UPDATED: From a November 20, 2015 post.
There simply is no biblical reason to refuse legitimate refugees. The Bible is clear that national borders should be open to all peaceful and law abiding individuals. Further, when we properly understand the meaning of the Bible’s teachings on immigrants, we will understand that to loathe refugees is to loathe ourselves and our own nation.
Deuteronomy 10:18–19 says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” If God loves the sojourner, so should we. In fact, He commands us to do so directly.
The sojourner is to be free from oppression (Ex. 23:9), is to have access to charity (Deut. 26:12), is to have equal access to the law (Ex. 12:49; Lev. 19:33–34; Num. 15:16), and is to have equal access to courts and justice (Deut. 1:16). They are thus to be afforded the same opportunities, legal protections, and remedies as everyone else in the country.
Furthermore, it was Solomon’s expectation that the nation would be such a city on a hill that foreigners would want to come join it:
Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name (1 Kings 8:41–43).
In other words, a nation following biblical law will be a beacon for immigrants, will expect them, and will welcome those who come because of His name (i.e. His laws).
George Washington elucidated such a proper view of immigration in a 1783 letter to one Joshua Holmes. Expressing solidarity with a group of Irishmen, he wrote:
The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights & previleges, if by decency & propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.
Based on these biblical ideas, there is no reason at all that we should even consider refusal of legitimate refugees. We should on the contrary be quite eager to receive and welcome them.
But . . . Bad Motives
The outstanding issue, however, is that these expectations cut both ways. When Exodus 12:49 and other passages say that there shall be one law for the citizen and the immigrant alike, it is not only a protection against oppression for the immigrant, but a duty to him as well. He is expected to be a law-abiding, peaceful individual. Likewise, when Solomon courts immigrants, it is only those who are inspired by the city on a hill and desire to come “for your name’s sake.” This means they come because of the glory of God manifested in the land—particularly its laws and the righteousness and justice that flow from those laws.
It is quite possible, however, that immigrants may come with ulterior motives—and bad ones. They may come for only economic motives without respecting the Lord’s name. They may come largely for the benefits available to them through a welfare system with disregard for much else. They may come also in utter warfare against the Lord’s name, covertly, for purposes of revolution or terrorism. Not only may these be the case, but they have sometimes been the case already.
Getting to the root causes
Based on these possibilities, we have two main fears in regard to immigrants: free-loaders and terrorism. But in order to understand these two phenomena, we have to inquire into the causes of them. If we don’t understand the root causes of the threat, we’ll end up fighting symptoms while leaving the root causes in place and likely making them worse.
Let’s discuss the most obvious and pressing (not to mention dangerous) threat first: terrorism. The question is, is it possible that if we accept Syrian refugees, for example, ISIS terrorists will sneak in with them and blow us up? All we need to ask about is the mere possibility of one terrorist, for that is all it takes. An inquiry about likelihood or probability may be interesting, but when life and freedom are at stake, we cannot take chances, right?
So is it possible? Absolutely.
But be consistent with this. Is it possible that the same terrorist will get in even if we don’t accept refugees? Again, the answer is “absolutely.”
So then the only difference is the likelihood. Is a terrorist more likely to get in if we do or if we don’t accept refugees? It seems intuitive that with a wave of thousands of Syrians, it would be more likely that the terrorist would sneak in. Such a wave would greatly burden any system of vetting, lowering the standards by which each individual gets screened.
But this hypothetical is not really well thought out. There is no threshold of degree in the level of screening any given individual that would make or break the decision to let them in. The tools by which people are rejected are objective, black and white. The red flag goes up or it doesn’t. If they would get through in a stream of a thousand Syrians, they would get through if they came among the standard stream of international arrivals.
The bottom line here is this: if a terrorist is motivated enough to commit an act of terror, they will find a way to get here no matter what.
So what would be the requisite motivations to commit such an act of terror?
ISIS and other terrorists are not motivated to strike non-Muslim targets merely because that’s what Muslims do. The resources available to terrorists for such attacks are limited and strikes in distant countries must therefore be strategic. And we know they have been. They have targeted those nations involved most directly and most prominently in occupying or bombing the Middle East. The main cause of terror strikes is western military occupation and war in the Middle East.
(The war in Iraq is what created the power vacuum in which ISIS was able to arise to begin with.)
The Paris bombers were not wandering ISIS jihadis out looking for a random western target. They were Belgian and French nationals. They did not sneak in with refugees. They lived there. They attacked France for its role in attacking Syria and Iraq.
