And who is my Foreign Neighbor?

Who is my foreign neighbor? If we fail to answer this question, we will be like the lawyer in Luke 10, and xenophobia will sabotage filoxenia (Biblical hospitality, love of neighbor).

The term
"illegal aliens" is often used in crude, demeaning ways. The foreigners among us are rarely “illegals” or “enemies.” They are our neighbors, “resident - foreigners” in our country. What is their legal status (according to immigration policy)? And what is their moral status (as perceived and received by Christ’s church)?

Let’s be careful to distinguish:

• IMMIGRANTS who are legal visa holders, according to our nation's laws
(yes, immigration reform is needed), with visa quotas, and certain legal restrictions.

• F-1 Visas are given to international students in academic or English Language programs at USA colleges and universities. An F-1 student must maintain a full-time course load. Their spouses and children can apply for a F-2 Visa. International students may stay 60 days after finishing their academic program, and may apply for a 1-year OPT (“Optional Practical Training”) extension before they return home.

• J-1 Visas are given to short-term visiting scholars and professors, who can demonstrate proof of financial support and health coverage from American universities, in order to do academic work or scientific research. Their spouses and children can apply for a J-2 Visa.

• H-1B Specialty Occupation Visas are for foreigners employed by USA companies in fields for which trained American workers are scarce. After 3-6 years, an H-1B worker may apply for a permanent resident visa, if sponsored by their employer or a close relative. The H-1B program is capped at 65,000 a year.

• Diversity Immigration Visa Program (“Green Card Lottery”) is a path to a US immigration Visa by drawing. 50-55,000 diversity Visas are given each year, chosen at random from all eligible applicants.

• GUEST WORKERS. Non-immigrant Visas for temporary or seasonal workers in agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) work. This program is capped at 66,000/year, and is only available to nationals from certain countries, for a maximum duration of three years.

• EXILES are different than immigrants.
Immigrants want a better life. But Exiles feel compelled to leave their homes. Those who call themselves Exiles say they want to go home. Immigrants leave for economic reasons. Exiles leave homes for political or religious reasons. Examples are the Israelites in Babylon or exiles from Cuba's Revolution. While Immigrants want to assimilate, Exiles do not easily assimilate (Psalm 137). Which is why God commanded the Israelites in exile to settle down for 70 years, to bless Babylon, for their own welfare (shalom) and for Babylon’s. (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

• REFUGEES flee their homelands, not driven by a desire to become American citizens, but because they and their families suffer from war, violence, famine, political oppression, or religious persecution. They seek refuge in a host country. As someone has said,
“Your enemy is not the refugee, but the one who made him a refugee.”

Why are these distinctions between resident-foreigners so important?

1. Legal
Immigrants and Guest Workers are foreigners, but enrich our society. They are not “illegal.” Whether as PhD’s and STEM majors, or as landscapers, harvesters, and roofers, they do work American workers are unqualified or unwilling to do. We need legal immigrants!

2. We should press and pray for politicians to make wise, just, and beneficial immigration laws. As a nation of immigrants, America will not become greater by restricting, but reforming immigration.

3. Apart from legal
Immigrants and Guest Workers, the most difficult questions concern Exiles and Refugees. Why, for example, did Cuban exiles get a fast track to USA citizenship, but not Haitians who also fled political oppression? How many Refugees from Africa, Central America, or Syria should the USA shelter? Can pro-life Christians, who condemn removing unborn children from the womb, morally justify taking children from the arms of refugee parents?

who is my Foreign Neighbor? This question echos the lawyer’s question to Jesus (Luke 10): “And who is my neighbor — who am I commanded to love as myself?” Jesus' answer is a Gospel Story — the “Good Samaritan.”

For Jesus, the real question is not
“How big is my neighborhood?” Or, “What kind of neighbor must I love?” But rather, “Which of these proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus says we cannot define a neighbor, but only be a good neighbor. To show mercy like that Samaritan … who was a resident-foreigner.

Jesus is God’s ultimate Resident-Foreigner. God’s mandate, both to Israel and the church, is:
“You are to love the foreigner … you were foreigners.” For Christians, God's moral command trumps (pun intended) human laws. Whatever our nation decides about immigration policy, followers of Jesus must “welcome the stranger” as if welcoming Jesus (Matthew 25:35).