Immigration is an issue full of complexity. At Women of Welcome we work with evangelical leaders and policy experts to understand how to engage and inform our community with Biblically sound resources and accurate information. Women of Welcome is not affiliated with any political organization, party or platform. We aren’t advocating for open borders, mass or illegal immigration. In general, we think it should be harder to come to the US illegally, but we should have less bureaucratic hurdles to come to the US legally or for legitimate safety reasons. We believe wholeheartedly that we can be a safe country and a compassionate country; that these things are not mutually exclusive. Scripture compels us to care for our neighbors, and therefore we are committed to creating a world-changing movement of Christ-like welcome. In doing so, we are seek to understand what Biblical hospitality truly looks like towards those who are vulnerable and sojourning among us.
Below are answers to some of the most common questions we receive in our email inbox and on our social platforms.
What’s the difference between a refugee, asylum seeker, immigrant, migrant?
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning.
An immigrant is someone who leaves his or her home country and moves to a foreign country with the intention of settling there.
An asylum seeker is someone who has fled his or her country and professes a credible fear of persecution, but whose case has not yet been adjudicated by the government of the host country.
A migrant is someone who is moving from place to place (within his or her country or across borders), usually for economic reasons such as seasonal work.
Aliens. Illegals. Undocumented immigrants. What language is best to use and why does it matter?
- The term alien can be found in the dictionary, U.S. laws, and even in some older translations of the Bible. Translated into simple English it refers to a person born in another country. However, the term “alien” also refers to extraterrestrials. Many contemporary English speakers are most familiar with the term in this particular (other world) context, which can distract us from the reality that immigrants are human beings, made in God’s image and are of the same value and worth as any other human being.
- If an individual enters the country without inspection, overstays a temporary visa, or violates the terms of that visa, they could be considered unlawfully present in the U.S. While a person’s mode of entry or immigration status may be illegal, that does not define their personhood (any more than someone who speeds on the highway is “an illegal”). Therefore, words like “undocumented” or “unauthorized” allow regard for the humanity and worth of an individual.
What is current U.S. immigration policy?
There are three basic ways a person might obtain Lawful Permanent Resident (green card) status in the U.S. It can be helpful to categorize these pathways as blood, sweat, and tears. This infographic helps represent these pathways.
- Blood (Family-Based Immigration): Immigrants with a close family member who is a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident can apply; however, backlogs can be as long as 20 years.
- Sweat (Employment-Based Immigration): Some employers can serve as a sponsor for immigrants. These visas are almost exclusively reserved for those with advanced degrees or extraordinary abilities and are typically for positions that cannot be filled by U.S. citizens.
- Tears (Refugee or Asylee Status): This pathway is for a small share of those people fleeing documented persecution because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or social group. Those individuals fleeing poverty, natural disasters, or environmental degradation do not qualify.
It’s worth mentioning one additional pathway, which is the Diversity Visa Lottery that selects applicants from “under-represented” countries. In recent years, the odds of winning have been about 1 in 300. Individuals from Mexico, the Philippines, South Korea, China, and other “over-represented” countries would not qualify.
We have a legal immigration system. Why don’t people just get in line?
Many individuals who come to find work in the U.S. do not fit into any of the current categories allowed for in our current immigration policy and therefore have no legal pathway to gain Lawful Permanent Residency. If you’re needing to provide for your family and don’t fit into one of the above categories, there isn’t a “line” to wait in. While that might suggest that people “should just stay in their own country”, this response doesn’t allow for the complexity of situations that many individuals and families are facing in their home countries. The driving factor for the vast majority of immigrants is the need to provide a better life for themselves or their families. This is a Biblical mandate that we understand as American Christians, and yet this is a mandate they are also seeking to fulfill. For families that are living in the U.S. with no status or mixed status, there is no legal way for them to reconcile, adjust or legalize their status with the current law once they’ve entered the U.S. If an opportunity existed for these individuals, who are living in the US without a criminal record, to present themselves for reconciliation with the law, immigrants would choose to do so to become right with the law and openly join their communities.
What about Romans 13, which says we should obey the laws of the land?
The rule of law is very important, and the law should never be disregarded flippantly. Paul addresses this specific topic in Romans 13, and it is one of the passages we address in our study guide. At Women of Welcome, we don’t support illegal immigration or open borders, but we do know the issue of immigration is vastly complicated. Families are often living with mixed status (some family members have different legal status than others) and many do not qualify for the current pathways to Legal Permanent Residence. While on the surface one might disregard need to further discussion into additional pathways, it’s important to note the needs of our economy have vastly changed since the last major reform (over 30 years ago). Families who once were able to emigrate (travel back/forth across the border: working in the US and living in Mexico) were forced to make the hard choice of choosing to work to provide for their families, or return home to scarce economic opportunities. So many families are living separated family lives for the sake of survival. These families suffer when we refuse to update our immigration laws/system to meet the demands of the 21st century. Specifically we hope for an immigration system that would:
- Protect the rule of law
- Guarantee secure national borders
- Ensure fairness to taxpayers
- Respect the God-given dignity of every person
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
We also believe it’s important that if someone has broken the law that there is a way for that individual to make restitution and return to good standing. Immigrants desire an opportunity to reconcile with the law. Currently, there is no path forward for undocumented immigrations to adjust their status legally within the current law/U.S. government policies.
