respond with nothing less than deep, heartfelt compassion. So, if we are to call our selves “Christian,” our only response to these masses of children should be Compassion. If we cannot do that, then why on Earth do we dare claim that we are Christians?

  5. Nikki

    Without borders there are no countries. Without laws there is chaos. I agree with you about a Christian heart aching to help but I also see the side of limited resources and some sort of line in the sand is necessary. I like what Laura said about finding ways to help people improve their current situations and not risking the long trek to America or causing more difficulties once they arrive. Laws are not always fair but if they are deemed unfair, then they need to be changed. But you can’t skirt the law in the mean time because you don’t agree with it. There is a process and that is what reduces the chaos and ultimately brings freedom.

  6. Lorri Carlson

    Thank you, Scott! Thank you for the courage to write and publish this perspective. I confess I have spent much of my life living from a perspective of scarcity, there won’t be enough especially if I give it away, rather than one of abundance, that I’m blessed to be a blessing. God’s power and resources are unlimited and He delights in distributing them through me. I spent much of my life in fear and unbelief. I understand the struggle. But He provides everything we need for life and godliness or His word is a lie. I love how you addressed the reality that most Americans had absolutely nothing to do with living in the USA. How can we be proud of an accomplishment we never achieved? Finally, a young missionary friend of ours living among the urban poor for over a decade recently shared a profound insight. He is fully supported to go to Honduras, Guatemala, or any Central American country to serve the poor and marginalized with the love of Christ. Yet support wanes as he desires to serve that same population when they arrive on this side of the border. It’s ok for Christians to spend thousands if not millions on short term trips to Mexico and Central America but it’s a whole other story if they come here. Maybe in the near future when you have nothing else to write about you can address the rampant hatred for national leaders and politicians, some with whom we may spend eternity; anger about taxation from incomes only God allows us to receive; and peace in the Middle East.

  7. Yvette Grant

    It is very simple. They are coming here because life is better here than their own countries, so make life better in their own countries. Training, economic support, the Word of God in their own language with their own leaders, not to control their country but to improve the situation of fellow human beings. As Christians it’s simple Deut 10:18-19 “Love the foreigner in your midst….” Jesus took that further by telling us that we must love our enemy. God has the answer to every human situation but are we willing to obey?

  8. It seems most I speak with are for sending back all illegals and undocumented. I agree with what you’ve said. It seems to me that God is bringing these people to the US and it is our task to minister to them and share the Gospel with them. It can be accomplished much easier here than in Mexico. I was a missionary in Mexico City years ago. The job would be easier accomplished here. Thanks!!

  9. Jamie

    Right on! Thank you

  10. Scott, your compassion is laudable and properly Christian, but you are conflating two separate issues. The church and the government of our nation have separate missions. Church “policy” demands that we help the poor unfortunates who get to our shores no matter how they got here. Government policy establishes rules and order to create a safe and sustainable society (and hopefully avoid chaos). When you identify yourself as an “American Christian” you seem to be nationalizing your faith. It would be more correct to say you are a Christian who lives in America. If your actions as a Christian are detrimental to other Americans, you are not being wisely compassionate. Imagine you are in a lifeboat cast from a sinking ship; it would not be compassionate to overload the lifeboat with struggling survivors to the point of sinking the boat. That is precisely the situation America is in with the flood of illegal immigration we are experiencing. (See my post Serve the needy as a Christian, but find ways to protect all of your countrymen from the consequences of massive inflows of illegal immigrants. If we don’t enforce a sane immigration policy, we will all end up poor and needy. How will we help then?

    • Although I agree that there is a separation between the government and Christian faith, I know that God is the God of abundance. As we, individual followers of Christ or an America with a faith based moral code bless those in need, so we will be blessed. We have been blessed in such a way since the inception of this country and now we are being called on to use our abundance to bless others. In your lifeboat analogy when the power of God is present, another means of saving all those in peril will be provided. If that is not a part of our faith then we are placing God’s power within the narrow confines our our own limited physical experience. But once again if we (not just America but all countries that have abundance) would bless their countries and seek to eradicate the desperate situations that force children to be sent into the unknown of a foreign country perhaps to their death, then they will have the opportunity to excel in their own country.

      • Yvette, you ignore the voice of reason (and the voice of Jesus) which says the poor will always be with us. There is little likelihood that the abundance of certain parts of the world will ever alleviate all poverty everywhere. If I gave even a small amount to everyone I encounter who is less fortunate than I, I would soon be without the means to support myself or my family. If America allows unrestricted immigration and support to those who come, we will soon be bankrupt and looking for a place to emigrate to. I appreciate your faith statement that God can provide a means to save those not in our “lifeboat.” I agree. If His Spirit moves me to be that salvation, I must respond. If I am forced to choose between helping a stranger with my last dime or feeding my family, I will have to wait upon the Lord for wisdom in that situation. In the meantime, I will lobby for a realistic immigration policy at the national level.

