Is it “Christian” to turn away vulnerable children?

Guest opinion by Lyman Stone ~

Transy grad, Tax Foundation economist Lyman Stone

Transy grad, Tax Foundation economist Lyman Stone

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34, ESV

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” – Jeremiah 7:5-7

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:1-6

* * *

Customs and Border Patrol officials estimate that up to 74,000 unaccompanied minors will be caught crossing the southern border of the United States this year, a dramatic rise from just over 15,000 in 2011. The largest part of this boom comes from migrants from Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras. This surge of young migrants has provoked a public theater of outrage, with anti-immigration advocates protesting at refugee shelters and transfer points, yelling at busloads of children in scenes that, to the author’s Southern imagination, look hauntingly like Little Rock in 1957.

For self-styled moderates in the broader immigration debate, the treatment of child migrants is and should be a litmus test. The reason why is simple: none of the conventional arguments against immigration apply to children. With what any honest accounting must call a humanitarian crisis in the making, the question of child migrants is a barometer of the honesty of immigration debates, and, of great concern to this writer, the spiritual integrity of politically active Christians.

Before the question of Christian responsibility for child migrants can be judged, it may be useful to briefly outline why child migrants are such a narrowly philosophical question. There are essentially three main arguments that a reasonable person, without malice or racist intentions, could deploy to argue against increased immigration: competition for jobs, cultural assimilation, and public financial burdens. Whatever validity these arguments may or may not have for immigrants generally, they simply do not apply to child migrants.

1. Child migrants aren’t competitors for jobs, and certainly not for high-quality jobs.
2. Child migrants will probably learn English and assimilate to other American norms. American youth culture is globally popular and rapidly learned, and with it comes the English language, meaning so assimilation of child migrants should be swift.
3. The degree to which child migrants burden government services is almost entirely determined by how we choose to welcome them. If we put them in refugee camps and segregate them from normal economic life, we can count on expensive welfare dependency. But with adoption, education, and more normalized living conditions, we can reasonably expect child migrants to become socially and economically integrated and productive American adults.

The usual arguments against immigration, based largely on what may be practical concerns, simply don’t apply to child migrants, provided we offer a quick transition into normalized life for them through fast-track adoptions and community sponsorships. The United States has had a long, if sometimes problematic, history of mass adoptions during periods of high immigration, such as the “Orphan Trains” taking unwanted children from the East Coast to the western states from the 1850s to 1920s. Conservatives who routinely advocate adoptions as an alternative to abortion should feel at home advocating it as an alternative to deportation. This is especially true given that, for children from violent or unstable countries, deportation may be a death sentence.

For Christians (such as the author) whose faith defines their political positions on everything from the sanctity of human life to the importance of work, the question of child migrants should therefore be simple. We should receive these children in Christ’s name, knowing that what we do for the least of these, we do for Christ. We should beware, lest we deport angels in disguise. We should recall that our treatment of the foreigner and the fatherless is the first test of our faith.

Many Christian churches, charities, and individuals throughout the nation have responded faithfully to the current child migrant crisis, providing shelter for displaced children, working hard to find adoptive homes and families, and helping older children find safe and productive places to live until they reach adulthood. These efforts are a salutary expression of public Christian piety in a way that sign-waving protests against busloads of children are not.

And ultimately, the solution for child migrants will vary: fast-track adoptions in non-border states could be good options for many, while the normal foster care system may serve others better. Some may be good candidates for court-supervised legal emancipation, others may already have family in the United States with whom they could be reunited, while others may need some as-yet unidentified system to help them integrate into the American mainstream. But whatever the solution may be, faithful Christians committed to the sanctity of life should be at the forefront of advocacy for vulnerable children, not at the front of the picket line.

Lyman Stone is a graduate of Transylvania University, Jessamine County native, and recent immigrant to the Washington, DC metro area. He is also an economist at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy think tank. Opinions expressed here are Lyman’s only, and do not represent the Tax Foundation.

Mr. Stone’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of UnderMain.

Related link: FACT SHEET: Educational Services for Immigrant Children and Those Recently Arrived to the United States

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