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What Is “Immigration Justice”?

At its core, “justice” is defined as "people getting what they deserve.” Now, some have strayed far (very far) from that definition. Nonetheless, true justice still exists, even if some people have forgotten its meaning. It is never too late to return to the truth.

“Immigration justice” can therefore be understood as people getting what they deserve in regards to immigration policy.

Do people deserve the ability to move into a nation, simply by arriving at that nation’s borders? No. That would be anarchy and chaos.

But do people deserve the ability to immigrate legally, in search of finding a better nation than the one they left, one that was founded on Biblical morality, economic freedom, and political accountability? Yes! Such immigrants are welcomed with open arms!

Welcome the Stranger

That is because God commanded his people to “welcome the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

The only way the United States can be welcoming to immigrants is to remain faithful to the principles that have made it a great nation. No one feels “welcome” in a nation that is governed by arbitrary rules, civil unrest, political chaos, and laws that apply one way to this person, but another way to another person. The irony is that many immigrants are fleeing such broken systems; now will America become the same?

The Synod of the CRC has taken a stand on immigration, calling for comprehensive reform that respects the rule of law, maintains the integrity of our borders, encourages fairness (i.e. impartiality) in the application of current immigration law, compassion for people who are in the USA illegally, and reform of current laws to decrease the number of people here illegally, while increasing opportunities for legal immigration to the United States. This is a good position to take!

Border chaos is not a good position to take. Encouraging people to intentionally violate the law by coming here illegally is not a good position to take. Leaving our border open and unsecured invites people to attempt dangerous, illegal, often deadly border crossings. It invites crime, violence against women, exploitation of children, and waves of illegal drugs.

Don’t Make It About Donald Trump

Now let me be frank. Some people oppose border security simply because our current President, Donald Trump, has made it such a large part of his presidency. They do not like Trump personally, so they oppose anything he supports. They do not want Trump to get a “win."

Is that the way Christians should act? Should we oppose something that is the right thing to do, simply because the “wrong” person wants it to happen?

A secure border is something that the membership of the Christian Reformed Church supports, recognizing that a secure border encourages orderly immigration, reduces crime and violence, and secures immigration justice.

Make the Call; Support Border Security

Considering all of this, you are called upon to contact your member of Congress, your Senators, and the President to voice your support for securing our border. In a budget of $4.4 trillion, it is reasonable for our elected officials to allocate 1/10 of 1% to border security.

Links to the CRC’s views on immigration reform can be found here:


Hi Dan. Interesting take. I'm Canadian but I watched President Trump's speech last night and the Democrat's rebuttal. I found it interesting that both parties seem to agree that legal immigrants are a blessing to the country, and that there is a need to tighten border security. It seems that a win-win solution that everyone can be happy with should be within reach. I wonder, though, if that will happen.  It seems to me (and Canadians are not exempt from this either) that people want to dig in their heels about their particular political position and make sure that the "other side" doesn't win. It's unfortunate because I don't think that leads to democracy at its best. What if instead of advocating with your elected representative to be for or against a steel or cement wall, we advocated with them to be bipartisan and find workable compromises?  What if our votes were based less on political parties and more on which candidates were moderate and willing to work with anyone from any party to find the best solutions? Am I being too idealistic to think that could work?

Hi Kristen. You probably are being too idealistic. But this world needs more idealism.

Yes, it seems that compromise is the best solution. But it remains to be seen if "bludgeon the other side until they give in" will be the reality of what happens.

I would hope that the Dems can offer money to fund the beginnings of a border wall, allowing Trump to begin construction in the most urgent areas. Then on the flipside, the Repubs can offer something such as permanent legal status to the most vulnerable of the Dreamers. That's the sort of solution the CRC has called for in the past.

In the meantime, the Dems and the media will attempt to bludgeon Trump into submission, demanding a budget with zero money for a border wall. And Trump (who so far, to his credit, has signaled he is willing to compromise), may change his tactics and demand wall-funding with no concessions.

Please keep your idealism!

I agree with Dan.  A secure border is not a concept that suddenly became un-Christian two years ago, it used to be a common belief we all held.  The main beneficiaries of a lawful society are women and children, they are also the most in danger when the law erodes.  Jesus knew that Rome could be quite brutal but they were the source of order and the rule of law that holds back chaos which is always worse for humans.  Therefore, he didn't say much of anything to them about how to conduct their business.  He told me how to act when I see someone vulnerable and in need and that must always be in our minds but govt has different rules than individuals.

Border security is simply a foundational prerequisite to any system of immigration law excepting that of "open borders" ( that is, no regulation of immigration).

In the Reagan years, a fairly extensive amnesty was granted to unlawful immigrants in a promised two-step plan to then "secure the border."  Sadly, step two just never happened (and we've been dealing with the dysfunctionality resulting from that in the decades since).

