The Folly of the Modern Immigration Debate
For most – if not all – defenders of immigration restrictions and control, the immigration restrictions are some abstract reality out there, and if “we just obey the law,” there would be no problems, and everything will be alright. What is always missed is that behind these abstract immigration laws they want to see enforced, there is an institutional arrangement, and that institutional arrangement is just as destructive to America as are the government schools. And certainly more destructive to America than any threat open borders could involve.
– Bojidar Marinov’s lectures on Biblical Immigration
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Welcome to Episode 36 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes we will be talking about a topic that has been very popular in our modern day: Immigration. It has become popular in the last 20 years. Until 20 years ago, the only two groups in America who were concerned about the issue of immigration were the trade unions and a few Democrat politicians. Oh, and also, the Marxist propagandists among the Hispanics who were already here. It would be good to remember that the first vigilante patrols on the border with Mexico were organized by Cesar Chavez and his Marxist goons; they tracked Mexican immigrants (legal or illegal) and beat them up, forcing them to go back to Mexico. This was at the time when Texas ranchers worked to keep the border open and helped their Mexican workers get legal papers in the US. In the 1980s it was Ronald Reagan who called for open borders and amnesty, and was blocked by an alliance of liberal Republicans and Democrats – although, the amnesty did pass, somewhat. In 1995, it was Harry Reid who called for building a wall on the border and for closing the borders. For most of the history of the US, ordinary working Americans didn’t care about immigration one way or another – except that immigration proved to them the superiority of the American way of life, people from all over the world wanted to be Americans. Thus, it was always welcomed; for ordinary working Americans remembered that they were all immigrants. In fact, for most of its history the US didn’t have any immigration controls; the Constitution did not grant this prerogative to the federal government. The feds were allowed to control naturalization, not immigration. The first law regulating and restricting immigration appeared in 1921. Even then, Texas refused to comply for another 30+ years, and kept its border open. It wasn’t until the 1950s when President Eisenhower used troops returning from Europe to force Texas into compliance, in the so-called Operation Wetback. In that Operation, multiple farms in Texas were raided, people were murdered, thousands of Hispanics – most of whom were born in the US – were rounded up and taken to the Sonora Desert in Mexico and left there; as a result, many died. Immigration restrictions in the US have a history of murder and robbery by the government that many Christians today don’t know about.
It was in the 1990s when socialists in government changed the tactics and expanded their anti-immigration rhetoric to reach the majority of Americans and specifically Christians and conservatives in general. It was part of the same campaign whose goal was to replace what was conservative American values with the agenda of socialism, but this time under conservative disguise; that same agenda that included foreign wars and a militarized police state. In the late 1990s, conservative organizations and pundits like Ann Coulter and the John Birch Society criticized immigration restrictions and the police state (in the Elian Gonzalez case) and Bill Clinton’s warmongering and nation-building around the world. (In fact, one of George W. Bush’s political platform points was no nation-building and the return of US troops home.) Within just a few years, both Coulter and the John Birch Society, plus almost everyone else within conservative and even Christian circles was rooting for wars and police state, and for Harry Reid’s idea to build a border wall. It took about 5 years to convert conservatives to what used to be a socialist agenda, on all its points, including immigration. Today, all conservatives and Christians think and speak on immigration as Democrat politicians and union bosses of 20 years ago, and as Cesar Chaves 50 years ago.
A few years ago I delivered a series of three lectures on immigration from a Biblical perspective. The specific occasion was the so-called Honduran children crisis, where thousands of Honduran children were dropped by their parents at the care of smugglers, with the hope of being able to get into the United States and have a better life than in their poverty-torn country. The real ethical/judicial problem, of course, was not immigration but how to organize care for these children. Most American conservatives and Christians, however, saw in this an immigration conspiracy against the United States, and called for deportation of the children. (Keep in mind, no one even knew who and where their parents were; so basically it was a call for virtually leaving these children to die.) The Honduran children were made into another scare campaign, with conservative pundits everywhere predicting the imminent demise of America within a few years if these children are allowed on American soil. Well, it is several years later, and like any other scare, this one was forgotten. Whatever nefarious and destructive purposes these Honduran children may have had in their minds, have been thwarted.
