It was my freshman year in high school. My English teacher stood at the front of the room and asked each student to share the topic we had chosen to research for the remainder of the school year. Final projects and papers would center around the topics we chose, but she left it up to each student to decide the subject matter. I listened as each of my fellow classmates unenthusiastically announced their focus. Once it was my turn, I proudly shared my topic: immigration. In response, my teacher tilted her head and puckered her face. She seemed confused and asked me to explain why I had landed on that particular subject. I explained, “As a child of immigrants, I take pride in my unique background and want the opportunity to learn more about a topic that is so heavily ingrained in my family’s history.”
She replied, “I would never have guessed you were a child of an immigrant. You are so well-educated, always come to class on time, so well-spoken.” Her response left me speechless. My thoughts scrambled to make sense of what she was saying; I was caught between trying to understand what she truly meant and feeling confused as to why her implied compliment felt much more like an insult.
Looking back, I realize the lasting impact her words have had on me. It was a moment that opened my eyes to the misconceptions that many Americans have about immigrants. Inaccurate understandings of the immigrant life surround us – stereotypes of people coming to the United States with broken English, looking to steal jobs and live off the government. These false narratives are amplified in the media, but their true cost come every day during casual conversations when these lies are stated as truth.
Before I continue with why we should love the immigrant as Jesus does, let’s discredit some of the myths that continue to circulate about immigration.
- Most immigrants are illegals. According to Pew Research Center, 77% of immigrants in the United States are in the country legally. The remaining 23% of unauthorized immigrants include those under DACA, temporary protected status (TPS), and pending asylum cases.
- Immigrants don’t pay taxes and live off the government. Taxable goods and property taxes are just two ways immigrants contribute to paying taxes through purchasing groceries, gas, and renting or buying a home. An estimated $11.74 billion in taxes was paid for by undocumented immigrants in 2017.
- Immigrants take jobs from citizens. The connection between unemployment rates and immigrant labor is low. Immigrants are actually outnumbered by workers born in the United States. In addition to this, only 5% of the entire workforce includes unauthorized immigrants. To fill the need for low-skilled workers in farming and construction, due to growing education trends in the United States, companies often use undocumented workers to cut costs, resulting in relatively low prices on food and other goods produced for the American consumer.
As a follower of Christ, my heart hurts for those people unwilling to love the immigrant as Christ loves us. Genesis 1:27 explains that we were all created in the image of God. John Piper says, “The imago Dei is not a quality possessed by man; it is a condition in which man lives.” In other words, our legal status, financial standing, or even political views have no effect on being created in God’s image. As Christians, we have a responsibility to ensure every person of every race, regardless of immigration status, receives equal rights and dignity, as we are all created in God’s image. You can’t love God and hate His creation.
Ephesians 1:4-5 says, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” My love for immigrants stems not only from my family’s experience, but also from understanding that although I had no place in this world, no purpose to fulfill, Jesus adopted me into His family and gave me a home. He loved me like a Father who loves his child; He died on the cross to ensure a spot for me at His table. Combative political parties, inaccurate depictions of immigrants in the media, and fear of what we don’t understand can cloud this reality and, in turn, promote hatred.
In the Bible, Jesus is seen eating with those most hated, fighting for the oppressed and loving everyone, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, political party, or financial status. In Christ, we are all one. On this issue, Jesus is clear: We are called to love and care for the immigrant. Although we cannot change the hearts of those who choose to hate in this country, we can’t sit idly by, either. We can pray, donate to relief funds, push for legal reform, extend a helping hand in our local communities, and continue the conversations that help people understand why loving immigrants is what we are called to do as Christians.