One of the biggest barriers to progress on this is evidenced by California's newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom, whose very recent announcement declared that his state would be open to all.  Newsom is an "open borders" guy and not afraid to say it.  Germany was that too not so long ago (but since has abandoned that perspective).  Many more are also "open borders" advocates but are unwilling to simply say that.  Instead, they argue about how a wall might not be the smart way to solve the problem, or that ICE should be abolished because it has been so mean, and then do nothing to secure the border (which is a de facto open border policy).

It is not Trumpian to say that if a nation doesn't regulate entrance to its geographical territory, it is, by definition, not a nation.  Germany could do that only so long.  If Newsom has the power to open California's border to all (which he may not), he could do that only so long without threatening California's existence as a political sub-entity (a state within a federalist nation).

Yes, it is complicated.  Which is why repeating  simple mantras like "welcome the stranger" and "immigrants are a blessing and not a burden" are less than constructive.  Indeed, repeating mantras like that only increase the political polarization.

I agree with most everything said here. And yes, Kristen, this whole thing must look so ridiculous and sad from your perspective there in Canada. I think you're right that we are for immigration and we also want to be safe. So, I wish our elected officials could stop fighting and admit that we need to work for border security, whatever that looks like, and then move on to comprehensive immigration reform which is so desperately needed. Our border patrol people are asking for help - let's give it to them.

This crisis gives the church lots of opportunity for extending pastoral care to the immigrant. When I was young, I remember our church sponsoring a family from Cuba during the Cuban crisis. I think there were many churches in Grand Rapids that assisted families in the many needs they had as they came here. I wonder what it would be like if every Christian church in the U.S. (and Canada) were available to sponsor at least one of the immigrant families as they came through a port of entry? Some churches do that already, but many don't. I wonder if we have enough churches? I think there has to be a way for us to show Christ's love to the immigrant and also secure our borders so that we can live in safety.

Diane, that is a great idea!

Does anyone know if the Office of Social Justice has something like "adopt a family" for entire church congregations to take charge of 1 family and help them settle into their new home country? I for one would LOVE to help immigrants to America study for their naturalization test, or practice their English, or just feel more "at home" by inviting them over for a Memorial Day BBQ. But I honestly wouldn't know where to start, and that seems like something our OSJ people could help to facilitate?

The CRC people are very mission-minded and compassionate and I believe we truly want to help in tangible ways.  I can imagine my church being able to even sponsor or adopt several families because we are blessed with resources and people- we already send work teams to Guatamala to help the poor there - this would be a way to help with the crisis on this end. Maybe small(er) churches could team up with other churches in their community - including those who are not CRC, for an ecumenical missional 'welcome' to the community. But you're right - we don't know where to start. 

My local church did just that, Dan, in the late 1970's for two post-Vietnam war refugee families.  This is the tradition of CRCers and CRC churches.

Where we (in the CRC) have departed since then is in two ways: (1) these days we focus much more on the political instead of the personal, trying, it would seem, to make government our proxy; (2) when we do things directly, we tend these days to do it with our own more centralized organizations instead of with our local churches or individual families within a local church.

I favor the more distant CRC tradition on this.  


Lets not kid ourselves; the reasons behind a lot of immigration assistance back in the 70s and 80s was also political: anti-communism!

And once the flow of immigrants changed to "illegals" the willingness of CRC folk to sponsor dropped off dramatically.   I agree this ideally would be "personal" (read, families/congregations) but if they don't step up, someone has to do it. A few days ago there was an illustration of this on the OSJ website: look for the story of Race Relations person Rudy Gonzalez taking in a Guatemalan family; apparently there was no church to do it. We have a huge problem: much less "heart" for the stranger. How many congregations have taken the Church Between Borders training?

Lou.  I don't think I'm kidding myself at all.  I think you are wrong about the motivation.  Sponsoring the two Hmong families we sponsored advanced no anti-communist agenda that my church had or knew about.  We were asked to sponsor Hmong refugee families.  We said yes.  

What has changed between then and now is that "processing" refugee families has become big business (even if big non-profit business).  This reflects the general trend toward centralization (e.g., federalized home loan market which buys mortgages at subsidized rates from local banks and non-bank brokers).

Would my church sponsor a refugee family again if asked?  I'd guess yes.  Do I expect it will be asked to?  Nope.

Now, if you ask whether my church would take in a refugee family that was here unlawfully (refugee by their own declaration only), that would be a different question, just as it would have been different had the Hmong families been smuggled here.

Thanks, Dan, for putting your very cogent thoughts down; most of this makes a lot of sense to me.  And I have given it considerable thought ever since writing a 1987 (?) front page Banner piece titled "Open Hearts, Open Borders?"  That was right after the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act ("Amnesty Law").  I still stand by my piece, although as you can see by the question mark after "open borders"? that there needs to be considerable qualifying about that.