In my lectures, I showed the Biblical view of immigration, the history of immigration laws in Christendom, and gave an analysis of the situation with the immigration laws today. To make a long story short, the Biblical view of immigration is that the government should not be involved in controlling the movement of non-criminal individuals. People should be free to cross any borders and settle and do business and get hired and hire anywhere they desire, as long as they do not commit crimes. Criminals should be dealt with the same way, whether they are homeborn or foreigners. (Not deport foreign criminals.) The line should be drawn at the voting booth: migration is a right, voting is a privilege. Thus, the Biblical system is open borders and limited political franchise.
The response to the lectures was unexpectedly positive by many Reformed Christians; there was pushback as well. I didn’t expect any positive response to start with, so it was OK. But in the pushback, there was one recurring theme present, or, rather, one blind spot revealed in the thinking of all those who today have adopted the socialist view of immigration controls. This blind spot – shared by almost all defenders of immigration controls – is the executive power of the state. Somehow, when defending immigration controls, all of them miss the whole picture: that immigration control and regulations are not an abstract concept without any institutional embodiment. Behind all such concepts, there is the institutional implementation. Or, rather, every time we come up with some principle for civil legislation or action, we need to remember that the principle comes with its own institutional implementation. If we don’t want to speak in abstract, we need to consider the whole picture: principle plus implementation. If we don’t want to be surprised by the results, we need to consider the whole picture: principle plus implementation.
I talked briefly about this necessity in my two lectures at the Law and Liberty Conference several years ago, organized by Chalcedon. When we go to the Law, we don’t just want to know what the Law says. We also want to know to whom it says it. If the Law says we need to take care of the poor, it is of utmost importance to also know who it is, what institution it is that is commanded to take care of the poor. Because if we pick the wrong institution – not the one the Law prescribes for the action – we will end up in socialism, and the final result will be not care for the poor but making everyone poor. We can’t separate the abstract meaning of the Law from its institutional implementation. This principle also needs to be kept in mind when we consider modern legislation and government practices. For every law we insist to see enforced, there is an institution that will enforce it; and if we don’t take in account the nature and the goals of that institution, we will end up surprised. This has already happened in the area of education; American conservatives wanted free government education, they got it. We now discover that free government education comes with government educators and educational bureaucrats, whose agenda is destructive to everything we believe; and, as an additional bonus, we get an increasing tax burden, because, free education translated into real-world terms means school districts as a taxing authority of unlimited power. And guess what, if you don’t pay up, you can lose your house.
The same ignorance of real-world implementation, of institutional embodiment is seen in the immigration debate. For most – if not all – defenders of immigration restrictions and control, these immigration restrictions are some abstract reality out there, and if “we just obey the law,” there would be no problems, and everything will be alright. What is always missed is that behind these abstract immigration laws they want to see enforced, there is an institutional arrangement, and that that institutional arrangement is just as destructive to America as are the government schools. And certainly more destructive to America than any threat open borders could involve. That institutional arrangement is the same executive state of which I have talked before. The same executive state which is characteristic of pagan societies, because the Law of God does not allow the civil government to control non-criminal individuals, whether homeborn or foreigners. And every time we insist that these immigration laws are enforced, all we are insisting is that more power is given to the Federal government to control people. We imagine that it is to control only foreigners, but the real purpose of these laws is control over us, the US citizens.
Let’s take one of the most common objections of many Christians and conservatives in general against the idea of open borders (which, by the way, is the original constitutional arrangement of the US): “We can’t have open borders with a welfare state. We need to keep the borders closed until we remove the welfare state, and only then open the borders.” Taken in its abstract form, this proposition makes perfect sense; many immigrants come here only for the welfare, so let’s limit immigration by law, meanwhile work to abolish the welfare state, and then finally, we can open the borders and have only those who would come here to work. In a world of idealized theorizing, this theory is quite convincing. Let’s have a process of sifting visitors and immigrants, until we deal with the problem.
The problem comes when we connect the theory to the real world. Who do you think profits the most from the welfare state? Federal bureaucrats of the executive branch. Thus, who do you think is your real enemy in the war against the welfare state? Federal bureaucrats of the executive branch. And now, listen carefully. Who do you think, according to the immigration law, controls the admission of immigrants? Yes, you got it. Federal bureaucrats of the executive branch. So, what is the logic of trusting the same enemies whom you are fighting politically over the welfare state, to provide an administrative defense of your fight against the welfare state? In whose favor do you think they will tilt their decisions when they admit immigrants, in your favor or in favor of their own political agenda?