How are immigrants and refugees vetted?
Any immigrant or temporary visitors to the U.S who enters through a lawful process is first subjected to background checks to ensure they are not ineligible for entry or a known threat to public safety. The very small percentage of the world’s refugees whom the U.S. selects for resettlement each year are subjected to the most thorough vetting process of any category of immigrant or visitor. The process generally takes between 18 and 36 months and is coordinated between the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, State, and Defense, as well as the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI. It involves multiple in-person interviews, biographic and biometric background checks, and a health screening before a refugee is allowed to enter the U.S. The best evidence that this system works well is that, since the Refugee Act was passed in 1980, no American lives have ever been lost in a terrorist attack perpetrated by someone who came through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. We have a strong history as a nation of being both pro-security and pro-compassion.
What benefits do immigrants and refugees qualify for?
Undocumented immigrants cannot receive most federal means-tested public benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), regular Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income. Even most lawful immigrants cannot receive federal benefits until they achieve permanent resident status, which takes residing as a lawful resident for five years.
Refugees, those granted asylum, and a few other categories of immigrants are an exception. Asylees receive benefits similar to refugees resettled to the U.S., and a study of resettled refugees found that the costs associated with their presence were greater than their fiscal contributions for the first several years they were in the U.S. However, twenty years after arrival, the average refugee adult had contributed about $21,000 more in taxes than the total cost of any sort of governmental expenditure on their behalf.
Who qualifies for asylum in the U.S.?
Under U.S. law, any individual who reaches the United States has the right to request asylum, but that does not mean all will qualify. Under the law, an asylum seeker must demonstrate that he or she has a credible fear of persecution because of their to race, religion, political opinion, national origin or social group. Those fleeing poverty or a violence that is not specifically associated with race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group are not eligible for asylum and are likely to be denied (as are those who simply lack documented evidence to establish their case).
How does someone apply for asylum?
Asylum is a long, complicated process and looks differently depending upon where one applies. The Wall Street Journal has a helpful visual representation of this complicated process.
- Already in the U.S.: A person can affirmatively submit an application for asylum (though generally only if they have been within the U.S. for one year or less). Eventually, they will be scheduled for an interview, where they will have the chance to make their case. If approved, they are allowed to stay and authorized to work lawfully (if they are not already). If denied and the person is not currently in valid immigration status (i.e. their visa has expired), they are referred to a removal hearing. At that court hearing, they can once again make the case that they qualify under the law. but if denied, they are likely to be deported.
- Airport Arrival: If someone arrives at an airport, they can indicate that they would like to request asylum. They will be detained (at least temporarily) and subjected to a “credible fear” interview. This review is essentially a preliminary interview to determine if they have a reasonable chance of winning an asylum claim. If they ‘pass’ that interview, they may be held in a detention facility pending their asylum hearing — or they may be released, often with a GPS ankle bracelet to ensure court appearance. In the past, binding legal agreements generally prevented children from being detained for more than 20 days, while single adults were more likely to be detained indefinitely while awaiting their asylum hearing. In 2019, the government announced new regulations allowing children to be detained throughout the court process, though these new rules have been challenged in court. Once the asylum-seeker goes to court, he or she will be approved if the government believes he or she has established that they qualify for asylum under the law, and they will be allowed to stay. If not, they are likely to be deported.
- Land Arrival: If an individual arrives at the U.S.-Mexico border and presents his/herself, the process is generally similar to the airport arrival. However, in the past few years, the Customs and Border Protection has implemented a new policy known as “metering,” where those seeking to approach the port of entry (where they would have the right to request asylum) are physically prevented from doing so, and told instead to wait their turn. Asylum seekers can wait for weeks or even months on the Mexican side of the border for their “turn” to approach the port and request asylum. At that point they would be detained at least temporarily similar to airport arrival. Often churches and non-profit organizations in border communities helped these families arrange travel to other parts of the U.S. where they had family or friends waiting to host them, and where their court hearings will be scheduled. In the past several months, however, this process has changed. Most individuals and families, if they pass the initial credible fear interview, are being returned to Mexico to await their court hearing. They could wait there for several months just for the first hearing, often in conditions that may be unsafe and where they are unable to access legal counsel or representation.
Additionally, as of July 16, 2019, individuals who passed through Mexico (or any other country, with very limited exceptions) are being required to demonstrate that they first applied for, and were denied, asylum protections in that country before being considered for asylum in the U.S. Because countries like Mexico and Guatemala have incredibly limited resources for adjudicating asylum requests, this could require a very long stay in these countries before being eligible for consideration in the U.S. Many do not want to stay in Mexico, as they fear being subjected to the same sorts of violence they sought to escape in their home countries. Many asylum seekers also already have relatives living in the U.S., with whom they’d prefer to live. This new policy has already been challenged in court, as many legal scholars believe that it violates U.S. law, but it is currently still in effect.
