Immigration and Christian Ethics
Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life
On April 5 Kristin Heyer, professor of theology at Boston College, spoke at a Boisi Center luncheon about the state of immigration in the United States. Many responses to immigration in the U.S. fail to account for the structural causes of migration and serve to dehumanize migrants. Despite the United States’ long history of immigration, the current operative lenses dominating discourse on migration present immigrants as a threat to national security, as a drain on the economy, and as disruptive to social cohesion and national identity. Heyer also argued that perceiving immigrants as threats to social cohesion or national identity often takes the dangerous form of xenophobia or Islamophobia.
According to Heyer, a Christian ethics of migration could offer an alternative to these dehumanizing lenses. By recognizing immigrants as persons with individual dignity, it exhorts justice for immigrants, not merely pity. Additionally, it addresses the root causes of immigration and our complicity in these causes. Profiting off of immigrants’ desperation runs counter to the Scriptural command to care for the stranger. Only by identifying the root causes of immigration, Heyer maintained, can we correct our views of immigration and work toward restorative justice.
Viewing immigrants as national security threats arose out of the pervasive post-9/11 concern with terrorism. Also, since ISIS has been able to infiltrate and conduct terrorist attacks in Europe through existing migrant channels for Syrian refugees, the American public has grown wary of accepting immigrants from the Middle East.
Immigrants are often put into categories of ‘takers’ or ‘makers’ with respect to the economy. The work of many economists who say that immigrants can be a boon to the economy, because they pay taxes but receive few benefits, refutes this language. In fact, the for-profit detention industry in the U.S. reaps billions of dollars each year, thus creating a perverse economic incentive to detain and deport more and more people.