    Your piece does a good job doing that.  Here I only wish to address one aspect of what you write.  The figures you use at the end, and calling on us to contact our representatives to move on them, imply - to my reading - a "wall."   I endorse a phrase that many are using lately: "That is not who we (as Americans) are."  Yes, money for "border security," but no more walls - the world has too many of them.  

I've heard from Border Patrol agents and residents on the ground who say that a physical barrier of some kind is necessary on certain parts of the border. I understand the emotional opposition to a "wall". But I would be more inclined to listen to the professionals on the border than to my own fickle feelings. That said, I agree that a Berlin-wall style, concrete barrier stretching the entire length of the US/Mexico border does not fit with American values. Something a little more sleek and strategic would be both effective and more palatable to our emotions.

Dan, you write that

"...people deserve the ability to immigrate legally, in search of finding a better nation than the one they left, one that was founded on Biblical morality, economic freedom, and political accountability... Such immigrants are welcomed with open arms!" (emphasis mine).

Your argument implies 'two types' of people crossing the: legal, and "illegal". This is too simplistic.

Many people who cross the border (at designated border crossings or not) are refugees, or asylum seekers.

A refugee is not an immigrant, but a person needing protection.

The 1951 Declaration on Refugees "asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law." Nations have a moral duty from both law and biblical precedent to welcome refugees and asylum seekers, even those who have illegally crossed the border.

At least, dividing people into "legal" and "illegal immigrant" pits Christian compassion against the rule of law obfuscates our real responsibility to people who've fled persecution.



While a legitimate asylum seeker is slightly different from an immigrant, there is still a legal process for entering the nation that they must submit to. As such, I see no problem considering asylum, a sub section of legal immigration, and don't see any reason, in Dan's article, to think otherwise.


I agree that asylum seeking is ideally done according to the 'legal' process.

However, asylum-seeking is a universal human right, whether people have crossed a border illegally or not.

When someone is fleeing for his/her life and the legal option can take years (and forces separation of children and parents) I wonder if this makes 'illegal' crossing the best option for people.

It's never illegal to be asylum seeking, no matter how you crossed a border. I am concerned about language of 'legal' vs 'illegal' that criminalizes people who are trying to make the best of a terrible situation.

Hi Steve, asylum is a protected US and Intl right to claim but it would also be foolish for us not to observe that claims have tremendously spiked as word of this process got out.  Claiming asylum means a person enters a country without legal right to do so, then asserts he cannot be deported, because deporting him would likely result in his death due to racially, religiously, politically, ethnically, or sexually based violent discrimination.  Even after prompting, many of the people in the recent caravan admitted that they wanted a better life for their family when questioned.  This is obviously understandable but doesn't fit any definition of asylum.  It takes a lot of discerning to figure this out.

Hi Marc,

Agree on all these points. Again, my concern is that legitimate asylum claimants are stereotyped as "illegals" or criminals in the current debate. As Christians we're specifically called to care for this group, and I mourn that the national debate doesn't allow for this.

I don't think "legitimate asylum seekers are being stereotyped as 'illegals' or criminals," Steve, at least by most people, on whatever side of the aisle.

The underlying reality, which may make it seem as you claim, is that most asylum claims, especially from south of the border, are in fact faux.  Our immigration laws have created practical but unlawful avenues by which effective admission to the US can be achieved by (falsely) claiming the right to asylum, even if most of those claims are later (assuming claimants show up for later) not shown to be real.

Sure, the fact that so many asylum claims are faux will create for some a sterotype mindset, but the vast majority know there are legitimate asylum claims and asylum seekers.  No substantial groups advocates against real asylum seekers, but faux claimants cause legitimate claimants to be hard to see and find.

Keep in mind that the definition of asylum is actually pretty narrow.  There are many non-asylum seekers who notwithstanding seek to immigrant.  The analysis there is more complex.  And the real disagreement is about those people.

Steve, thanks for your comment about "refugees" (asylum seekers) and "immigrants." I'm glad you brought it up, as there is an unfortunate trend in conflating the two. Sometimes this is done intentionally, to add emotional power to pro-illegal immigration arguments. Other times the confusion between the 2 terms is totally unintentional. But the 2 are completely different situations.

If the US/Mexico border had no legal points of entry, and if the US had no embassies or consulates in Mexico, where refugees could seek asylum, you would have a valid point in saying that refugees are forced to attempt dangerous, often times deadly, illegal border crossings into the US. There certainly are places on earth where such crossings are the only option for refugees.

Thankfully, the southern border of the United States is not such a place! People seeking asylum are 100% able to do so safely and legally, rather than dangerously and illegally.

And as pointed out by others, there is growing evidence that people who are not refugees are being encouraged to give false information in order to claim they are. Encouraging false asylum claims lessens the ability of true refugees too seek asylum. That is an injustice to genuine refugees.