I have asked this question hundreds of times. I have never gotten an answer from those who use this argument. And yet, they continue repeating the same abstract mantra. Somehow, for most Christians and conservatives in general, the practical application of their abstract ideas has no value whatsoever. The real world doesn’t matter.
And, of course, we can add another practical argument here: What exactly are you protecting when protecting welfare money from immigrants? Is that money yours to use? It is stolen money, and you are not getting it back. By protecting that money, aren’t you protecting and perpetuating the very welfare state that you want to fight? Isn’t it better to let more people hang on it so that it collapses under its own weight? Why are you so concerned about the solvency of the very thief you claim to resist? If you are so concerned about that money, then you don’t really believe that money was stolen from you, you see that money as still belonging to you in some way, and therefore you are simply legitimizing the very system you want to fight.
We can file under the same heading of “abstract nonsense” another argument: “I am not against legal immigration, only against illegal immigration.” Again, the abstract logic seems to hold water perfectly well: rule of law, you know, thus, those who break the law are not welcome. But if you are legal, you are OK.
Well, er, what do you think the difference is between legal and illegal? For most people, there is some kind of abstract law somewhere, and immigrants are defined “legal” or “illegal” according to that abstract law. Not in the real world. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act currently in force, all final decisions about immigration or non-immigration travel are made by two top-level bureaucrats of the Federal executive branch: the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. Of course, in the real world, these two are not going to be reviewing every single case before they decide. In reality, it is low level bureaucrats in the consulates or in some office in the US who make the decisions. In the case of immigrants, they have to be persuaded that the applicant is not going to be a burden to the society. How is that done objectively? In the case of non-immigrant travel, the consular worker must be persuaded that the applicant is not a potential immigrant. How is this done objectively? Other than direct information of committed crimes or terrorist activity (which applies to less than one-tenth of a percent of all applicants), there are no objective rules by which that low-level bureaucrat is expected to operate. His decisions are entirely arbitrary. It is on these arbitrary decisions that the difference between “legal” and “illegal” hangs on. And when you hear a Christian or a conservative say that he is all for legal but not for illegal immigration, he is actually saying, “I am all for trusting the subjective decisions of low-level unelected bureaucrats.”
This also brings us to another argument, concerning the recent issues about amnesty, and the conservative outcry against Obama who supposedly wanted to enforce amnesty for illegal immigrants. Now, I said “supposedly,” because the facts of the real world show that Obama is actually the President who deported more illegal aliens than all the 19 presidents before him (taking the whole 20th century), taken together. Between 2.5 and 3 million people were deported under Obama. But let’s suppose that he does really want to enforce amnesty. The conservative cry is, “Obey the law, no amnesty.” So, in that idealized view, the law has objective standards, and amnesty is some kind of perversion or violation of the law.
But in the real world, the Immigration and Nationality Act currently in force actually gives the executive branch that legal power of amnesty. There is no limitation on the executive branch as to who and how and why would be amnestied and allowed to stay. Any applicant can apply and re-apply. And the decision in the hands of the bureaucrats. They can amnesty each one according to the same law that conservatives wan to be obeyed. When they cry “Obey the law,” their real cry is, “Use your power according to that law, including the power to amnesty.”
And yet, when I mention this detail of the real world, nothing changes in their views. Obviously, abstract ideas trump practical understanding of reality. And then conservatives love to tell you how impractical and schizophrenic liberals are.
Another argument is that, why do they have to come here illegally, why not just apply and wait until their turn is come? Again, as an abstract argument this seems quite reasonable. Because abstractly, the laws do not stop anyone from applying, they just establish some sort of a legal order for the process of application and approval. Just like getting a driver’s license: you can apply, there’s just a procedure how you are gonna get that driver’s license.
