“The fact that immigrants aren’t
white or American doesn’t matter; questions about American citizenship are
secondary. Christian immigrants—and there are many—are brothers and sisters;
non-Christians are a mission field, conveniently dropped on our doorstep.
What’s not to like? If America
is ethnically diverse, so much the better, because so much the more does it
resemble that final kingdom assembled from all tribes, tongues, nations, and
Dr. Peter Leithart recently posted
on immigration at his often entertaining and frequently updated First
In the following, I will
briefly respond to various shortcomings in his argument favoring open borders.
In the past, I penned a number of essays
covering similar ground while responding to Dr. Russell Moore.
But as Solomon said there is nothing new
under the sun and the immigration issue continues to be raised among not merely
prominent Christian intellectuals and ethicists, but in local churches and
Thus it is time for
another treatment with substantial revisions to data and an expansion of other arguments. Be advised that this is not a full treatment of the immigration question. I largely ignore discussion of downstream political consequences, immigrant crime, and other cultural manifestations of large scale immigration.
It is difficult to criticize godly, faithful, and thoughtful
men like Dr. Leithart, Dr. Russell Moore, or Dr. Albert Mohler . I seek to reply without animus or rancor,
sticking directly to the issues at
hand. Having said that, I remain
convinced that they are mistaken in their interpretation and application of
scripture as it pertains to immigration.
Moreover, they broadly misread the times in which we live and that
misunderstanding skews the manner in which they confront socio-political
A number of years ago as I was preparing to preach a sermon,
my first and hopefully last, my then pastor, for whom I was pinch hitting,
explained the importance of “exegeting an audience” when attempting to apply
scripture. The point was simple: know
your audience and let that play a part in the application of the biblical
text. In a similar vein, I have found
that many theologians speaking to issues in the public square engage culture in
a way that is unhelpful because they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of
the attack on the faith and the methods of the assailants.
To this point, the assault on the church has not necessarily
been frontal. That will likely change
as the enemies of our Lord become more brazen and direct. The attacks of the last century were subtle
and deceptive. Spawned by Gramsci as he
rotted in an Italian Fascist prison, cultivated by the Frankfurt School,
and applied by the likes of Saul Alinsky and other purveyors of propaganda, Cultural
Marxism attempts to subvert the faith of our fathers covertly. Traditional Marxists believed that the
oppressed worker class (the Proletariat) would ultimately become alienated from
the Capitalist class and overthrow it through the process of revolution. But in World War I, working class Doughboys,
Tommys and Frenchmen waged war against working class Krauts in trenches lining
the Western Front.
With the evident failure of traditional Marxist theory,
Marxism was reinterpreted through a cultural lens, positing that violent
revolution should be eschewed in favor of a “march through the
institutions.” By capturing the organs
of cultural dissemination—media, government, colleges, arts, educational and
academic institutions, etc.—Cultural Marxists could effectively rearrange the cultural
landscape and shape the preferences of the populace via systematic
propaganda. They could also get to the
heart of a people by being the authors of its stories.
Fundamentally, Cultural Marxism is an attack on the Christian
church and Christian peoples, but the battle is covert rather than direct. By subverting other forms of attachment and various
institutions that make legitimate claims on our devotion and wield countervailing
cultural power, Cultural Marxists attack Christianity sideways. Attachments—familial, ethnic, racial,
national, denominational, etc.--have been systematically undermined in our age. These radicals have been given aid and
comfort by the church, particularly liberal denominations in the 20th
Century, but increasingly in recent decades by “conservatives” as well. Part of this subterfuge involves the
destruction of Euro-Christian culture via the propagation of multiculturalism
and public secularism, which rapidly descends into polytheism. An important prong of multiculturalism is the
ethnic, racial, and religious transformation of historically European and
Christian peoples via mass immigration and coercive secularism, often aided and
abetted by Christian pluralists, particularly those in Baptist and broadly
evangelical circles along with traditional liberal denominations. It is with the
tapestry of multiculturalism in the background that Christians must
thoughtfully apply immigration policy.
