Border Control & Family Separation: A Christian Approach to the Role of Government

Trump immigration executive order
Trump signing his executive order on June 20, 2018

Approaching political issues with the love of Christ is easier said than done, especially when it comes to questions as morally challenging as the crisis on our southern border. The story has exploded the internet: President Trump signed an executive order taking a hardline stance on immigration, and families are being separated at the border. Mud is flying: Christians who support Trump are criticized as hypocrites—how can they say they believe in family values when they stand with a President who rips families apart? Like pretty much everything these days, the issue is emotionally-charged and frankly, I’ve started to wonder if anyone really knows what’s going on.

Trump’s intent is to keep families together, but he’s caught in a tangled web of jurisprudence, thanks to the Flores settlement that said children could not be detained more than 20 days. I went straight to the executive order itself, which is an affirmation of the zero-tolerance policy Trump announced in May. It reads in part as follows:

It is the policy of this Administration to rigorously enforce our immigration laws. Under our laws, the only legal way for an alien to enter this country is at a designated port of entry at an appropriate time. When an alien enters or attempts to enter the country anywhere else, that alien has committed at least the crime of improper entry and is subject to a fine or imprisonment under section 1325(a) of title 8, United States Code. This Administration will initiate proceedings to enforce this and other criminal provisions of the INA until and unless Congress directs otherwise. It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources. It is unfortunate that Congress’s failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law.

By my reading, Trump’s priority is to uphold the rule of law, with the goal of maintaining American security and liberty. Separating families is not some sadistic pleasure for the President, as the media might have you believe.

The American Republic is rooted in a tradition of liberty under law. Recent decades have seen an erosion of individual rights under the heavy hand of an increasingly arbitrary government. At the same time, there is a seemingly contradictory trend: individuals rejecting moral standards, political authority, and cultural norms, while government fails to enforce fundamental laws designed to fulfill its basic purpose—defending life, liberty, and property.

For generations, the United States has been faced with an impossible challenge not unique to any particular administration: millions of people live in poverty all over the world, and they believe that moving here (or to any Western country for that matter) will make them automatically richer, just by virtue of the opportunity they’ll find in our economic system. In an ideal world, the solution would be to make poor countries rich—which is slowly happening thanks to global economic development, but in the meantime, America still has to address the immigration dilemma.

I won’t defend everything Trump says (*cough* Twitter) or does, but in this case, I think he’s pretty darn close to right. The law must be upheld, and sadly it looks like that means things will get worse before they get better. If we believe in the role of government as our Founders envisioned it, and the supremacy of the Constitution as the law of the land, then we as Christians have to stand firm on this zero-tolerance policy. It’s like this: if existing laws aren’t enforced, any reforms will be useless—and if our government isn’t known for keeping its word, our country will be the laughingstock of the world.

Now, don’t get me wrong—Christians are supposed to love our neighbors, including our neighbors on the other side of our southwest border. We have to understand the distinction between the roles of the Church and the State, because as separate institutions, they have radically different tasks to fulfill in society. The Church is supposed to welcome everyone with open arms, as though welcoming Jesus Himself, and win hearts and minds for the Kingdom. However, a close reading of Scripture also reveals an affirmation of the rule of law: the role of government is to “bear the sword” to bring “punishment on the evildoer” (Romans 13:4), a task which sometimes requires a difficult and unpopular hardline stance like the one our President is currently taking.

What’s the ideal immigration policy? I have no idea. What would Jesus do? I don’t really know—it’s not about placing Jesus in a hypothetical modern situation, it’s about trying to view the world through his eyes. What I do know is that His answer to everything is the perfect combination of truth and grace. Truth by itself is too hard—it would lead to something drastic, like closing the borders entirely, or deportation of all illegal immigrants. Grace by itself is too soft—it would demand complete capitulation and the welcoming of anyone and everyone who wanted to immigrate, leading to chaos and economic turmoil, and making Americans vulnerable to criminals and terrorists. There has to be a balance, the challenge is finding it.

Certainly, not all immigrants are criminals or terrorists; there are plenty of good people around the world who want to come here, respecting our laws and our way of life, and build a new future for themselves. I say, let them come! But they have to be willing to take a legal route to get here, and Americans have to be kind, strong, consistent, and united as we develop and enforce a balanced policy.

**First published on the Centennial Insititute’s 1776 Blog at:

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