How to Contain the Immigrant Threat


“When they go to the Congress to get laws to watch the Muslims, nobody’s going to do anything about it. It’s against American values.”

“We’re part of the country.”

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz wants law enforcement to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” — an idea shared by many Americans today. They extend it to protecting our borders from immigrants coming from countries with Muslim majorities. Muslim immigrants who have completed American citizenship courses shake their heads. This kind of talk is “against American values,” they say. “We’re part of the country.”

History students remember that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, American values notwithstanding, we isolated at least 110,000 Japanese-Americans in “internment camps” during World War II. About two-thirds of these were US born American citizens. Still, we feared that any one of them might aid the enemy in Japan and so we put thousands of them into our nation’s version of a concentration camp.

This internment happened even after the FBI had arrested 1,291 Japanese who were leaders in their community, had ties to Japanese cultural institutions, or were considered suspect and worth further investigation. That is to say, these interned citizens — because most of them were citizens — were only rounded up because of their immigrant history.

Lock Up the ‘Enemy Alien’ Italians!

Fewer of us know we also rounded up some 600,000 immigrants from Italy who had not yet completed their naturalization process, out of the same fear. About 10,000 were relocated to camps, like the Japanese. All had to register as “enemy aliens” and carry special photo ID booklets at all times. The FBI raided their homes. “Contraband” possessions were confiscated, including flashlights, shortwave radios, cameras, binoculars, and guns. Thousands of fishermen lost their livelihoods when fishing boats were seized. Many Italian immigrants lived under “house arrest,” with curfews limiting them to their residences from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

ID Cards for Lisa Scottolines Family

Popular novelist Lisa Scottoline has found the “enemy alien” ID cards her grandparents carried — while their son served in the US Air Force during WWII.

In this context, it’s a mystery to me that we didn’t treat German-Americans as hostiles. We did limit their wartime immigration, however. Anne Frank’s father, Otto, was among those denied entry. Feels a bit like what’s happening with the desperate refugees from Syria, people who so many Americans would like to keep away from our country.

Anne Frank at School

12-year-old Anne Frank at school in Amsterdam. Her father used every high-level contact he had, in a desperate effort to get the family to the United States.

So it would seem, unfortunately, that Muslims in the US who expect good treatment in a world of ethnic- and faith-based war, are appealing to an American ideal that we aren’t always in the habit of practicing. But American ideals aren’t the primary driver for Christians. For us, the more important question is:

What does God say?

Here are some answers from the Bible:

  1. We are responsible to treat immigrants as we treat any other member of our community:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:33-34

God gives two reasons why we need to treat immigrants as we treat each other. The most important is because God is God and he commands it. The second is because we ourselves have been immigrants — whether in Egypt, as God reminds us, or to this country. And God formulates this command in the words of what Jesus recognized as the two great, all-encompassing commands:

  • Love the Lord your God
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

2. Our primary citizenship is in the community ruled by God. We are to prioritize the direction of our Ruler over the rules (and fears) of our human community:

Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. … Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. 1 Pet. 2:11-12

Because we are God’s people, our time in this world is lived as “temporary residents and foreigners.”

The Battle Against Our Soul

What worldly desires are doing battle against our soul when we make political decisions based on fear of terrorists instead of welcoming the immigrant among us?

How God Secures the Community

God says we “secure” our community “against” the immigrant by inviting them in.

He told Israel that immigrants who agreed to the mark of the covenant could join the Passover celebration: “The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Exodus 12:49)

God made the seventh-day rest mandatory not only for God’s people but for immigrants living among us: “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12)

Immigrants throughout all generations are to be governed by the same rules as God’s people: “The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Numbers 15:15-16)

God’s Sustaining Word to Immigrants

God offers many words to sustain immigrants. This is particularly convicting: “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Ps. 146:9)

May I never be counted among the wicked.

For the curious, more info:

Lisa Scottoline on her grandparents’ status as ‘enemy aliens’

Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry: Washington Post


About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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