      • Yvette Grant

        True, It is written that the poor will always be with us, and the Bible provides ways to meet the needs of the poor that speaks to how God requires us to care for the orphan, widow, and foreigner in our midst. The fallacy is the idea of lack of resources to provide for those in need. America has more than enough (Project Cure drops one freight container per week in a needy country from just our medical “waste”), the world has more than enough. We have this illusion of scarcity, because there is an unequal distribution of resources where a small % has more than they will ever need. But I am not talking about funding the world. I am talking about creating infrastructure and an economy that becomes self generating. Surely, these countries have students who need to be taught, houses that need to be built, land to grow food and people to buy food, clothes to be made, sold and worn. As the saying goes about teaching a man to fish and feeding him for a lifetime. Also, like the widow who gave Elijah her last bit of grain and oil, I have never found my cup to be empty when I blessed others as God has directed me to and I am confident that America will never lack if it approaches immigration with the love of God and the love of humanity at its core. I pray that as you appeal to our government about immigration reform that you will always be lead by that same Spirit of love of God that lives within you, knowing that God always provides.

      • Yvette, I don’t disagree with what you have said. The church should be doing the things you mention. However, I think you may be making the same basic mistake I called Scott for: the government is not in the same “business” as the church. You have also thrown in a red herring by talking about building infrastructure in foreign countries. The focus of this debate is illegal immigration into America. It is the duty of believers who have means to share with those who have less (no matter their legal or social status). It is one of the national government’s duties to secure our borders against invasion in order to protect our way of life. Illegal immigration is such an invasion. They are not attacking our personal safety with guns, rather they attack our emotions with sad faces and empty bellies. It is not a contradiction to say that the government must try to stop them from coming at the same time we believers must help them when they come.

      • I don’t have much to add in terms of the immigration issue because my heart breaks that this is such a problem that most people want to just wash their hands of, as if our citizenship here entitles us to be self-righteous)….But one thing that came to mind in reading these comments and choosing giving your last dime to the poor or providing for your family…what I was reminded of, because I was meditating on it recently is where the rich man came to Jesus wanting to know what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus told him to go, sell all his possessions, and give it to the poor. He had a choice to make. Give his last dime (risking an uncertain future in the hands of a God who provides) or keep what he has (but miss out on a relationship with Christ). I’m not implying we should all sell our possessions and give the money to try to make this particular situation better, but if our response is the same as the rich man, if we turn a blind eye and are unwilling to give all that we have to love like Jesus loves and to feed his sheep (which does not end at the American border), then like the rich man, we walk away sad, without truly experiencing God’s power to provide for us, we walk away sad because we wanted Jesus but just not quite enough to give up everything we possess so another could prosper. And directly following this, Jesus said “it’s easier for a camel go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” I’m not rich in the way this man likely was. We eek out a meager living, actually living above our means because our “freedom” allows us to have more than we can afford, which is something other countries do not support and encourage like America does…But in the eyes of those wanting to flee here to this land-of-opportunity-as-long-as-you-speak-English-and-can-prove-your-Right-to-be-here, I am rich. And that leaves me pondering my own heart and relationship with Christ. Is there a practical solution to the immigration/border issue? I have no idea. And I don’t think the original post was alluding to a solution on a grand scale. I think the intent, and something I will now have to think on seriously, is am I willing, in order to help these poor and destitute, sell all my possessions and give to the poor? Do you think the rich man was living single with no one to provide for? I find that hard to believe given the culture at the time…he could have had a wife and kids, or at the very least, extended family dependant upon him that he felt he had to think about. Who knows the entire reason he went away sad, but the reality is whatever the reason, he felt that what Jesus asked him to do was just too hard and he chose his riches over the better, more abundant life of living sold out for Jesus. None of this is directed at anyone here…this is just me now examining my own heart (which I believe was the intention of the author) and wondering if Jesus asked me to give all of my possessions to the poor (implying that the God I know and love would provide for my needs), would I do it? Or would I go away sad because it would be easier to say no to Jesus than try to figure out how to survive and provide for my family of six? I don’t know the answer to that. I know what I want it to be. And I can only hope if God laid that on my heart that I would obey, risking everything for the sake of helping the poor and destitute.
        “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

      • Jamie: I appreciate your thoughtful and heart-felt response to my conversation with Yvette. Like hers, your points are well-taken, and I cannot disagree with the principle you assert. However, like so many believers who enter this debate, you have confused the role of human government with the duty of Christ-followers. Even though (I believe) our Constitution was originally based on Judeo-Christian principles, it was not then nor is it now a theocracy or even a biblical institution. For this reason, it is NOT incumbent on the US Federal government to comply with the teachings of Jesus, James, or any other biblical text. Ever since the New Covenant was established at the Cross, God has been dealing with individuals exclusively, not nations as He did under the Old Covenant. We cannot and should not ask our secular government to do what God demands of us individually and the church corporately. Harsh as it sounds, I do not believe the federal government should be helping the poor in any country, ours included. That is the church’s job. When governments attempt to redistribute wealth, people come to rely on government. When Christians help the needy, the message of the Gospel is “preached.” It has been speculated that if every Christian simply tithed, poverty would be eliminated everywhere. Perhaps that is the place to start soul-searching.

