“Immigration Laws” Sermon

“Immigration Laws: Ancient and Modern” 

Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar 

First Congregational Church of East Hartford 

September 30, 2018 


There is a children’s book about a generous and loving man who gives to all in need. 

A man needs a jacket, here you go. 

A child a shirt, here you go. 

A veteran needs an arm, here you go. 

Sounds like a loving Christian, yes? A Good Samaritan to the highest degree!  

Well, he continues to give until the man has given all belongings and all his body  

and evaporates away like dust. 

At some point we need boundaries or else we lose ourselves, become nothing and can give no more. 

Boundaries and rules protect our core and allows us to care for others over the long haul.  

A tree that is regularly pruned yields abundant fruit for years, 

But if you cut the trunk of the tree, it takes years to grow fruit, 

And pull up the roots of a tree, no fruit will ever grow! 

Boundaries and rules protect our core and allows us to care for others over the long haul.  

So the question becomes what are the appropriate boundaries?  

What rules and boundaries give us the safe space to love abundantly?  

Whether it is marriage vows, roommate contracts, housing leases, church bylaws, or immigration laws, 

Rules are based on values which help us make decisions.  

The trick is to make sure the rules and laws reflect one’s values.  

As you hear some of the laws of scripture and the laws of this land,  

consider what core values are at play. 

Many of the scriptures today come from Deuteronomy, Exodus or Leviticus and where given to ancient Israel when they were formed as a nation, that they may be a holy nation.  The terms “alien” and “stranger” are the common translations describing non-Israelites in the Promised Land.   

The United Church of Christ generally does not read these laws as prescriptive for our modern times, as in they do not need to be followed in the literal sense.  Rather these laws are expressions of the values God desires for us as individuals and as a society.  So as you hear the scriptures, listen for the values expressed in the ancient laws.  


Lev 24:23 you shall have one law for both the alien and for the citizen; for I am the Lord your God.  

Value? Equality in the law between a citizen and non-citizen. Unfortunately, the citizenship laws of the United States begin with the assumption that not all are equal.  

1790 Naturalization Act: “Free white persons” who have resided in the US for at least two years may be granted citizenship. Note that most women are not included, as they were considered dependents and unable to vote (immigration.procon.org) African slaves and indentured servants also excluded.  

1798 Alien and Sedition Acts: A “free white person” must now reside in the US for 14 years before becoming a citizen.  The president is granted authority to deport any noncitizen deemed “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.”  The naturalization provisions are ended in 1802 and other portions of the law allowed to expire. 


Deut 24:21-22 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean (take) what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. 

Value? Care migrant without giving whole crop away. Similar to tithing – give a portion of income, but hold most of it such that you can take care of yourself and your family. In both cases, the law provides a structure in which to care for others in love.  

Immigration Act of 1882: individuals deemed a “convict, lunatic, idiot, or person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge” shall not be allowed to land.  


Deut. 10:17-19 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  

Value? Love and provide for the stranger, the wanderer – for you once were a stranger too.  

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act: Chinese laborers not allowed to immigrate to the US. This law is followed by many additional laws continuing the restriction and placing additional restrictions of Chinese people for 60 years, until 1942.  These exclusionary laws are upheld in multiple supreme court rulings.  

1917 Immigration Act extends prohibitions on immigration from British India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, as well as those over 16 years old who cannot read.  Certain professionals, such as teachers, are permitted to enter the country. 


Exodus 22:21 You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  

Value: do not oppress aliens, remembering you once were aliens.   Oppression means to use one’s power to devalue or degrade a group of people.  Denying entry may not in itself equal oppression, but if the reason some are allowed to enter and others not is arbitrary or out-right racist, that certainly is oppression.  

1921 Emergency Quota Act limits the number of immigrants of each nationality allowed to immigrate to the US.  Does not apply to people of the Western Hemisphere.  

1924 Johnson-Reed Act bases the quotas on 2% of each nationality’s proportion of the US population in 1890.  Not included in the quotas are people of the Western Hemisphere, certain professionals, wives and children of US citizens.  Note, that if it is 2% of the US population in 1890, this law favors British while disenfranchising ????? This underlying value does not change much with 

1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (Hart-Cellar Act) abolishes the quota system and replaces it with a system whereby immigrants are admitted based on their relationship to a US citizen or employer.  In 1968 cap of 120,000 from Western Hemisphere allowed entry.  


Scriptures: Deut 24:14-15 “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.  You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”     

Value? Pay just wages in a timely manner to citizens and aliens.  The US attempted to do just this with the Bracero Agreement.  

Bracero Agreement of 1942 permits Mexican laborers to serve as temporary agricultural workers and decrees fair wages equal to that of US citizens; continues until 1964.  In 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act increases border patrol and imposes sanctions on employers knowingly hiring unauthorized immigrants, while also providing pathways to citizenship for those here illegally before 1982 or who have worked at least 90 days in certain agricultural jobs.  