In reality however, the Immigration and Nationality Act is not about an administrative procedure, like a driver’s license. The Act is discriminational. It declares the eligibility of certain people for applying for immigrant status, and it excludes the vast majority of potential immigrants from even applying. This is the very introductory text to the main body of the Act in the very first text of Chapter 1:
Exclusive of aliens described in subsection (b), aliens born in a foreign state or dependent area who may be issued immigrant visas or who may otherwise acquire the status of an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence are limited to–
and then it describes three or four specific classes: family-sponsored, employment-based, and diversity-visa lottery. And then, a little later, people seeking assylum. Which means, an industrious, entrepreneurial individual who has no relation in the US, and doesn’t live in a war-area, but wants to immigrate and work and become a loyal contributor to the American society and economy (and perhaps also a loyal citizen), is by default banned from even applying. In many situations, such individuals are also banned from traveling to the US to establish contacts and relations, under the heading of “potential immigrant.” And how do the bureaucrats in the consulates determine who is a “potential immigrant”? Hold on to your chair: Because he has a high chance of being hired in the US. Yes, you heard it. I know of many such examples. In one of them, a real example, an American man of means with an office of his company in Moscow invites his female secretary to the US with the intention to marry her. She speaks several languages, has degrees in banking and business administration, and is young and pretty. The US consulate in Moscow refuses her a visa – even to travel. When he calls them to find out why, the answer of the consular worker is, “She is young, pretty, smart, educated, and she knows English, I can’t let her go. She is a potential immigrant.” Apparently, the policy of the State Department is to keep America old, ugly, stupid, and uneducated. There are a number of such bright individuals out there who want to immigrate and contribute to America, but the immigration laws in the US exclude them from applying. Ironically, it is only when someone is already here illegally, that they can apply for a change in status, and then everything depends on the arbitrary decision of a low-level bureaucrat. And these arbitrary decisions seldom have anything to do with morality or with the American interests. Several years ago, a young British scientist was deported because a government bureaucrat refused to grant him a visa; the young man had graduated from an American university and had gotten a job with a company. He applied for a work visa, which was rejected because the bureaucrat couldn’t see a reason for the company to hire a Brit over an American. In another case, a young woman who was born in the US to legal immigrants was scheduled for deportation, because many years ago her parents failed to complete some document required by the immigration authorities. She knows only English, she had graduated from an American school and then an American university, she had gotten a job – she is an American through and through, and yet, she would be deported to a country where she has never been before, because of some obscure paper many years ago. This is how immigration laws work in the real world.
And how about that other argument, that the Federal government can easily round up and deport all illegal aliens? Again, as an abstract proposition, it makes perfect sense, why not? The question is, How would Federal agents practically know legal from illegal? And then, even worse, how would they know a citizen from non-citizen? No US citizen is obligated by law to carry a proof that he is a US citizen. The only way for such an action to be possible in the real world is if US citizens are obligated to carry some sort of a federal ID, which means National ID. And, guess what, anti-immigration politicians have been trying to push National ID on the American people for over 20 years now. Perhaps there is a connection here, in the real world of applied legislation?
And on, and on, and on. All the arguments for immigration controls are of the same sort: foolish, unrealistic, and abstract. All of them miss the practical reality of the nature of government and the nature of its institutions. All of them, when applied in practice, lead to worse problems. All of them, when taken to their logical conclusions, will in practice lead to the enslavement of the American society under the jackboot of the Federal government.
Deep behind that folly, of course, is a covenantal issue; it is an issue of lack of understanding concerning the Biblical view of government, and the nature of modern government. Biblical government is only judiciary: courts which are activated only when there is a crime committed or where there is a dispute to be resolved. Biblical government doesn’t control non-criminal individuals, whether they are homeborn or foreigners. (Remember, One law is there to be for the homeborn and the stranger, Ex. 12:49.) At the other end, a pagan government is always executive: an all-encompassing state which controls everyone for the purposes of a small elite of social engineers. That small elite decides where a person can live or not live, where he will work or not work, and where he will travel or not travel. The hope of the supporters of pagan government is that the government will always use its executive power against other groups. The truth is, the government always ends up using its executive power against them. And it is there where the folly of modern American Christians and conservatives is – they believe that they can trick God against His Law. But God is not tricked; and neither is He mocked. And the more Christians and conservatives root for un-Biblical laws on immigration, the deeper under tyranny they will fall.
The assigned reading this week will be not reading but audio lectures on the Biblical view of immigration: Bojidar Marinov, Biblical immigration series on YouTube. In these lectures, I cover these three topics: Immigration and the Sabbath (or, what the Bible says about immigration and the stranger), a history of the immigration laws in the US and the West (or, how we went from a Christian policy to an anti-Christian policy), and a logical and theological analysis of the modern anti-immigration arguments.
And again, my appeal to you, following our last episode about missions, is to consider supporting a mission that has proven effective in bringing a comprehensive Gospel to the mission field. Visit BulgarianReformation.com. Subscribe to the newsletter, and Donate. And God bless you all.