A Christian perspective on the humanitarian crisis at the border

127,457 is the number of confirmed deportations under the Biden administration. More than 100,000 people were stopped from trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border in February alone. As of March 21, there are over 15,500 unaccompanied children in custody.

But beyond being another statistic, these numbers represent the lives of migrants who leave their homes escaping violence, unemployment and in hopes of acquiring better opportunities. Furthermore, these numbers symbolize the flaws within their own countries—conditions that force them to bid their families and culture farewell.

While the crisis at the border is not a recent phenomenon, it has been an object of public scrutiny after newly-adopted pandemic policies and the much debated 2020 election. Since President Joe Biden’s first days in office, the crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border has been a weak spot for his administration, with over 55% of Americans reportedly disapproving of his performance so far.

It does not come off as a surprise that the U.S. is experiencing a 20-year high in the number of people arriving at the southern border, according to the BBC. Add pandemic-related job losses and natural disasters into the mix of poverty, gang crime and corruption, and you’ll end up with overflowing detention centers and unaccompanied minors sleeping in foil blankets on the floor.

Although the crisis at the border is commonly observed through a sociopolitical lens, there is value in approaching the topic from a Christian perspective, particularly given the extensive account of migration in the Bible as a common practice.

“The Bible says a lot about migration, especially in the first five books of the Bible,” explained Aminta Arrington, associate professor of intercultural studies at John Brown University. “As Christians, we are required to care and love those who are vulnerable. And God specifically describes himself as caring for and loving for the foreigner.”

Despite the biblical implications of migration, the topic remains highly contested within religious circles. According to a 2018 Washington Post-ABC poll, 75% of white evangelical Christians rated “the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants” as positive. While most Americans agree that the current increase in immigrants at the border is a “crisis that needs to be addressed immediately,” though there is little consensus on how to do it.

“I would say my faith has encouraged me to see [the crisis at the border] as far more complex than politics,” said Frank Huebert, director of service and outreach ministries. “I have learned that there are different experiences and different ways of seeing the world.”

An understanding of migration, rooted in biblical principles, has prompted Christians to view the crisis as a “humanitarian” crisis—an issue that concerns us altogether and about fellow human beings, who happen to be migrants or refugees. However, the political debate surrounding the topic could potentially dissipate the conversations we should be having as people of faith.

Aubrey Skopp, JBU intercultural studies alumna and employee at Canopy Northwest Arkansas—a non-profit organization that “helps build a community where refugees are welcomed”—said she has felt frustrated at some people who approach migration as merely a political issue.

“I think Christians have a stigma about getting involved or fully engaging themselves on an issue if they believe there is a political agenda that would impact their religious, social circles or social standing,” Skopp said. “Sometimes, they might pray about it or talk about in an objective manner, but a lot of key points are missed that way.”

With the Arizona and Texas governors blaming the Biden administration for the crisis at the border and migration advocates in the Rio Grande Valley claiming the issue is only “political manipulation” to cause uproar, the conversation is focused on what is happening, not on why there is an influx of people who decide to leave their lives behind.

“If you don’t know why there is a crisis or [are not] even fully aware of what it is, then you’re not going to know how to be involved,” Skopp said. “And I think it requires a lot more than just prayer. Being a Christian involves a lot of things that’s more than just prayer, like educating yourself and other people.”

As the narrative shifts from pointing fingers to making a collective effort of caring for the people at the border—especially unaccompanied children detained in metal cages—how do we reach a consensus on the ideal solution? While some oppose Biden’s immigration plan, a majority of religious groups support it, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

However, beyond policymaking and immigration reforms, Christians ought to be finding answers in the Bible, said Arrington. “It feels that, as Christians, we have so many ways where we could be inserting ourselves into this situation in a biblical way, whether that be giving to the countries to prevent the migration from happening in the first place or working in ministries at the border that are caring for them,” she explained. “But the response that I don’t think is biblical is to do nothing … And to add to that, to sit in judgment, because we don’t see that in scripture.”

Huebert offers a combination of reading scripture and informing oneself through reading the news. “It’s about becoming well-educated with scripture in one hand and newspaper in the other,” he said. “Not just reading the latest news … If all we do is read but never understand what the biblical implications are, then we are missing out.”

Despite the continuous media coverage regarding the humanitarian crisis at the border, and, as Americans expect the Biden-Harris administration to fulfill their immigration plans fiercely campaigned during the election, there is a calling for Christians to love and care for the foreigner regardless of the political debate.

“As Christians, we need to recognize our bias, and when we’re taking any sort of action, we need to be asking ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Skopp said. “Are we doing this because it’s the right thing to do? Because you’re feeling empathy for what is happening at the border? We need to reflect on that, so we don’t slip into a white savior mentality that leads to performative activism.”

Furthermore, Arrington recommends seeking out stories of immigrants themselves. “We hear a lot about politics, how it’s a crisis, we hear some kind of big number of people who are at the border right now,” she said. “But we don’t really hear the stories of the people, and, when these stories get lost, there is a dehumanization that happens, and that gets very dangerous.”

When Christians no longer see migrants as people with stories, this topic might become a simple political issue. In being intentional to seek out these stories and place a biblical context to them, we might see the erasing of the political layer that divides the religious community.

Photo courtesy of AP