It’s ironic to me that when a Russian airliner was brought down by what was clearly a terrorist plot, American news called it “blowback” for Russia’s involvement in Syria; yet when terrorists strike the other main countries that have occupied or bombed Iraq or Syria for some time, any mention of blowback is met with a chorus of “you blame America first.” How clearly we see it, though, when it happens to Russia.
It is not receiving refugees that increases our likelihood of suffering terrorism. I do not believe it would increase the likelihood one bit, because that is not the root cause of terror strikes against the US, nor would it facilitate it. The factors that motivate and that would allow a terrorist through are separate from those associated with the refugee question.
As Gary North wrote nearly thirty years ago (before even the first war in Iraq),
Christians should not become advocates of closed borders to those who are coming here to work. Obviously, revolutionaries may accompany the immigrants, but trained revolutionaries are going to get into a free nation anyway. The borders are not that tight, and they cannot be made that tight. We are not Communist nations.
To close borders is simply to treat everyone as potentially guilty and thus to destroy a free society, while not really ending the threat it purports to end. It replaces the specter of the possibility of terror with the certainty of another terror—that of certain tyranny and on a pervasive, inescapable scale. We cannot tighten the borders enough to stop a motivated terrorist, and the more we tighten, the more we destroy freedom for everyone else. Meanwhile, by not addressing the root motivation that makes America a strategic target for terrorists, we keep the possibility of such a strike as high as it possibly could be. This trade-off is hardly desirable or helpful. If the goal of the terrorists is to destroy western freedom, then they’ve won. We’re no longer free, and we’re still afraid.
Instead, if we want to minimize the likelihood of a terrorist strike on US soil, we should examine the blowback from our foreign policy.
Likewise, if we are so concerned that a few bad apples may spread violence in America, Christians and conservatives ought to train their attention more upon police reform than terrorism. By multiple accounts, you are several times more likely to suffer at the hands of a police officer than from a terrorist attack. Multiple such comparisons could be made to a wide variety of phenomena—not the least of which is that most deadly of choices: driving a car. The threat from terrorism has distracted us from more deadly threats already in our midst.
The Welfare State
The rise of welfare programs and socialistic policies and institutions, not the least of which is the public school system, greatly diminished the Christian character of the nation and created a variety of incentives to resent newcomers who may benefit without contributing. Worse than this possibility is the perception created as the welfare state becomes the normal mentality even for Christians. Soon, all immigrants are perceived as a threat whether they truly are or not. But the doleful truth is that such a system makes us view each other as potential threats as well. A system built on theft by government coercion can only lead to suspicion, cynicism, and greater violence in society.
Again, North addresses these perverse causes and effects in Healer of the Nations. It is worth quoting here at length:
Because modern humanism’s theories of government self-consciously exclude a public religious confession as the basis of civil government, the West has broken with its past. The freedom of the European medieval city was based on a Christian covenantal confession; without this explicitly Christian confession of religious agreement, the medieval city might not have developed.
In the modern world, this covenantal basis of civil jurisdiction has changed drastically. Because citizenship is based on blood (birth), or passing an examination (written or verbal test), or some other non-theological characteristic, the modern world has been threatened by the rise of mass democracy, the politics of “one man, one vote.” For instance, mass democracy and the tax financed welfare State have combined to make immigrants a threat to the citizens of a prosperous nation. Immigration barriers were the product of the so-called Progressive movement in the United States, which flourished from the late 1800’s until about 1920. Each new resident is viewed by taxpayers as a potential drain on tax-supported welfare services. Taxpayers want only potential taxpayers to enter the nation. Public goods create a fear of immigrants.
If citizenship were by Christian confession, immigrants would be welcomed as potential converts to the faith, just as visitors to a church are welcomed. They could join the civil covenant through covenantal adoption by God. (It is interesting that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1892 actually said that citizenship for immigrants is granted by Congress by means of adoption. Its language was highly religious: naturalization was defined as “the act of adopting a foreigner, and clothing him with the privileges of a native citizen.”) Since immigrants could not vote—meaning “vote themselves into our pocketbooks”—until joining the civil covenant, they would not be a threat economically. Because they would work, they would be an asset. Because citizenship in the United States is automatic through birth inside the national borders (U.S. Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment), immigrants have become an economic and political threat, for their children will become citizens upon reaching adulthood and become eligible to vote.
