The Common Good

Border Security Before Citizenship is a Bad Idea

Last week a group of senators released principles for immigration reform that would make the path to citizenship for over 11 million immigrants contingent upon more border security.

Amy Walters / Shutterstock
Miniature border patrol guards stand on a map at the USA/Mexico border. Amy Walters / Shutterstock

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That is simply a bad idea. It binds together immigration and threats to national security as one in the same. This mindset should be questioned and rejected. It infringes upon the heart and soul of Christianity — to boldly love thy neighbor.   

At this moment, an efficient system for immigrants to enter, work, or become citizens is so desperately needed and long overdue. For the last two decades, border security and immigration enforcement have seen unprecedented growth. And during that time, immigration policies — and lack thereof — have become increasingly synonymous with national security. Beware, for that mindset can be alluring if not based in the reality of immigration and faith. 

At the heart of the matter is the understanding of immigrants as assets to our communities and not threats to the country. 

The irony is that because of the border security primacy that was established in the 90s, the risk and cost to cross back-and-forth became too great for seasonal workers who used to come north to work temporarily and then return to their families each year. As a result, combined with the simultaneous signing of NAFTA that destroyed Mexican livelihoods, many of these workers have stayed in the United States, started new lives here, and their families have migrated to join them. Border enforcement without an effective immigration system has actually meant more permanent, unauthorized migration to the U.S.

And from that migration we have benefitted greatly from, even exploited, the labor and expertise of its members while heavily criminalizing their presence. The Obama Administration has imprisoned and deported a record number of immigrants, devastating families because there is frankly "no line" to get into for papers.

As millions of undocumented immigrants now have firmly established lives and American families, as they are quite literally our neighbors and members of our communities, it's time to prioritize their legal status and futures.

We're trapped in a shallow debate. Perhaps, somewhere deep in our souls, we have even been convinced that immigration and border security are one in the same. But that has consequences for our faith, with the ultimate commandment to love God and love thy neighbor, and with the immigrant mentioned 92 times in Hebrew scripture. It is difficult to love your immigrant neighbor if you've come to believe they are a threat.  

Let's bring some heart and soul back to this debate, valuing immigrants and families first. It is unfair and unbiblical to hinge their lives on perceived threats to security. And let's pray that the Senate does some more soul searching, too.  

Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border, which promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.

Photo: Amy Walters / Shutterstock

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