THE NATURE OF SPECIFIC DUTIES
Dr. Leithart largely ignores the economic consequences of
his proposal for open borders. Economics
is often considered a technical discipline or even a “science” but properly
falls within the sphere of moral philosophy and is thus an adjunct of the queen
of sciences, theology. It must therefore
start with a right view of anthropology.
Leithart begins by quoting Kevin Johnson, an immigration
advisor to Barack Obama, to the effect that the nation will benefit from freer
and more mobile labor. Ironically,
Leithart has gotten a good deal of mileage from critiquing the ideology of
individualism. But throughout his esssay he unwittingly accepts the premises of
classical liberalism and assumes an individualism that makes no distinctions in
terms of human duties. Though
Christianity has universal, catholic tendencies, natural attachments and duties
are not to be eschewed. Even Jesus does
not preach the abolition of ethnic, religious, and social distinctions. When asked by a Phoenician woman to heal her
child, He responds, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel…It is not right to take the
children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Matt. 15:24-26). Though he relents, an obvious anticipation of
His ministry to the Gentiles, He displays His feelings as a Jew. Jesus has no intention of overturning the Law
(Matt. 5:17-19), which is a transcript of God’s holiness and a pattern for
ethical conduct. It is the law-word of
God that also governs our social and interpersonal interactions.
Men have concentric circles of responsibility. For example, I have obligations to my widowed
mother that others (including the church) do not (I Timothy 5:8). Similarly, I have duties to my wife and
children that do not extend to my neighbor’s wife or, for that matter, my
Christian brother. I am liable to care
for my neighbor in ways that exceed my responsibilities to complete
strangers. Likewise, I have obligations
to my countrymen that are greater than my duties to the other seven billion
people inhabiting Earth. This should be
clear unless we define “neighbor” in a universal way that drains the term of
any practical meaning.
Leithart says that
race, ethnicity, religious affiliation and citizenship status are tertiary
concerns. But according to scripture,
while we render honor and justice to all men, we have a particular
responsibility to care for our own, whether in the natural family or the family
of God (Gal. 6:10). Our duties begin
with our family but emanate outward in concentric circles regulated by
scripture. Many Christian commentators connect
the New Testament commands to honor civil authorities (Rom. 13:1; I Peter 2:17)
as extensions of the 5th Commandment. But racial, ethnic, and national groups are
likewise mere extensions of family and thus the honor due to our parents flows
outward to these broader extensions of family and they are to be given
preference over and against foreigners. When natural relationships are
subverted by forms of universal ethics the end result is not merely ethical
confusion but welfare economics and socialism.
FISCAL COSTS OF
Leithart fails to account for, though he must understand,
the distortive impact of the welfare state.
Immigration policy as currently constituted is immoral as it privatizes
benefits for the wealthy and socializes cost.
As such, I hope to show that it is a massive form of theft.
first some of the costs of immigration.
There are numerous economic costs connected to immigration, both legal
and illegal, that Dr. Leithart simply ignores in his essay.
to Census Bureau figures
poverty rates continue to increase and the number of Americans without health
insurance has reached all-time highs. Mass immigration is a significant source
of these problems and data shows a growing chasm between natives and the
foreign-born. For example, consider median household income between 2011 and
2012, ostensibly a period of economic recovery.
While the income of Whites increased modestly, that of Hispanic
households decreased 1.1% while non-citizen household income fell by 2.5%.
Meanwhile, the poverty rate for U.S.-born Whites
was 9.7%, but 25.6% among Hispanics (which is higher that the poverty rate of
non-citizens, indicative of the fact that Hispanic immigrants are not climbing
out of poverty). .
Because immigrants typically have limited job skills and are very poor they
frequently become a burden on the American welfare state.
of the Heritage Foundation, in 2010, the average unlawful immigrant
household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while
paying some $10,334 in taxes, generating an average annual fiscal deficit
(benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household.