Because of compulsory tax-financed education, their children drain our school budgets. The welfare State, coupled with citizenship by birth, has made immigrants a liability. This situation is radically anti-Biblical and immoral, yet it is the politically inevitable outcome of mass democracy, socialist ideas, and citizenship by birth. A century ago, a liberal was a person who favored open borders—free trade, free immigration—and a minimal State. Today, he favors restricted immigration, high tariffs, and a maximum State. Some liberals in the United States are now considering raising tariffs, abandoning a major belief of nineteenth-century liberalism. Freedom of movement has steadily been sacrificed on the altar of the welfare State. In ancient Israel, citizenship was by covenant and family, so strangers could live in the cities and share God’s blessings on the whole society. With Jesus’ complete fulfillment and annulment of the Jubilee Year (Luke 4), which disappeared with Jesus’ removal of the kingdom of God from ancient Israel (Matthew 21:43), the family land tenure basis of political citizenship disappeared (Leviticus 25:23-34). Christian civil citizenship must be confessional, but with open borders. To screen civil citizenship in terms of anything other than Christian confession is to make “undesirable” foreign residents a threat.
There were no passports in the West before 1914. Few Western nations had rigorous immigration laws. There was also no mass democracy or socialism. People who would obey the laws and work hard were seen as a benefit. But mass democracy and the rise of socialist ideology changed all that. With the progressive income tax came immigration barriers in every nation. The welfare State is illiberal with regard to work-oriented immigrants. To the extent that welfare State thinking has become common among Christians, they too have adopted the closed-border mentality.
It is a great condemnation of a nation of Christians that we have allowed something as radically unbiblical as socialistic policies to become a norm accepted and defended by Christians. That it perverts our view of nations, citizenship, and immigration in ways we no longer even realize, and worse, in ways that make us instinctually fight against biblical values, alerts us how far we have come, and how deep is the need for biblical revival.
We may have a problem with refugees, or immigrants in general, coming in and freeloading welfare benefits. It may very well be that a majority of refugees are unemployed young men seeking welfare havens throughout the West, including America. But the problem here is not the refugees or even their motivation, but the socialistic docks upon which we provide them to land.
We don’t have an immigration problem, we have a socialism problem. Or we could say immigration is a problem only because of our socialism. If we spent as much time and energy slamming and criticizing our welfare state, warfare state, and secular humanism as we do Latino caravans and even Muslims, we might get somewhere.
We spend our time and virtually all our precious resources in crisis mode against outward symptoms and not against the root causes. We are so self-deceived. We think if we allow a few thousand refugees into this nation we are going to diminish our culture. What culture? Our Christian culture? You mean the Christian culture that Christians have sat and watched for a century and half slowly erode with progressivism, socialism, public schools, social security, no-fault divorce, abortion, and $22 Trillion in national debt? Through radical pietism, premillennial pessimism, rapture escapism, dualistic two-kingdoms withdrawal and “natural law”? You mean the Christian culture that Christians have diminished and eroded already by themselves?
There is nothing about our culture that a relative handful of even Muslims could destroy that we Christians have not ourselves destroyed already. Who needs Muslims when we’ve got Christians like these? They don’t come here because they want to destroy our strong Christian roots. We don’t have many left in our civil society. If they’re coming here as terrorists because of our foreign policy, or if they’re coming for welfare handouts, then they’re coming because we have departed from Christian culture and biblical law. When we loathe them, we are loathing ourselves, for it is socialism and military intervention we are protecting.
If we want to have a Christian culture, then follow biblical law. No more military intervention without a clearly just cause. No more standing armies in 100+ countries. No more socialism permeating a hundred aspects of our daily lives without a peep from most Christians.
If we can focus again on the right things, we will not only become much more prosperous and much safer, we will be in a position to view immigrants once again as potential converts, not threats. We won’t have to speculate about their bad motivations, because the causes for them won’t exist. The only reason we could imagine why anyone would want to come here is because American would be a city on a hill, and they would come for His name’s sake—to learn of it, partake of it, contribute to it. But it is only by maximizing our adherence to biblical law and biblical social values that we can also maximize the values of the immigrants who want to come, and minimize the likelihood that bad actors will sneak in or invade.
And we can once again pray with Solomon:
When a foreigner, who is not of your people, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.
Let us never forget what our true vision, and therefore priorities, ought to be.
 Gary North, Healer of the Nations: Biblical Principles for International Relations (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 279.
 North, 48–50.