Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Rebuttal to the SBC on Immigration and the Gospel, Part I

Introduction

At their annual meeting in Phoenix last week, Southern Baptist Convention messengers passed a controversial resolution on immigration and the Gospel. The resolution specifically calls upon "governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." For good measure the resolution also condemned, without defining, that old bugaboo—nativism. Authors and prominent supporters of the decree managed to cram it through despite modest opposition from messengers.


A Tucson pastor named Richard Huff nearly succeeded in erasing the amnesty provision. Huff said, "[T]he principle is that citizenship is a right of people that are here under legal processes, and you do not want to make this something you are rewarding people who are in violation of the law and they have no interest in being here legally." Huff's amendment narrowly lost, 723-766.


Another defeated amendment would have urged illegal aliens to return to their home countries. Finally, to quell the dissenters, proponents had the audacity to add an amendment indicating that the resolution is "not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.” That thigh-slapper fails the truth in advertising test.


Writing prior to passage Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the SBC flagship seminary in Louisville, tweeted “Southern Baptists are at a crucial decision point. The immigration crisis demands a Gospel response before any political response.” Mohler here implies that disagreeing with his view on the question is tantamount to placing politics above the Gospel. That is a serious allegation.


My colorful retort: By passing this resolution the SBC eagerly hopped on the amnesty bandwagon and comes dangerously close to advocating lawlessness in the name of Jesus. In so doing, they seek the approval of men, by which I mean the editors of the New York Times, rather than God. The entire spectacle is yet another piece of evidence that even the most “conservative” American institutions have been taken hostage by the poisonous principles of political correctness and Cultural Marxism, a Satanic Trojan Horse whose purpose is to serve as a weapon wielded by the enemies of Christianity to lull gullible and guilt-ridden Christians into complacency prior to slitting our collective throat.


In a number of posts I intend to discus the economic, political, and gospel dimensions of the debate over immigration (in that order). To engage the discussion I will be critiquing an essay by Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His essay is the most cogent attempt to defend the resolution I’ve seen.


Just the Facts


Dr. Moore begins his essay with the following rhetorical salvo: “The Christian response to immigrant communities in the United States cannot be ‘You kids get off of my lawn’ in Spanish.” Later he writes, “If our response to them is to absorb the nativism and bigotry of some elements of society around us, we are showing them a vision of what the Bible calls ‘the flesh’ rather than the Spirit.” Does the portrait painted by Dr. Moore remotely describe the Christian response to immigration? Is it even an approximation of current American immigration policy? Was the draw bridge lifted up when I wasn’t paying attention? Or is Moore simply using an emotion-laden argument designed to inhibit dissent?


In 2010 alone the U.S. admitted 1 million legal immigrants. Of that total 73% were based on “family preference”, 16.7% were admitted as refugees or asylum seekers, 4.2% were based on the “diversity lottery”, and just 5.7% were admitted because they possessed employment skills in demand. In 2009 and 2008 an additional 1.1 Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) were added each year. As recently as the 1990s America added up to 1.8 million LPRs annually.


Meanwhile the number of “undocumented workers” living in the U.S. is a matter in dispute. Typical estimates range from 7 to 20 million. Officially the Department of Homeland Security places the number at 10.8 million and other reputable sources put the figure closer to 13 million. Were there mass deportations of these law breakers? No, in 2010 there 387,242 deportations, of which 168,342 were for criminal convictions.


Average annual legal immigration in the 1990s was twice that of the 1970s and three times the flow from the 1950s. Does this comport with the picture of a nation filled with pitchfork wielding xenophobes? Or does it describe a generous nation that has broadly shared its bounty with millions with who have sought to legally become citizens?


On the Economics of Immigration

Dr. Moore largely ignores the economic consequences of immigration and only tangentially addresses the issue in a couple of terse comments. First, he chastises Evangelical Christians who “speak of undocumented immigrants in this country with disdain as ‘those people’ who are ‘draining our health care and welfare resources.’” He goes on to say that Americans send conflicting messages about immigration, largely because business interests slavishly pant after sources of cheap labor and often seek out vulnerable immigrants.