Moreover, Steve Camarota finds that welfare
use among immigrants remains high over time; immigrants in the country for more
than 20 years still use the welfare system at significantly higher rates than
pertaining to health
is likewise shocking. In 2012, 13.0% of natives lacked insurance
coverage, while 32.0% of all (legal and illegal) immigrants, and 43.4% of
non-citizens do not have health coverage. Immigrants account for 27.1% all
Americans without health insurance.
2012 there were approximately 12.9 million immigrants and their U.S.-born
children lacking health insurance, 32% of the entire uninsured populace. In
2007, 47.6 percent of immigrants and their U.S.-born children were either
uninsured or on Medicaid compared to 25 percent of natives and their children.
Lack of health insurance is a significant problem even for long-time foreign born residents.
Among immigrants who arrived in the 1980s, 28.7 percent lacked health insurance
in 2007. In short, much of the “health insurance crisis” in America is the
result of surging immigration. What was the consequence? More statism, in the
form of Obamacare.
Finally there is education. According to a report
by FAIR, expenditures for illegal immigrants from grades K-12 costs $52 billion
annually, largely absorbed by states and localities, often in very disparate
ways. School districts are dropping programs and closing schools at least in
part because they are paying instead to provide services to the children of
The global median income is $1,225 a year. The “middle classes” of the world are living
in destitution compared to the living standards of the West. Dr. Leithart’s proposal for open borders when
combined with the magnet of the welfare state would result in a fiscal
catastrophe for a nation already $19 trillion dollars in debt. It would also create a coercive and massive
transfer of wealth from productive tax payers to the world’s poor. In short, Leithart is endorsing theft on a
grand scale in the name of humanitarianism and Christian charity.
IMMIGRATION AND ECONOMIC
A secondary issue of economic ethics completely ignored by
Leithart and most Christian proponents of unchecked immigration is the
redistributive impact of mass immigration. Like much public policy the benefits
of immigration are largely privatized while costs are socialized. Benefits
accrue to the upper-class while costs are borne largely by those on the lower
rung of the economic ladder. Indeed,
immigration is responsible for half the decrease observed in the wages of
Mention this fact to Paul Gigot or Daniel Henninger at the
Wall Street Journal and you are likely to receive little more than a shoulder
shrug. Some immithusiasts
appear to detest their own countrymen and impute to foreigners character traits
that natives so obviously lack. But Christians ought to be more discerning and
wise in counting the costs and cannot be oblivious to injustices resulting from
such a policy.
The insanity of America’s
immigration “debate” has been chronicled for a number of years by George
, a Harvard labor economist. Borjas is widely recognized as
academia’s leading scholar on the economics of immigration. Moreover, he
is an immigrant himself, having arrived here from Cuba penniless in 1962.
One myth Borjas explodes is that immigration adds substantial wealth to the
American economy. In fact, Borjas found that the actual net benefit
accruing to natives is small, equal to an estimated two-tenths of 1 percent of
GDP. “There is little evidence indicating that immigration (legal and/or
illegal) creates large net gains for native-born Americans,” writes Borjas.
Even though the overall net impact on natives is small, this does not mean that
the wage losses suffered by some natives or the income gains accruing to other
natives are insubstantial. Borjas reviewed the wage impact of immigrants
who entered the country between 1990 and 2010 and found that this cohort had
reduced the annual earnings of American workers by $1,396—a 2.5%
As low-skill immigrants have flooded the labor market,
opportunities for the least skilled workers have markedly decreased and the
most vulnerable Americans have seen their wages decline as a result.
Borjas estimates that immigration is responsible for half the decrease observed
in the wages of high-school dropouts. “The biggest winners from
immigration are owners of businesses that employ a lot of immigrant labor and
other users of immigrant labor”, writes Borjas. “The other big winners are the
immigrants themselves.” The primary
losers are native citizens with minimal skills and low levels of education.
