I’m not a politician, and don’t claim all the answers to the thorny issue of immigration policy. I am a taxpaying citizen of a border state, with a big-picture view of what I think on the subject. More important is what the Bible says, if anything, that bears on the discussion. Turns out, as with every significant matter, at the very least, Scripture contains principles that speak to what our attitude should be on illegal immigration.

First, government’s primary role is to facilitate a society that God blesses because good is rewarded and evil is opposed. Paul writes at length about “the governing authorities” in Romans 13, indicating that they derive their authority from God (v. 1). Government meets divine approval as it carries out its God-given mission (what can be done about a government that refuses its responsibility is another question). The basic duty of government is to be “God’s servant for your good” (v. 4, ESV). Government is certainly not to adopt policies harmful to its own citizens. In fact, government should be, in Paul’s word, a “terror” to “bad” conduct (v. 3). Government is to execute, not its own whim, but “God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,” wielding “the sword” (a lethal weapon) to do it (v. 4). Government is to reward conduct that is “good” (as God defines “good”) and punish conduct that is “bad” (as God defines “bad”), and carry that mission even to the point of lethal force, if necessary. Whenever law-abiding people feel threatened by their government, and “the wrongdoer” feels no threat, government has got things backward. Peter writes that “governors” are sent by the Lord “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). None “do good” like Christians. So, if government is doing its job, government officials should “praise” Christians, the church of Christ, and the Bible more than they laud anything or anyone else. It ought to be the case that our leaders cannot say enough good things about Christianity.

Since God says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1), let’s ask some questions. Does “every person” include those who would enter America illegally? Do illegal border-crossers have any obligation, in God’s eyes, to “be subject to the governing authorities,” or is it just everybody else who’s expected to do that? You cannot “be subject to the governing authorities” while simultaneously violating the law of the “governing authorities.” That is contradiction. Are those who refuse to “be subject to the governing authorities” sinning? Is sin evil? Peter says governors are supposed “to punish those who do evil.”

Our interest here is not in sob stories, hardship cases, hypotheticals, or difficult family situations produced by illegal immigration. We don’t despise people from any country—we’re all made in God’s image, with the obligation to obey God’s word. We’re asking what the Bible says that has relevance to governmental responsibility and the duty of people within a government’s jurisdiction. If you cross into America—legally or illegally—you are in American jurisdiction, where American law applies. So, what does Scripture teach about flouting, for example, a law designed to protect a border against illegal entry, or even invasion? If government allows its laws to be flouted with impunity, it is not upholding its obligation to punish wrongdoing. Furthermore, it is subjecting its own citizens to whatever harm comes from those it is allowing to flout the law with impunity, whether that be economic damage, physical harm, violence, crime, cultural decay, or all the above.

Second, stealing is sin. In the long ago, God wrote on stone with his own finger, “You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15). God never allowed thieves to profit from ill-gotten gain. A thief who killed another’s animal was required to repay its owner 400-500% (Exod. 22:1-4). If that sounds steep, consider that, if the thief couldn’t pay the penalty, he, himself, was sold to make good his debt. If he stole an animal later found alive, he was required to pay double to the owner. The lawbreaker was not to benefit from his lawbreaking. And, in no case were the thief’s victims encouraged to write off their loss in the interest of being neighborly. Nor were there sanctuary fields where thieves and stolen livestock could proliferate without penalty.

Likewise, theft is still sin under the gospel of Christ. Paul writes, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28; cf. Rev. 9:21). God says a thief is obligated to quit it, get an honest job and start contributing to the good of society. If you can’t get a legal job here because you broke the law to get here, what option is there? You can go home, start over, and do it right. Or, you can go home and stay home. Of course, this presupposes someone whose interest is in obeying Christ. Most are not hampered by that concern, and give little thought to being in sin, or facing divine judgment (which also describes most Americans, as well as immigrants).

The issue is complicated and exacerbated by our government’s response to the problem. Instead of strictly enforcing the law, thus encouraging compliance and preventing the current crisis, we have chosen to reward illegal immigrants with healthcare, food, education, transportation, accommodation—all of it courtesy of legal citizens’ money. In effect, America says, “Don’t come here illegally, but when you do, we’ve got your back.” If illegal immigrants take advantage of what America intentionally gives to illegals, it’s harder to call it theft once they arrive. Then again, it’s still immoral (and illegal) to hop the fence into Six Flags without paying, even though you may get to ride everything for free, once inside.

Third, self-destruction is not a national virtue. To quote the apostle Paul again, “you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing” (Rom. 13:6). Why do we “pay taxes”? Because our officials are supposed to be doing God’s work by upholding the good and holding down the bad. They’re “attending” to it—i.e. giving it careful, wise effort. If government is not doing God’s work in that regard, government is wrong. If government is encouraging lawbreaking, government is wrong. If government is spending taxes on sinful things (e.g. abortion, homosexuality, transgender ideology, feminist policy, anti-Christ practices, support of false religion, discouragement of true religion, etc.), then government is wrong. If government is acting to the detriment of its people, government is wrong.

Does anyone believe a nation can absorb unlimited illegal people and survive? Does anyone believe a culture (shared language, values, customs, loyalties) can survive by allowing in unlimited people with no intention of their assimilating to the common culture? How long can a shared culture last when it ceases to be shared? Does anyone believe an economy can spend unlimited dollars on an unlimited number of illegal people and somehow not take a nosedive? Or, is national destruction the point of the exercise? It’s difficult to believe that current policy is merely misguided, rather than intentionally malicious. Somewhere is a breaking point, and we seem bent on getting there.

Imagine a Christian saying, “But, aren’t we supposed to be most concerned about people’s souls?” As Christians, we are concerned about using the influence we have in helping lost individuals. That has nothing to do with whether a national immigration policy is helpful or harmful to a nation. Our government’s role is not the same as the church’s. Besides, show me one man who chose to illegally cross the border because he was searching for a Christian to teach him the gospel. Most of our fellow Americans will never obey the gospel, and that is true, as well, of those who break our laws to come here. It is foolish and naive to look at the influx of illegal migrants as less dangerous to the country because, in someone’s imagination, it creates an evangelistic opportunity. If you teach an illegal alien the gospel, part of it involves teaching him what God says about obeying the law. He won’t be able to be a Christian and, at the same time, continue to flout the law. Repentance would mean he’d have to go back where he came from. From that angle, if you could convert every illegal migrant to become a Christian, it would be the most effective of all deportation strategies.

Just because you know there’s a generous lady who keeps cash under the sofa cushion and would gladly give it to someone who asked, does not give anyone the right to break into her home. Likewise, just because a country may not physically remove you or insist on your arrest, does not give anyone the right to intentionally violate the country’s law to come in.

Well-meaning people can disagree on how many legal migrants we should allow, and from where, and what their qualifications should be. Let it be debated, legislated, etc. But, we’re fools if our idea of a healthy policy begins by allowing—even encouraging—the willful violation of national law without penalty, and with reward. If there’s a better law, then make a better law. If we’re not going to enforce current law, then repeal the law and quit pretending. When a government’s law enforcement policy becomes non-enforcement, or selective (i.e. unjust) enforcement, then government is inviting criminal behavior from the lawless. And, it is encouraging the law abiding to disrespect their own government because they see the law is a farce. A nation that encourages disrespect for its own laws is at odds with its God-given task.

No government has a right to reward evil. No government has a right to punish good. Yet, our current approach does both. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:3-4).

– Weylan Deaver, Tennessee Bible College Online Instructor