        Concerning the question of the rich man who was told to give away all he had, I am of the opinion that the Lord knew his heart and knew that his heart was tangled in his wealth. Jesus felt that radical surgery was the only solution to his heart problem. The New Testament is clear that believers are to give a portion of what they have to help those in need; there is no indication of a general principle that everyone must give away all they have. As I said in my earlier response, if called upon to give my last dime, I would seek the Lord’s guidance through the Holy Spirit and make my decision. If my conviction led me to give it to the poor man, I know without doubt that God would somehow provide another “dime” to feed my family. My wife and I have lived together for forty-three years following this course, raised three kids, and never went without the necessities (and then some).

  11. veronica

    Eloquent as always, and encouraging us to do what we know in our hearts to be right. Great post!

  12. I am a neighbour to the north.

    The border situation reminds me of a poll that circulated a few days ago during a heat wave. If you see a family pet, or worse, a child, left alone in a parked car, windows rolled up, on a sunny day, would you break the windows to save the occupant?

    The majority of respondents replied heck, yeah!

    I find it interesting that this is not the default response to saving the children at the border. Worry about paying for the broken glass later. In the meantime, save those who are vulnerable and who would otherwise perish if you do not take action. Don’t wait for an administration to deal with it. They may or may not get around to it.

    Take care of the vulnerable.

  13. That was beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to write it. God bless you!

  14. Regina Alesso

    I look to the Bible on these issues. Pretty hard to find the part that says “you aren’t are problem we cant afford you.” But it is a heart issue-if we ask the Lord to examine it, He will reveal quickly enough how we see this and why. Statistics show new immigrants are more law abiding and less likely to be on social services than others in poverty. They are afraid of authority and so do not tend to buck it. It is when they acculturate without us asking them to assimilate that we see the trend turn.

    I just don’t understand how we can figure out so many things but 300 of our companies can’t figure out how to establish manufacturing here in the US and still make a profit.

    I believe that this issue is an issue that keeps coming up over and hov immigrants have been discussed and the unfair “quota” system that was often used you will see that we always say the same thing. If it wasn’t for WW2 the Italians and Irish would still be in public housing. We have enough funds to take care of these kids we choose to spend it on building things bigger and better. Much like the Egyptians and Marie Antoinette…nothing is new under the Sun. I choose to be on the right side of history since I know where this is going. Sort of saved us a trip since we are suppose to be going out and finding them anyway. I wonder if this is like Jesus calling from the shoreline as the disciples were fishing–having gone off mission…just a reminder that we are not of this world and that we were called to a high calling. If Jesus said let the children come who am I to say no.

    • Bernard

      Truth trumps your emotions…..the plain truth is there is a lawful way to become a US citizen. We are a country of laws. Just abide by the law and you will honor the Lord in this endeavor. BTW, they are NOT migrants they are ILLEGAL aliens.

  15. Jaime

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post. It brought tears eyes because it is all true. Absolutely to the point and Right On!!!!

  16. lalucas

    Thank you Scott. Christ among us indeed.

  17. Hi Scott
    I read your Depression after Reading Facebook Article bc I am so depressed after just searching Facebook a few friends I was very connected to and loved. I see their lives in wedding gowns, profile pictures w their children/friends on the beach. I see vacations of countries I’ve seen on the travel channel.
    I have been disconnected for 10 years of being physical ill, major surgeries and loving caring for my Mother with breast cancer who to me seems still so recent of 2 yrs ago.
    I looked at pages and became more depressed. Thinking where have I been? I’ve missed out on so much life. I struggle getting by with medical debt. I struggle just finding a soul to cry about loss of my Mom feeling I should have moved on by now. I lost my Dad to cancer at 16 yrs and went to college received my BSN in Nursing, fellowship training after that in Oncology. I worked so hard and loved my work as a oncology nurse.
    Now, I think I don’t know what I will do.
    I think who will want to hire me? It’s been 10yrs. You are so correct about your insight overall, people like successful people and befriend them easily then. I wish I had a supportive network of friends. I’ve been so isolated from being sick and illness. I feel like I have to hide those stories. I wish I had a man to share this world with sincerely lovingly to post my first wedding dress. A vacation with my brother & sister & cousin. My only remaining relatives. A beautiful house to take photos in front of. Most of all friends who really cared for me, accepted me and to be friends with as well. I continue to pray.

    I quickly came off facebook. I have never felt so lost in my life.
    Thank you for your honesty.

    Lost …very lost.

  18. Pingback: Author Interview – Scott Dannemiller – Notes on Bookmarks

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