Why voting Christians should care about immigration policy

Mary Shiraef
9 min readNov 2, 2020

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Last week, I wrote a short piece especially aimed toward undecided voting Christian women. I raised concerns about right-wing Evangelical literature which has built a small fortune off the Trump presidency and yet, according to their tax returns, paid its women contributors $0. I pointed out the hypocrisy of voting for Trump with the image of Christ in mind: Christ was a non-materialistic, feminist figure. Another pressing fact, however, which is relevant not only to women: is that Christ’s image carries a love for immigrants which the Trump platform disregards. I brought this into a separate post because I thought it deserved its own mini pitch.

Christ loved immigrants — and especially the ones who were disdained as “illegals” by society. The Good Samaritan and the woman at the well are perhaps the most famous stories, but the references to immigrants, refugees and foreign children are found throughout the Bible. As someone raised within the literature of Christian love, I’ve wondered often since 2016: why aren’t Evangelical Christians willing to call out the immigration policies introduced by the Trump administration? How can a Christian justify a clear pattern of cruel tactics designed to discourage foreigners from coming to the U.S., by any means necessary?

Florida sunset T-1 day before its population determines U.S. history, once again

I’ve written in the past few months several personal letters to friends, Sunday School groups and family members documenting the horrors of Trump’s immigration system in an appeal to Christian voters to reclaim an image of Christ’s love. My main conclusion from these exchanges is that many just do not know. I’m putting some excerpts from these letters out just before election day, because I feel strongly that these sweeping changes to the immigration system should inform one’s vote, just as they will remain pertinent in the many long months to come. If Christians are to maintain dignity in their vote, they must learn about and call for reversal of these policies.

1.Of the many anti-Christlike things Trump and his platform has done, one of the first and worst was when he moved to repeal the federal program called DACA. (DACA provides protections — the right to work, go to school and carry a driver’s license for a period of 2 years — for people in the United States who were brought to the U.S. as children of immigrants.) Despite what many assured me was just an empty “threat” — indeed, some pointed me to Trump’s own soothing words about DACA in a widely shared interview in 2016 — he swiftly moved to repeal the program.

An estimated 1.7 million people who are eligible — many of whom are my close friends — rely on DACA for basic stability and status in the U.S. As such, in the many months leading up to the 2016 election, I expressed regularly to conservative-leaning friends and family members that Trump taking away these protections should be our biggest fear about him becoming president. And, it happened: targeting DACA was the one of the first immigration policies he introduced (June 2017). This immediately sent my DACA-relying friends’ and families’ lives into a prolonged state of panic and fear. Without DACA, they cannot work, finish their education or legally drive a car. Without DACA, they are subject to deportation — often to a country they cannot even remember or speak the language.

After two years, DACA recipients must re-apply and meet stringent criteria for basic continuation of their status. When Trump lost his cruel and unusual attempt to gut the program entirely — which the Supreme Court deemed in 2019 “arbitrary and capricious” (№18–587) — Trump reduced the time period of eligibility for DACA to one year. The program fee costs $495 to renew, and, just for an example of the impact of this annual fee, one of my close friends who relies on DACA — despite being one of the smartest, hardest workers I know — has exactly $19 in her bank account. She, and presumably hundreds of thousands of others who should be eligible, cannot pay to renew their status this year. They — by design — become fugitives in the U.S. The Trump platform does not care.

Christians should.

This is one of hundreds of truly horrifying changes introduced to the immigration system under Trump.

2. Another anti-Christlike policy of the Trump administration was to implement and extend the worst of the Obama-era immigration policies — such as increased deportations and separating young children from their parents as a policy. America is forever responsible for the thousands of families these policies destroyed.

3. Further, the conditions in which immigrants continue to be held in detention centers are unforgivable. Christ wouldn’t stand for it. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the Trump administration has set up for-profit facilities which coerce immigrant labor. Christians cannot simply look away.

As an aspiring researcher on topics of global immigration, I have been shocked, repeatedly, at the policies concocted by Trump’s appointees. The policies have been called “common sense” by certain far right, Christian circles. They are not. They are inhumane, and they explicitly attempt to restrict and reduce the number of immigrants from countries with predominantly black and brown populations.

4. Effectively, Trump has failed domestically to respond in any meaningful way to COVID-19; but his platform has used the virus as a facade with which to introduce a shocking number of restrictions against legal migrants and more recently, even refugees (and, as more recently confirmed: children).

Click here to see a summary of all the anti-immigrant policies introduced by the U.S. during the pandemic alone. Prior to 2020, the Trump platform made clear its plan to use disease to justify barring entry of new immigrants.

The counterargument I’ve often faced in Christian circles is the statement “I’m all about legal immigration; I support those who get in line.” But this disregards the policies introduced by Trump to destroy the very ability to “get in line.” How can one follow due process when there is none? The only conclusion — which I have heard many immigrants facing the U.S. system express — is that not only Trump, but Americans too do not want them to be here.

That has to change. As long as the U.S. is a country worth coming to, we will always have families who wish to come and need some basic assistance and processing.

Just last week, Trump tweeted lies about refugees in a last ditch attempt to win scare votes Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He bragged that his administration would deny asylum claims from “terror-compromised” nations. What people don’t seem to know, however, which we must, is that:

Hundreds of thousands of these people are already here.