Dr. Leithart fails to reckon with an important aspect the
fall--the economic fact of scarcity. Resources are not infinite. In a world of
scarcity, a result of God’s curse on the earth due to Adam’s sin, human beings
necessarily make choices among competing alternatives effecting the
distribution of resources. Ethically speaking do seven billion people have a
claim on scarce and finite American monetary and economic resources?
In an already overburdened welfare state, do Americans
have a moral imperative to import poverty and in so doing divert resources and
employment opportunities from our most vulnerable citizens? Libertarians, and quite possibly Dr.
Leithart, would argue that we ought to dismantle our unbiblical welfare state. The problem is that immigration buttresses the
welfare state. If your bathtub is overflowing, your first act isn’t to head to the basement to secure a bucket and
mop. Instead, you turn off the water and
then clean up the mess. If only
libertarians and Christian immigration enthusiasts would keep that metaphor in
MASS IMMIGRATION UNDERMINES SOCIAL TRUST
immigration also undermines covenantal thinking by exalting the
individual at the expense of family, community and nation. Individuals leave
behind their communities and desert their homelands rather than laboring for
their improvement economically and politically. In her recent book, Adios America, Ann Coulter reported that
the average IQ of Indians is 82. Yet
Mark Zuckerburg would steal India’s
best and brightest, dropping them in Seattle
as programmers via the H1B program to pad his already burgeoning net
worth. Do such policies create the
conditions for ethical economic choices or do they reinforce unbiblical notions
encourages families to move to different locales which are necessarily transformed
culturally, economically, and politically by their presence in large numbers.
Who benefits? Perhaps the immigrant himself and possibly those individuals
acquiring whatever service he may provide. But community and the ties of
natural affection that are produced by commonality are systematically undermined.
by the influential political scientist and Bowling
author Robert Putnam shows that the more diverse a community, the
less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone.
the face of diversity people tend to "hunker down" and surround
themselves entirely with the familiar. "We act like turtles. The effect of
diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t
trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people
who do look like us," Putnam says.
Putnam adjusted his data for distinctions in class, income, and other variables
but still reached the "shocking" conclusion that untrammeled ethnic
diversity is a breeding ground of distrust that spreads like an aggressive
cancer, destroying the body politic. "They don’t trust the local mayor,
they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t
trust institutions," said Prof Putnam. "The only thing there’s more
of is protest marches and TV watching."
Putnam found that trust was lowest in Los Angeles,
that heaven on earth for mulitcultists, but his findings were also applicable
in South Dakota.
immigration also undermines the
, which necessarily exists as part of social framework. While
that framework needs a system of law to protect property rights, enforce
contracts, prosecute practitioners of fraud, etc., it is also dependent on a
rudimentary level of trust among the populace. If that trust is undermined the
foundation supporting the entire edifice crumbles, with the state being the
institution forcefully putting the house back together.
A classical liberal like John Stuart Mill knew that free institutions are
"next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities."
But speaking of immigration, Putnam allows ideology rather than fact to cloud
his judgment, saying "that immigration materially benefited both the
'importing' and 'exporting' societies, and that trends have 'been socially
constructed, and can be socially reconstructed.'"
Leithart’s open borders proposal would necessarily demand “social
reconstruction” because it would tear asunder what little remains of the social
fabric. It would irreversibly destroy the foundations of
American social order. “If the
foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3).
WHO OWNS PROPERTY
The most important question when considering the movement of
people is a simple one: “Who owns the property?” In an anarcho-capitalist social order,
property is owned privately. In this Big
Rock Candy Mountain utopia envisioned by libertarian ideologues, immigration
and emigration would be free—and there would be precious little of it. Likewise in a traditional monarchy the king,
as sovereign and owner of the land, has an interest in maintaining immigration
policies that enhance the value of the kingdom.
It is the king who thus determines immigration policy (we’ll see
scriptural examples of this pattern shortly) and had an incentive to limit
immigration to those who materially benefit his kingdom.