I’ve heard people are exploiting the asylum application process. Is that true?
It’s certainly true that not every individual who seeks asylum will eventually be found to qualify. However, that does not necessarily mean their claims are fraudulent and an individual is intentionally misrepresenting the truth. Many simply do not understand the requirements for asylum – that it is offered only to those with a credible fear of persecution for particular reasons under the law. Others may have a genuine fear of persecution for a reason qualifying under the law, but they lack the documentary evidence of their situation or the legal counsel to help sort elements of their situation that are relevant under the law. In other cases, the law itself has been re-interpreted in recent years such that individuals who might have had a strong chance of winning their case in the past – such as those with evidence of a credible fear of persecution from a gang or from an abusive husband – are now unlikely to win their cases because the U.S. government has narrowed the interpretation of what qualifies as a “social group” under the law. Our government should not tolerate fraud, but it also should not use concerns about fraud to exclude all asylum seekers, including those who clearly qualify under U.S. law.
At Women of Welcome, our view is not that anyone who arrives should be allowed to stay in the U.S., but that all should receive due process and the opportunity to present their case, ideally with competent legal counsel, and that everyone – even if they are ultimately denied – should be treated humanely in U.S. custody and through this process.
Do immigrants take away jobs from American workers?
In discussions about the future of the American workforce, the focus tends to be on the increasing amount of education and skills that American workers will need. We lose sight of the fact that our economy will need workers at all skill levels. Between 2014 and 2024, eight of the top 15 job categories that will see the greatest growth will require no formal educational credentials. Jobs such as personal care aides, home health aides, food preparation workers, retail salespeople, cooks, construction laborers, janitors, and material movers are expected to increase by more than 2 million in the 10-year period from 17,537,000 jobs to 19,569,000 jobs, representing 21% of all new jobs.
As U.S.-born workers become more educated, they will be less inclined to look for low-skill jobs requiring a high school education or less. Similarly, an immigration system that is skewed toward accepting immigrants with high levels of education and skills (a bachelor’s degree or greater) will turn away workers who could fill jobs that require less education and training, but who are, nevertheless, crucial. This chart shows the skill level and educational requirements for the occupations that are projected to demand the greatest number of new workers between now and 2024.
Do undocumented immigrants pay taxes? Aren’t they just a drain on our system?
Immigrants, with or without legal status, are paying taxes, and most economists believe that they actually contribute more than they receive economically. A survey of economists by the It’s also been found that “legal immigrants use federal public benefit programs at lower rates than U.S.-born citizens. For example, 32.5 percent of native-born citizen adults receive SNAP benefits compared to 25.4 percent of naturalized citizen adults”.
How do immigrants affect U.S. crime statistics?
Crime is crime, no matter who commits it. Our legal system should seek justice for all victims. But we also can’t let striking stories of high-profile crimes cloud the truth. Most immigrants are not violent nor involved with gangs. Immigrants are actually less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. According to one study roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born. President Trump’s former Chief of Staff John Kelly, recently emphasized, “The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13.” Most immigrants come to the U.S. to pursue educational and economic opportunities, and have little to gain by committing crimes.
Why are immigrants coming in large caravans? Are they invading our border?
Migrants travel in caravans for many reasons. Some do so to bring attention to their plight, and others do so because traveling with a large group of people (caravan) provides much needed safety (especially for women and children) as they journey. Caravans are also considered a safer option than paying coyotes to smuggle them into the U.S. By choosing to travel in a caravan, migrants openly present themselves at the border. Migrants traveling in a caravan are seeking to adhere to the asylum process set out under U.S. law, as they’re traveling to the border in hopes of starting the application process. If they instead sought to be smuggled across the border by coyotes in violation of U.S. law, they case could later be found to be inadmissible in immigration court and they may risk committing an aggravated felony by taking part in a smuggling operation. (Source)
Do immigrants bring new and different diseases to the U.S.?
The Center for Public Disease works with physicians around the world to ensure that immigrants and refugees are screened and treated for diseases that pose a public health risk to the US population, such as tuberculosis. They also work to ensure refugees have access to vaccinations for vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles and mumps. If an immigrant or refugee is found to have an inadmissible health-related condition, he or she must be treated prior to arrival in the United States
We know so many Women of Welcome want to help relieve the suffering of those seeking home and demonstrate love and care to those in their communities. We’ve created a resource that offers specific opportunities for getting involved.
Why do we need immigration reform?
The rule of law is very important, and the law should never be disregarded flippantly. At Women of Welcome, we don’t support illegal immigration or open borders, but we do know the issue of immigration is vastly complicated. Families are often living with mixed status (some family members have different legal status than others). