Amnesty and Why We Support It
On the most basic level, amnesty implies that unconditional pardon is given for a crime. None of the laws which have popularly been labeled as "amnesty" qualify. Even the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act passed by Ronald Reagan came with strings attached, only giving amnesty to those who had lived in the country for a certain amount of time, who had learned English, and met various other requirements.
Even the concept of "amnesty" is inaccurate. It implies that a crime has taken place and, like all crimes, that there is a victim who cries out for justice. The question is, who exactly is the victim?
- The employer who pays below minimum wage?
- The consumer who can now buy produce and real estate at a cheaper price?
- The government, who receives billions of tax dollars for programs that immigrants are ineligible for, such as Social Security?
- The communities whose crime rates have fallen due to the presence of immigrants?
The act of crossing an imaginary line without papers is not morally wrong or inherently criminal. If entering without authorization is a crime, it is one which this country and government needs, even encourages immigrants to commit. We all benefit from immigrant labor, and we all benefit from that labor coming at a cheap, inhumane price. The system is built so as to allow exploitation. Even the strictest of us will agree that there are certain laws which are so unjust that they are meant to be broken – the most obvious example being the Jim Crow laws in the South.
As Christians we should be familiar with it amnesty. We hear it preached in our pulpits. We extend it to one another in community. In evangelizing, we loudly proclaim that we have been saved through amnesty. Only to give it another name, we call it grace.
In Romans 3 we read that:
"by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26)
We are all guilty of sinning against God. As citizens, most of us are also guilty of having broken one law or another, even if it was by parking in the wrong spot. Through the grace of God and our community, those sins no longer define who we are. The least that we can do is offer this same amnesty to our immigrant brothers and sisters.
In the end, instead of being criminals or "illegals," undocumented immigrants are human beings made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Despite all attempts to dehumanize them, they, like the rest of us, have an inherent worth and dignity. The current immigration system, instead of affirming this humanity, sees individuals as either numbers or dollar signs. Opportunities are never-ending for the richest, while there are no options for those who most need to immigrate in order to support their families and communities. Whether they are dying in the desert, working for low-paying jobs, laying low to avoid ICE raids, held in detention centers, up against immigration judges, or in the act of being deported, the personal experiences and lives of most undocumented immigrants are portrayed only in statistics. As Christians, we must dare to see in them not criminals, statistics, aliens, or "illegals," but human beings in whom we see and meet Christ.
Learn what you can do to help reform immigration and transform how the U.S. treats "the least of these."