I am married to an immigrant. My wife, Akiko, came to the States from Japan over 20 years ago. Perhaps the only thing she disdains more than all the bureaucracy she had to endure in order to become a permanent resident in the U.S. is that fact that there are those immigrants who believe that they are entitled to by-pass such cumbersome entry procedures.

Needless to day, amnesty is a dirty word in our household.

Christians remain deeply divided over illegal immigration. A recent Pew survey discovered that 51 percent of Evangelicals and 47 percent of Catholics agreed that the increased number of deportations of illegal immigrants has been a good thing. On the other side, the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of liberal leaning evangelicals, was formed a couple of years ago to lobby Congress for pro-amnesty immigration law.

Is there a way for Christians to overcome this polarization?

There is.

But first, Christians must understand that illegal immigration and its responses are part of two clashing civilizational processes: “globalization” on the one hand and “tribalization” on the other.

Globalization involves what is in effect a worldwide social system constituted by the interaction between a capitalist economy, telecommunications, technology, and mass urbanization. Because the constituents of globalization, such as transnational corporations and electronic money, transcend national borders, many scholars believe that globalization renders borders between nations irrelevant. And these porous borders which serve to expedite flows of goods within a globalized economy entail a significant increase in levels of immigration, both legal and illegal. This immigration flow trends along the direction of economic activity: Turks flow into Germany, Albanians ebb into Greece, North Africans into France, Pakistanis into England, and Mexicans into the U.S.

And yet, globalization elicits a blow back from local and national sectors which scholars call “tribalization.” Built into globalization processes are various mechanisms by which local customs and traditions are relativized to wider economic, scientific, and technocratic forces. Once social life is caught up in a global industrialized economic system, it is propelled away from traditional, national, and local practices and beliefs. And so globalization involves a predictable counter reaction at the local and national level; in the face of threats to localized identity markers, people assert their religiosity, kinship, and national symbols as mechanisms of resistance against globalizing dynamics. So everywhere a mall is put up, a farmers market is not far away; fast food chains are countered with slogans encouraging us to “buy local;” and in the midst of the city lights of cosmopolitanism are clusters of intentional communities.

And so, it should be no surprise that immigration, both legal and illegal, brings to the fore this globalist/ tribalist conflict. For those who want to secure the borders and deport, immigration is interpreted increasingly as an indicator of globalist tendencies that threaten kinship identities based on a common language, culture, custom, and tradition. But for those who want the granting of amnesty, national borders are constituents of larger “unjust” social boundaries that once marked traditional society and from which we are to be emancipated.

The important point here is that as long as globalization processes are in effect, there will be reciprocal localized nationalist rejoinders, with illegal immigrants caught in the middle. There thus appears no real political solution in sight.

So, now that we know the global and national forces driving illegal immigration and its polarizing responses, does the church have an answer to this?

Yes: the church is the answer.

The church itself has the resources to deal uniquely with the current border crisis, for it is the church alone that is both a global and traditional institution. As a catholic social order transcending time and space yet rooted in the tradition of the apostles, the church is in the unique position to be able to mediate between otherwise incompatible yet reciprocal social dynamics that characterize the modern world.

The current border crisis is a time for Christians to show the world what the church really is. But I do not believe that the fidelity to such witness involves simply being a cheerleader for the beneficiaries of a secular welfare state on the one hand or a guardian of the borders of a secular nation state on the other.

So what can the church do to end the immigration crisis? That will be the subject of our next post.

Until then, what do you think the church can do to help resolve the problem of illegal immigration?

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