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Making Sense of Immigration and COVID-19 as a Christian

As the world grapples with the global spread of the coronavirus, there’s been a lot of news and information to sift through to make sense of our new reality. In the United States in particular, we continue to hear a lot of blaming and negativity about immigrants as the country addresses the COVID-19 crisis. 

As Christians called to love our neighbors, we may be struggling with what to believe and what to do when we hear about COVID-19 and immigration. Is immigration hurting our already hurting economy? Is immigration a threat to public health? What does it mean to love my immigrant neighbor during the time of COVID-19?

Read on for answers to these questions and be reminded of our call to love and honor all members of the body of Christ. 

Are immigrants a threat to American jobs during the economic downturn of COVID-19?

After the administration issued a proclamation suspending immigration into the United States, the president stated that this order “would ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy opens,” assuring U.S. citizens that they would not have to compete with foreigners for work. 

However, it is a misconception that immigrants take Americans’ jobs. Economic research shows that “immigrants are the backbone of many industries that massively employ Americans.” Additionally, higher immigration levels correspond to higher employment rates for all. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that banning immigration and travel could have long-lasting economic impacts. Significant evidence points to the conclusion that halting immigration will likely harm the U.S. economy. 

In summary: immigrants are not a threat to American jobs: not in times of economic prosperity, nor during an economic downturn. 

Do our new immigration policies and practices help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

There are many layers to be considered in answering this question:

  • In recent years, there has been a consistent trajectory of closing down legal pathways to U.S. immigration. This pattern is not new, as you may have seen in our monthly “Chipping Away of U.S. Legal Immigration” Do Justice blog post series.    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 50 policy changes have been made to the U.S legal immigration system.

  • Since the U.S. began responding to the COVID-19 crisis, asylum has been barred indefinitely and most other immigration pathways have been shut down (and may be closed indefinitely). These policies were reportedly implemented to minimize the movement of people, thus protecting the country from the spread of the virus. Across the globe, many of us have been “sheltered in place” and avoiding non-essential travel to stop the spread of coronavirus, based on the recommendations of the CDC and public health experts.  

  • However, many parts of these new immigration policies and practices have been inconsistent with the priority to minimize the movement of people. For example, significant exceptions were made for U.S. citizens returning home from countries with high coronavirus rates; and even though asylum was barred indefinitely, non-essential travel across our northern and southern borders was only restricted temporarily. Also, the U.S. has continued to deport individuals back to their countries of origin, which has been linked to the spread of coronavirus to nations less equipped to manage public health crises. 

  • Additionally, by the time these new immigration policies were announced, the coronavirus had already taken hold in the United States, which impacts the effectiveness of the policies. WHO states, “Travel [restrictions] that significantly interfere with international traffic may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries... to rapidly implement effective preparedness measures…” However, if that timeframe is missed, “travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation of cases.”

  • Meanwhile, some of the world’s most vulnerable - including asylum-seekers and refugees - have been significantly harmed by these policies. Migrant families and unaccompanied minors at the U.S. southern border have continued to be separated, mistreated, denied their rights, and blocked from seeking asylum. Eliminating access to asylum indefinitely means that we are not fulfilling our internationally recognized responsibility to provide refuge for those fleeing violence and persecution.

In summary: though slowing the movement of people prior to an outbreak can potentially help minimize the spread of disease, the U.S. did not do so soon enough nor “across the board” with all travelers; the new immigration shutdowns have been harmful to the most vulnerable and are consistent with a years-long trajectory of eliminating pathways of legal immigration.  

As Christians, how are we to respond to our immigrant neighbors during this global pandemic?

As Christians called to honor the image of God in everyone, we must be mindful about how we talk about immigrants and COVID-19. The U.S. has a long history of attributing the spread of infectious disease to immigrants and people of color. We have seen this manifested today in racism towards Asians and Asian Americans and the drawing of a direct link between the presence of migrants at the US southern border and the spread of coronavirus. 

Rather than speaking about our immigrant neighbors with fear and suspicion, we are called to love and be truth-tellers. 

Immigrants are an integral part of our nation’s efforts to combat COVID-19 together. All of us - immigrants included - make up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4) which “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” 

Let’s come together to combat COVID-19 and speak the truth in love:

  • Tell the truth in your circles:

    • Join the #AllOfUS campaign to unite with others in telling the truth about immigrants during the time of COVID-19.

    • Watch and share our video with your church community on what the Bible says about immigrants and immigration. You can access other interfaith worship resources from our coalition partners here.

    • When you hear or read comments that connect the spread of COVID-19 with immigrants and/or people of color, say something. Disrupt the narrative with truth.

  • Tell the truth to your elected officials:

    • Urge policymakers to remember immigrant essential workers, refugees, and asylum-seekers using our #HearUsOut action alert.

    • Join our partners from the Evangelical Immigration Table in urging the president to change his proclamation so that vulnerable immigrants and legal pathways of immigration will be protected. 

    • Tell your congresspersons to support a bipartisan bill to honor refugees, World Refugee Day (June 20), and to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.June 15, 2020 was the 8th anniversary of the DACA program, and on June 18 the Supreme Court ruled that the president cannot legally end DACA. Though this is a win for Dreamers, it is not a long-term solution. Urge your senators to pass a bill that would provide long-term protections for DACA recipients and other immigrants.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash


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