With a sickening crunch, the truck plowed into our front left fender. After a few moments of stunned confusion, we were thankful to find that no one was hurt. The same could not be said for our family station wagon. The Hispanic man who had run into us apologized in broken English, and presented us with his insurance card. The police declined to assign fault.
Later we would discover that the man had bought the insurance in Mexico and then canceled it shortly after crossing the border. The police suspected this at the time but did not investigate further. Evidently they were weary of dealing with undocumented drivers.
No ticket. No consequences. Nothing. Our family was left to cope with the damage, alone.
If my attitude toward illegal immigrants had been written on a sign at that moment, it would have proclaimed in bold, angry letters, “Keep Out!”
A few years later, I encountered illegal immigration in quite a different way.
I was in a two hundred-acre field of strawberries as hundreds of bent backs moved down the rows. The soft “snap, snap” of breaking stems reached my ears as skillful hands nestled glossy, red berries into one-pound packages. The man who made his living from that soil couldn’t find locals who would do the work.
Our food supply. A billion dollar industry. In those hands.
At that moment, if my thoughts on illegal immigrants had been written for all to see, the sign would have proclaimed the friendly invitation, “Help Wanted!”
Must We Love All Our Neighbors?
Illegal immigration is a complicated and confusing reality. It elicits a wide range of reactions. Notice, however, that my two contrasting responses both arose from the same self-oriented perspective. How does the presence of illegal immigrants in my community affect me and my livelihood? Without realizing it, I began to think of illegal immigrants as either curses or blessings to society, rather than as people in need of a Savior, based on what was convenient or inconvenient to me at the time.
There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the social, political, and economic causes and effects of illegal immigration. But there is a serious danger for Christians. We can get so caught up in the fact that illegal immigrants are our neighbors that we forget that illegal immigrants are our neighbors. It’s important to keep in mind that while we are instructed to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), we are also called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
Who is my neighbor? This was the question that prompted Jesus’s famous story that we call the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37. A teacher of the law posed this question to Jesus with a clear motive: to justify his lack of love for certain people. Jesus then proceeded to make him and the other religious folks in the audience very uncomfortable. A man was robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. A Levite and a priest both passed by on the other side. But when a despised Samaritan saw him, he had compassion on the suffering man and met his needs.
God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves without exception. But because of remaining sin in our hearts, this is hard for us. Because of our tragic tendency to be selective and self-focused, we will have to be intentional to love like Jesus commands. Here are three suggestion for loving your illegal immigrant neighbor.
1. Love Like a Former Foreigner
Remember that you also were a foreigner once. That is indeed what we were according to Ephesians 2:19, before being declared by God citizens of his kingdom through no virtue of our own. The Bible calls us former “aliens” and “strangers” to help us understand that before we put our trust in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, we were helpless outcasts, having no status before God and no foothold in his realm.
What scandalous grace! May we never reach for Romans 13 — for the power of the state to punish lawbreakers — without also reaching for Romans 12 — for the grace to “associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16).
When we begin to consider the common need for Jesus we share with illegal immigrants, then we will be ready to listen. We will be able to hear their stories. By entering, even a little bit, into the complexities of their lives, we will be able to love them as real people. We will have a better understanding of how to do good to them. Otherwise, they will remain the caricatures of our imaginations, over-simplified statistics to process rather than souls to love.
2. Imitate Jesus in the Way You Love
Jesus didn’t just tell the story of the Good Samaritan; he lived it. He shocked the people of his day by seeking out a Samaritan woman in John 4, engaging a demon-possessed Gentile in Mark 5, and befriending a greedy tax collector for the Roman occupiers in Luke 19. His ministry in ancient Israel was one of unrelenting, pursuing love across cultural and social boundaries.
His approach in modern-day America is no different. Are we cooperating with him by seeking out undocumented immigrants in our communities? My friend Alex is a great example of someone who loves like Jesus, befriending children of migrant laborers by volunteering at a local community center after school. He shows them Christlike compassion and helps them improve their English in the process.
3. Tell Them the Gospel
Illegal immigrants are one way the nations are coming to us. Yet farmworkers from Central America are laboring in obscurity, never knowing the redeeming love of God. Women from Africa are cleaning hotel rooms over weekends, instead of attending churches. Men from Southeast Asia are working long hours in big cities, having never been lovingly confronted with the truth of Christ crucified.
God has brought the nations to you. Will you help bring them to him? Illegal immigrants are our neighbors. It is not against the law to love them in real, tangible ways.