January Series lecture focuses on aspects of immigration debate beyond legalities

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The title of Jenny Yang’s book, which she co-authored with Matthew Soerens, says it all as far as her attitude on the subject of immigration: it is called Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.

Yang’s talk at the January Series, the internationally-renowned lectures hosted by Calvin College, bore the same title.

She introduced a conundrum near the beginning of her presentation, which is that many U.S. citizens see a conflict between their Christian faith’s call to offer hospitality and welcome to immigrants of all natures and their feeling that the immigration laws of the United States ask them to do otherwise.

But, she wondered, does the Bible actually call adherents to love people from other nations? As she started writing her own book, she delved deeply into the book which guides the Christian faith.

What she found was consistent and clear: both the Old and the New Testament devote significant space to stories about and exhortations to love the stranger, the immigrant, the person who is far from home either temporarily or permanently.

At Yang’s job, the relationship to immigrants and refugees is of paramount importance. She works as Director of Advocacy and Policy for World Relief, self-described as “an  international relief and development agency.” World Relief works around the globe to assist victims of war and disaster, as well as those who suffer poverty and hunger. It has been around for almost 70 years, originally founded as the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.” The agency receives funding through USAID and other government agencies, as well as through church, foundation and individual contributions.

According to its website, “World Relief’s core programs focus on microfinance, AIDS prevention and care, maternal and child health, child development, agricultural training, disaster response, refugee resettlement and immigrant services.”

In fact, Yang was formerly in the resettlement section, advocating for vulnerable refugees who needed to find new homes and were much in need of welcoming treatment.
Yang’s parents were immigrants from Korea — she said that her father told her that as a teenager he thought the streets of the U.S.A. were literally paved with gold — and they instilled in her a strong Christian ethic. Though she told the crowd that she spent her early years not giving much thought to immigration, she now draws upon her faith daily in her work to know how to proceed from a Christian perspective.

Yang quoted many Bible verses  in support of her contention that God is calling on His followers to offer welcome to immigrants and outsiders. One example is Malachi 3:5: “‘I will be quick to testify against... those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice...’ says the Lord Almighty.”
In fact, Yang and others point out that “Ger,” which is approximately the Hebrew word for alien (though Hebrew does not include vowels, many are implied), appears 92 times in the Old Testament. This has led to a national movement in colleges to view immigrants with greater compassion, G92, to which Yang referred at the closing of her remarks.
Yang then said, “Christians are called to submit to the law, but for the U.S. citizen, there is no conflict between welcoming immigrants and following the law (at least in most states).”

Acknowledging that almost all white evangelicals (88%) told the Pew Survey in Sept. 2010 that their view on immigration are primarily influenced by concerns other than their Christian faith (including political and economic factors and personal experience), Yang nonetheless urged a faith-informed response to the law.

She outlined the history of immigration law in the U.S., saying that essentially the nation had an open door policy until the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed in 1882 but reflecting policy trends prior to that. Restrictions on immigration were not comprehensive until the National Origins Act of 1924 (initiated in 1921), which created quotas for entry into the U.S. based on national birthplace along with limiting the overall number of immigrants allowed. In 1965, racial quotas were ended under the Lyndon Johnson administration.
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, as amended and augmented, is still the law of the land, but there are estimated to be 11 million undocumented aliens in the country as of 2012.

Yang suggested that people of faith should adhere to what the laws require of them regarding those illegal aliens, but she also joined the broad chorus of voices asking that immigration law be reviewed and revised.

“As we consider the law, it’s also fair to ask the question, is the law working for the common good?” she stated, noting that this is probably the year reform will take place.

Emphasizing that most economists regard illegal aliens as contributing positively to the economy, Yang proposed that such reform follow three principles: the United States should make it harder to immigrate or work illegally here; secure the border and create an enforceable workplace authorization system; and at the same time make it easier to enter and work lawfully.

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