There are numerous economic costs connected to immigration, both legal and illegal, that Dr. Moore and the SBC resolution fail to note. According 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 show a growing chasm between natives and the foreign-born. For example, consider median family income:



Income of native households rose $135, or 0.3%
Income of naturalized citizen households fell $422, or 0.9%
Income of non-citizen households fell $1,852, or 5.6%

The poverty rate for U.S.-born citizens was 11.8%, but 21.7% among foreign-born non-citizens.

Because immigrants typically have limited job skills and are very poor they frequently become a burden on the American welfare state. According to Steve Camarota state governments spend an estimated $11 billion to $22 billion to provide welfare to immigrants. Camarota finds that welfare use remains high over time; immigrants in the country for more than 20 years still use the welfare system at significantly higher rates than natives.



Data pertaining to health insurance is likewise shocking. While 12.7% of natives lack insurance coverage, 33.2% of all (legal and illegal) immigrants did not have health coverage. Immigrants account for 27.1% all Americans without health insurance.


There are approximately 14.5 million immigrants and their U.S.-born children who lack health insurance, 31.9% 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 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 in often very disparate ways. School districts are dropping programs and closing schools at least in part because they are paying instead for services to the children of non-citizens (I’ll concede that immigration is a small part of the general trouble with public education, but hey, I homeschool).


Aside from the costs to taxpayers there are also consequences for job seekers resulting from mass immigration. The intrepid Ed Rubenstein has demonstrated on repeated occasions that Mexican immigrants in particular are increasingly displacing natives in the job market. Moreover, unemployment statistics are not indicative of the entire economic picture and ignores underemployment and decreasing wages caused by immigration.


A secondary issue of economic ethics completely ignored by Moore is the redistributive impact of mass immigration. Like so much public policy the benefits of immigration are largely privatized while costs are socialized. Benefits accrue to the upper middle class while costs are borne largely by those on the lower rung of the economic ladder.


The unfairness and insanity of America’s immigration policy has been ably dissected by Harvard economist George Borjas in his book Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy and numerous other books and academic papers.


One myth Borjas explodes is that immigration adds substantial wealth to the American economy. In fact, as Borjas says, “All the available estimates suggest that the annual net gain is astoundingly small, less than .1% of GDP.” In real terms, that translates into approximately $10 billion dollars added to the overall economy, just $30 per person. It has also been estimated that between $6-$10 billion dollars is remitted to Mexico by immigrants working in the U.S.


But that’s not the end of the story. The relative skills and economic performance of successive waves of immigrants has continued to decline. Immigrants arriving on American shores in 1960 had more education and earned more money than natives. By 1998, the newest arrivals earned 23% less than natives. They also had acquired two fewer years of education than natives.


As low-skill immigrants have flooded the labor market opportunities for the least skilled among us 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 obvious implication of these facts is that immigration policy as currently constituted has become little more than a wealth redistribution program, shifting resources from the poor to the wealthy without creating aggregate economic growth. The lawyers, politicians, business executives, journalists, and editorialists who drive the immigration debate don’t have their livelihoods, not to mention their children’s education, threatened by mass immigration, but they do acquire the cheapest pool cleaners, house-keepers, and roofers in the Western world.


If Dr. Moore's policy prescriptions are followed Americans would be asked to subsidize millions of additional outsiders at the expense of their own countrymen, children, and posterity. Studies estimate that two thirds of illegal immigrants lack a high school degree and Robert Rector of the Heritage foundation found that "the average immigrant without a high school degree will impose a net cost of nearly $100,000 on U.S. taxpayers over the course of his or her life."

Rector continues: "This means that the six million immigrants lacking a high school diploma and legally residing in the U.S. today will cost taxpayers more than a half trillion dollars over their lifetime." Indeed the average annual fiscal burden of illegal immigration is nearly $100 billion according to a recent study published by FAIR.


Dr. Moore fails to reckon with the economic fact of scarcity. Resources are not infinite. Economics is not a science but a branch of applied ethics primarily focusing on the study of human action. 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 six trillion people have a claim on scarce and finite American monetary and economic resources?


Do Americans have a moral imperative to import poverty, and in so doing divert resources and employment opportunities from our most vulnerable citizens? The primary victims of unchecked immigration are Americans with little education and skills, native-born minorities, convicts who have done their time, and the disabled. These are our fellow citizens whom the SBC would consign to dog-eat-dog competition with those who have broken American law. Surely, Dr. Moore, such citizens are among "the least of these”.


Stay tuned…more in coming days.

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