A secure border, including physical barriers where appropriate, is definitely part of comprehensive immigration reform, and immigration justice. Border security does not criminalize asylum seekers in any way. Rather, it protects them.

Doug and Dan,

Thanks all for your thoughts. I agree with you that border security, including barriers and monitoring where appropriate, is crucial, and that false asylum-seeking is extremely problematic.

On the following,

(1) Doug, you write "I don't think "legitimate asylum seekers are being stereotyped as 'illegals' or criminals," Steve, at least by most people, on whatever side of the aisle." -- I'm not sure I agree. I think that much political discourse, from the top down, does serve to minimize the legitimate crises and challenges that many are facing.

(2) Dan, you write that "People seeking asylum are 100% able to do so safely and legally." In what I've read and my little experience with Canadian asylum seekers, I don't see that a legal asylum process that keeps people for 'folding' and separates families is offering a safe and fair process for all. This is course another conversation altogether though.

(3) Doug, you write "that most asylum claims, especially from south of the border, are in fact faux." I'd like to see numbers on this. Again, I'm worried that statements like this minimize the experiences of many vulnerable people.

I'll have to leave it here though. Much love to all of you living on my southern border,


Steve: Numbers of faux claims: check out

I also office with an attorney who does immigration law full time.  She would verify, even if based on anecdotal evidence.

Now it probably is the case that that many of those seeking asylum think they should get asylum because they perceive (and perhaps correctly) that life is not good for them in the country where they are from.  But that (life is not good) is not a basis for being granted asylum.  I'm not intending to bad mouth immigrants, even unlawful ones, in saying this.  Hey, they would rather live in the US (or Canada) because life would be much better for them here than where they come from.  I suspect I would be of the same mind in their shoes.  

My guess is that many Americans are unaware of what constitutes a right to asylum and what doesn't.  And I wouldn't be surprised if that unawareness is itself the cause of much argument.  It seems to me that the fundamental argument in this country is whether the US government should allow whoever wants to enter the country to enter (minus perhaps terrorists and certain levels of criminals) -- that is, a de facto open border -- or whether the US government should regulate (by limitation) the actual numbers of immigrants (asylum seekers and non-asylum seekers) that are allowed entry.  If the government does regulate (limit), some who want to come to the US, even for understandable and "good" reasons, will not be permitted (or perhaps permitted by years down the road). 



I have my disagreements with the current President over immigration but at the same time I am often troubled by the tone of our denominational staff as their advocacy seems to imply, at least in my reading, that it is somehow "unjust" for a modern nation-state to regulate or restrict immigration. We also seem to forget that the United States takes in more immigrants than any other developed country and, even if all of our President's proposals were enacted, that is unlikely to change. Thoughtful Christians need space to disagree. 


Good points, Jason. One of my goals in writing this was to demonstrate that open borders does not equal "justice" in this situation.

It would be helpful for CRC denominational staff, particularly at OSJ, to weigh in and clarify how they interpret Synod's instructions on immigration: 1) the US government does have the moral authority to place limits and deny entry even to people who are simply seeking a better life, or 2) Scripture requires that we welcome any and all who seek a better life

I don’t understand the purpose of this post. I don’t detect a movement in our church or online to not have border security. The way we do it is in hot debate but not the need! Why is this a issue being discussed here if the church recognizes this?thx


Ken: I think the more focused question is whether the CRCNA should, if it is, pitch an open border policy.  The CRCNA has been public in affirming the need for "border security" but hasn't defined what that means.  Further, the recurring and oft-repeated mantras from the CRCNA are two-fold: (1) we must "welcome the stranger," and (2)  "immigrants are a blessing and not a burden."

These two mantras, combined with DoJustice articles, OSJ recommended books, and other CRCNA proclamations (e.g., a recent OSJ political action alert encouraged opposition to any increased border security funding in the upcoming federal budget).  So much of what the CRCNA says "around the question" would cause many reasonable observers to conclude the CRCNA did support "open borders," even if it didn't directly say so.  After all, how can your "welcome the stranger" (proposed as a biblical mandate) while not allowing them entrance into the United States?  And if indeed, the singular thing we say about immigrants  (legal or not) is that they are "a blessing and not a burden" then why would we want to exclude anyone?  And why would you lobby your members to oppose an increase in border security funding in the upcoming federal budget?

Hi Ken, I think it has a lot to do with which church you attend and which forums here you read as to whether you detect a movement towards open borders.  You're fortunate if you don't run across it much but many listened-to voices in the CRC are very much open to this line of thinking so I agree with Dan's reasoning to put this counter position out there.

I don’t detect a move toward open borders as a movement in the church, obj, or online other than a few comments from lay people and online! Personally, I think you guys are making a mountain out of mole hole. But I will honor your opinion and not get into discussion on personal perceptions! 

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