A Christian Perspective on Immigration
A conversation with immigration attorney Land Wayland
By Justin Horey
President Trump’s election in November left many Americans wondering: Will he really “build that wall,” as his supporters chanted at campaign rallies? Will our new president follow through on his campaign promise to deport millions of undocumented (illegal) immigrants? Will he institute a ban on Muslims entering the United States?
The 2016 presidential campaign brought the issue of immigration back into the news and back into the minds of many American voters. It also left millions of people in fear of imprisonment, deportation, or worse because of their immigration status. As Christians, how should we respond? What is the biblical perspective on the issue of immigration? What should we say to aliens in our communities?
Shortly after the election, CHRISTIAN STANDARD spoke with Land Wayland, an immigration attorney based in Southern California. Since 1973, Wayland has represented more than 2,500 cases before the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and more than 1,000 cases before the agency that succeeded it, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—with a 98 percent success rate.
A devoted Christian, Wayland also teaches classes on immigration law for single parents at The Strong Families Institute of My Safe Harbor, a ministry founded by First Christian Church in Anaheim, California.
Wayland spoke with CHRISTIAN STANDARD at length about immigrants, immigration policy, and the Christian’s responsibility to strangers in our midst. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.
In four decades of practicing immigration law, what have you learned about immigrants that American Christians need to understand better?
Immigrants are human beings who need to be loved, to be respected, to be able to practice their religion, to marry and raise a family, to raise their children. They want to have the opportunity to lead a good life, to work at a job that is worthy of their time and effort, to live in a safe community, to have leisure time and use it wisely. In most ways, they are no different from you or your family or the vast majority of human beings on this earth.
In what ways do recent immigrants tend to be different from natural-born U.S. citizens?
Immigrants who come to the United States tend to be more willing to take risks. Compared with those who were born here, recent immigrants are more likely to serve in the U.S. military, start their own business, buy a house, pay their bills on time, attend religious services regularly, and vote when they become citizens. In my experience, they are also far less tolerant of corruption in government.
It is time for the leaders of this country to do a thorough reassessment of immigration policy and make plans for the next 30 years. Our leaders need to recognize that the ease of modern transportation allows virtually anyone in the world to travel to the United States, and that it is time to control more carefully who enters and who stays too long.
It is time to spend the money to properly fund the entire immigration program of the United States and to hire, train, and equip enough Immigration Service officers to be able to quickly do their duties.
Our leaders need to admit that some existing immigration policies have not been well thought out or have not been well implemented. It is time to recognize that some of our country’s immigration policies no longer make much sense and must be changed.
First, our country should increase the number of close family members who are admitted each year so the visa waiting lists are no longer 20 years long. If a person can’t count on having a visa available within five years, then the visa should not be promised. The category definitions should be adjusted to ensure that this is possible.
Second, we should recognize that the U.S. labor market now recruits qualified workers from every country. We need to find a way to allow U.S. companies to hire the skilled employees they need without waiting five years. Many of our businesses need those people now.
Lastly, our government must recognize that the smartest and most adventuresome aliens are likely to become entrepreneurs, and the government should make it easier for them to enter the United States in order to start or expand businesses.
What about individuals seeking asylum? What about refugees?
We must create an effective way for residents of foreign countries who have a bona fide need to apply for asylum to do so from outside the United States. They should not be required to find a way to make their way to this country to do that—because it is often dangerous, illegal, or both. And we should limit the number of such applications that can be approved each year.
What about the language barrier? How important is it, in your experience, for immigrants to learn English once they arrive in the United States?
When you don’t speak the language, it is extremely difficult to rise very far in a new culture. In my opinion, any nationwide immigration reform should create programs to ensure that, once aliens arrive, they are required to learn English to the best of their ability. These programs should also provide people with the opportunity to receive job training to qualify them for the jobs they are most likely to find.
What can Christians do for the immigrants in their immediate communities?
Christians must remember the clear biblical teachings that we shall always have the poor and the dispirited and the downcast with us, that we must welcome the stranger and provide for his care, that we should treat everyone as we want to be treated, and that we must be generous in our efforts to help any who need our help.
Jesus did not focus his ministry on helping only the rich or popular or powerful—quite the contrary! If we believe, as Jesus taught, that loving our neighbor is second only to loving God, then each one of us must treat others fairly and with love—regardless of their citizenship status.
As Christians in America, we must dedicate ourselves to the idea that we have a holy mandate to be completely serious about the command of Jesus to love one another. That teaching, more than anything else, has motivated my immigration practice over the last four and a half decades.
As believers, when we appear before the Lord one day, we don’t want to be asked, “Why not?” or “Why didn’t you?” or “What more could you have done?”
Justin Horey is a writer, musician, and the founder of Livingstone Marketing. He lives in Southern California.