Jeremiah 22: 3 Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed.  And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.”  

Value: deliver people from oppression and do no wrong to alien.  US immigration laws are mixed.  

1939 Refugee bill defeated that would have allowed 20,000 children from Nazi Germany to enter US. (archives.gov). 1948 Displaced Persons Act of 1948 allows over 200,000 individuals displaced from homelands by Nazis.  Still fleeing Jews are turned away and die in concentration camps.  Acts in 1953 and 1962 provides for additional refugees to come to the United States. Acts in 1975 and 1980 expand definition of refugee.  Acts in 1997 and 1998 provide relief from deportation for Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Haitians, and nationals of former soviet-bloc countries.  


Scripture: Deut. 31:10-13 “Then Moses wrote down this law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.  Moses commanded them: ‘Every seventh year, in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.  Assemble the people – men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns – so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not know it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”  

Value: Immigrants should listen and learn the law of the land.  This could have been the original intent of the 1988  

1988 Anti-drug Abuse Act which adds “aggravated felony” to grounds for deportation of immigrants. 1990 act expands to include non-political crimes of violence with sentence of more than 5 years and abolishes judicial recommendations against deportation; judges cannot offer relief from deportation for criminal offenders.  1994 act allows US Attorney General to bypass deportation proceedings for certain felons.  


Scripture Deut 1:16-18 Moses speaks to the people saying, “I charged your judges at that time: ‘Give the members of you community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.  You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgement is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.’ So I charged you at that time with all the tings that you should do.”  The phrase, “whether citizen or resident alien” is repeated for many of the laws and regulations of ancient Israel.  

Value: anyone in the land, including immigrants, deserve the right to be judged fairly and are bound by the same laws.  

1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act adds new reasons to deny migrants entry or to deport immigrants, expands crimes considered felony, expedites removal procedures, and reduces scope of judicial review of immigration decisions.  Penalties for unauthorized immigrants increased and toughens requirements for asylum seekers.  


Matt 25 Jesus describes the end of time when the righteous are welcomed into eternal life, for: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 

Value: welcome stranger; some theologians point out that early Christian missionaries were often strangers bringing the gospel to new communities around the Mediterranean.  Thus, this scripture is not referencing all strangers, but only Christian strangers bringing the gospel to new communities.  

2002 Homeland Security Act establishes the Department of Homeland Security which takes over immigration services, border enforcement, and border inspection. 

2006 Secure Fence Act mandates construction of fence along border with Mexico. 

2012 DACA program initiated by President Obama after DREAM Act fails to pass.  Through the DACA program young people who were brought to the country illegally as children are granted deferred action and permitted to remain in US for the time being.  

2018 Migrants entering country unauthorized are placed in prison to await their hearing.  Children, who cannot be held in prisons, are separated from their parents.  


The ancient laws of Israel point to a holy people practicing hospitality to the stranger, providing for their basic needs from a portion of the people’s economic wealth.  Immigrants are given equality under the law, the right to a fair trial, and freedom from oppression.  In turn, immigrants are required to understand the law of their host country.  The aim of all these laws is for the redeemed people of Israel to practice love of neighbor, no matter when that neighbor arrived.  

There are times when the values of our government laws coincide with values of God’s great law of love. 

There are times when they diverge. 

When they converge, by all means follow the apostle’s Paul’S advice to the Romans.  

Romans 13: 1-3 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good.” 

However there have been times when the values of the government laws have clashed with God’s laws, 

In which case, follow the next few verses of Romans 13:9-10 “the commandments…are summed up in this word, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”   

When the rulers are not acting as God’s servants and the laws are not just, follow Jesus the Christ: 

Overturn the tables of the corrupt temple merchants, 

Disrupt the status quo –  

heal on the sabbath,  

offer life to the Samaritan woman across the border, 

Turn the other cheek and show how unjust the law is. 

The civil rights movement is a prime example of revealing the injustice of secular rules by doing right.  

The Holy law of love is higher and more powerful than the law of government. 

Jesus Christ was persecuted and crucified by the secular law of government, 

But he rose by the Holy law of love. 

Many have been persecuted by the secular laws of our government. 

From African slaves to Chinese immigrants to migrant Hispanic children today. 

May we have the courage to obey the law of love, even if it means overturning the laws of government. 

May we have the faith to trust that the law of love will triumph.  

Psalm 146: Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.  When the breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.  Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in the; who keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.  The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord! 



Citations and Research:  

Laws paraphrased from Migration Policy Institute’s “Major US Immigration Laws” www.migrationpolicy.org/cir A nonpartisan nonprofit think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide.  Laws verified against multiple other sources.  Additional sources noted where appropriate.  

Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Caroll R. (2008) provided guidance on relevant scriptures and theological analysis.