Immigration: The Unforgivable Sin? | Sojourners

Immigration: The Unforgivable Sin?

corgarashu and Ryan Rodrick Beiler/
corgarashu and Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

When I share the story of how brutal the path to citizenship is for us, people are often shocked. We are not what people have in mind when they think of ‘immigrants.’ We are white. We speak English. We have graduate level degrees. And yet even for us, as documented workers, it sometimes seems nearly impossible that we will be able to gain permanent residency. The path is so much narrower and steeper than people realize, so we speak up.

I speak up because I would love legal residency to be more easily within our reach. As a mom, it would give me so much peace of mind to know we could continue to build a life in the U.S. with our children. But mostly, I speak up because I can. As a legal immigrant, I have a first-hand perspective on just how harsh the current legislation can be, and I also have the freedom to speak about it without fear of being deported.

And so I speak and write in favor of equitable and reasonable immigration reform. I believe it is the right thing to do ethically, and it is the wise thing to do socially and economically. However, whenever I raise the issue I am met with this response: “We’re not objecting to you — because you got here legally and have obeyed all the laws. We are objecting to all the law-breakers who are here illegally: if they disrespected the law, they should not be rewarded for it!”

I am never quite sure how to respond. Should I confess that I, too, have broken the law at times? I have left my children unattended in the car while dashing in to pick up my eldest from school. I have exceeded the speed limit. I have paused rather than stopped at stop signs.

However, more pressing than the desire to show that we all are law-breakers in some way and should not ‘cast the first stone,’ is my desire to ask this: why do we treat illegal immigration as the unforgivable sin?

Jesus said that every sin, no matter how unconscionable, could be forgiven. The only sin that could not be forgiven, however, was ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,’ which I understand to be a state of continual, active rebellion against the Holy Spirit’s testimony about Jesus. If we persist in rejecting the Holy Spirit’s witness about Jesus, we will never receive the forgiveness that comes from Jesus.

However, every other sin committed in the past — whether murder, idolatry, treason or rape, can be forgiven. The law may have required restitution for the wrongs committed, but forgiveness was still possible once restitution had been made.

The American legal system has a series of punishments that correspond to the severity of the crime. A man found guilty of assault will serve a few years in prison: a justly deserved penalty. Someone who has committed fraud or a sexual offense or even been convicted of pedophilia will do time in prison. However, once their sentence has been served, they are free to go. Transgressors experience consequences, and then they are released.

It strikes me as incongruous that the ‘crime’ of illegally immigrating has, in some ways, a more punitive dimension than some violent crimes. Under the current law there is no possibility of release. No way of making restitution.

Surely justice requires that, like all other crimes, there be consequences for immigration violations that fit the severity of the crime? Surely there should be options for judges in discerning those consequences, and the possibility of an amelioration of sentence if there has been a history of community service and investment? Surely, there should be at least the possibility of restitution?

Or is immigration the unforgivable sin?

Bronwyn Lea is a South-African transplant to California, raising kids at home and raising questions at

Photo: corgarashu and Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

for more info