Many families spent a decade of their lives applying, legally, only to have their claims denied this year. One of those families, with two beautiful kids, I know and love very much; and it breaks my heart. Despite having a solid asylum case after fleeing violence, their lives are, again, uprooted. I don’t know what will happen to them or frankly, if I’ll be able to see them again.

Since Bush’s “war on terror”, the U.S. has taken in precious few of the world’s share of refugees, despite arguably playing a substantial role in the conflicts which lead to them. Past U.S. presidents recognized this deep complexity and established routes to asylum to account for innocent lives impacted by it. That is a difficult decision, but fair. Trump’s administration, instead, amped up past conflicts in the Middle East and then introduced policies to further shun responsibility for the lives and families destroyed.

5. For the most recent example of the many changes Trump has implemented, even just last week (25-Sept), he announced through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a plan to stop certain international students from studying in the U.S. for more than 2 years. On the list of countries targeted, he lists predominantly African countries.

Similar to the DACA case, my understanding of it is that this move will never be legal. This law proposed by DHS, like much of Trump’s work so far, shows clear animus against countries with predominantly black populations — something which thankfully, the U.S. legal system does not allow. However, because Trump is president and could remain the president, even this illegal proposal has a real impact on people’s lives. As the DACA case did, it could take years to actually be decided in court. And, in the meantime, this leaves the lives of all these incredible students hanging in the balance.

The impacts of these changes to immigration on me, and on my friend’s lives, have been destabilizing beyond what the media could possibly capture. It bothers me because I am endlessly grateful that my great grandparents — as children — immigrated safely to the U.S. My research, from when I was completing an undergraduate thesis until now, has been centered around immigration, education and the possibilities created for families who choose to move. But now, with the possibility of Trump being re-elected, I have often found myself feeling hopeless about my and my friends’ futures in the U.S. I really don’t want to buy a home, build a family and settle in a country which is closed to immigrants. I love immigration and especially the people I’ve met because of the beauty which immigrants seek in the U.S.

But enough personalistic railing against Trump, and a case for Biden on immigration:

Biden is impressive, as he is committed. I would not have seen myself in year’s past casting an excited vote for Biden as the U.S. president; but, given Trumps’ general deterioration of the U.S. and U.S.-impacted populations in the past four years, I am grateful, in an extraordinary proportion, that Biden has been willing to run. I think Biden will win, primarily from the sheer number of Americans Trump has failed — but beyond this, I also think Biden is an excellent candidate.

Biden is concerned, committed and ever willing to learn. Biden refrains from demonizing “the other side” — and I respect this about him a great deal. I cannot say the same as I look through recent Christian literature. The prevalent use of the term “the other side” is appalling. It has to stop.

I endorse Biden with gratitude and anticipation because he has a coherent and committed plan for strengthening the immigration system — in his first 100 days of office. Biden sees immigration as a strength, not as a weakness of the U.S. A traditional American, Biden promises to “secure our border,” but he also baselines the importance of “ensuring the dignity of migrants and upholding their legal right to seek asylum.” Biden promises to:

“enforce our laws without targeting communities, violating due process, or tearing apart families. He will ensure our values are squarely at the center of our immigration and enforcement policies.”

Specifically, some of his well thought out plans are to: (1) reverse the cruelest of the family-targeting policies Trump has perpetuated and extended from Obama’s era; (2) send humanitarian resources for those arriving at the border with nothing; (3) expands DACA access to become permanent in his first day of office (4) ensure immigrants who serve in the military are not deported and (5) convene a regional meeting with the leaders of countries with high sending rates to the U.S. to understand the root causes of immigration.

Trumps’ platform, instead, implements arbitrary, fear-based policies that demonize and criminalize asylum-seeking migrants, and leads to their deaths. It isn’t just Trump. The U.S. has long perpetuated undemocratic immigration laws (Wasserman 1969). It is a moral failure of the U.S. which has to stop.

I had the privilege of interviewing the first Armenian immigrant U.S. District Court Judge in U.S. history last year, the Honorable Samuel Der-Yeghiayan. Der-Yeghiayan was historically a rather conservative judge who supports, unlike me, increased surveillance of immigrants post-9/11. Even still, he stated to me that the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have come in response to and in compliance with U.S. policies, and then been disregarded or forced by legal design, into fugitive status deserve to gain citizenship “tomorrow.” I quite agree — and Biden seems to as well. (Since I began drafting this piece, Biden promised to make DACA permanent on his first day taking office.)

The basic promises Biden has made regarding immigration in his first 100 days, I trust he can do. With his lifetime of experience in politics, he has built crucial rapport with the people who lead U.S. institutions. We need that leadership and stability right now. Although Biden wasn’t my first pick, I especially appreciate that Biden has made many mistakes, acknowledged them and arguably learned from them. This capacity to learn from one’s errors, we know Trump does not have. The capacity to tell the truth, even when it doesn’t paint you in the best light, we know Trump doesn’t have. And finally, an ability to speak with leaders of foreign governments and earn respect, we know Trump does not have.

Vote for Biden! And then, watch closely what the Trump administration does to the immigration system in the next two months.

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Mary Shiraef

Everyday Researcher, Intermittent Teacher. I write here about the people, ideas, and businesses that bring me joy and occasionally, the politics that don't.