But once the government moves from the sphere of private
ownership (monarchy) to public ownership, in the guise of democracy, there are
different factors at work. Unlike monarchs,
democratic rulers are mere caretakers and do not bequeath a kingdom to their
progeny. Democracies are also
inherently, and unbiblically, egalitarian.
Both theoretically and in practice, we see that the migration policies
of democratic states tend to be “non-discriminatory”. It matters little whether immigrants are entrepreneurs
or vagrants. Indeed, vagrants may be
preferable as they create a greater number of social problems and tensions which government must “fix” or “manage”,
thereby enhancing the immediate power of its leaders, who are largely oblivious
to and unaffected by the long term consequences of their policies. “Thus,” writes Hans Hoppe, “the United States
immigration laws of 1965, as the best available example of democracy at work,
eliminated all formerly existing ‘quality’ concerns and the explicit preference
for European immigrants and replaced it with a policy of almost complete
non-discrimination (multi-culturalism).” The migration policy of democracies winds up negating the rights of property owners and imposing a forcible integration with the mass of immigrants being forced upon property owners who, if given the choice, would have "discriminated" in favor of other neighbors. An open borders regime is simply the above scenario on steroids.
Aside from these philosophical consideration, Leithart also
completely ignores the biblical evidence that borders are legitimate and
enforced, even in the agrarian context of the Old Testament. When Jacob's family fled famine they traveled
to Egypt and asked Pharaoh for
permission to enter, "We have come to sojourn in the land … please let
your servants dwell in the land
of Goshen" (Gen.
47:4). With the appropriate permission secured from Pharaoh’s representative,
Jacob’s family, which grew into the people of Israel,
became legal aliens in Egypt.
In short, they were allowed into the country by the host. This scenario finds
its modern equivalent in the immigrant who has legally entered a foreign land
with permission and secured proper documentation to that effect.
Later in the book of Numbers, after Moses and the Israelites
had fled Egypt they wanted
to pass through Edom. Moses dispatched messengers to Edom’s
king with the following request to pass through their land:
“And here we are in Kadesh, a city
on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass
through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water
from a well. We will go along the King's Highway. We will not turn aside to the
right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not
pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to
him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my
livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing
more.” But he said, “You
shall not pass through.” And Edom
came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom
refused to give Israel
passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. (Num. 20:16-21)
In Judges, Jephthah refers to
other denials of passage the Israelites experienced while journeying to the
Israel did not take away the land
of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, but when they came up from Egypt, Israel
went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and
came to Kadesh. Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let us pass through your
land,’ but the king of Edom
would not listen. And they sent also to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained
“Then they journeyed through
the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab and
arrived on the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of
the Arnon. But they did not enter the territory
of Moab, for the Arnon was the
boundary of Moab. Israel then sent messengers to
Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Please
let us pass through your land to our country,’ but Sihon did not trust Israel to pass
through his territory, so Sihon gathered all his people together and encamped
at Jahaz and fought with Israel. And
the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into
the hand of Israel,
and they defeated them. So Israel
took possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. (Judges 11:15-21)
In his book, “The Immigration Crisis”, Old Testament
professor James Hoffmeir also argues that Christ’s family clearly asked for
permission to enter Egypt
when they fled from Herod.
It is worth noting that even a traveler, a foreigner, had to
obtain permission when moving through the territory of another nation, let
alone pitching a tent, taking up residence and getting on Medicaid.
These episodes clearly demonstrate that
nations could and did control their borders and determined who was allowed
passage. Open borders have never existed and are certainly not endorsed by scripture.
There are other problems with Dr. Leithart’s essay, but if you have reached
this point, you are surely tired of reading.
Leithart says that while “hardly a slam-dunk policy” the open borders
stance is a “serious position, worthy of better than the wacky-nut treatment it’s
I hope that I have
demonstrated that the open borders position is radical in both its ethical
shortcomings and economic consequences.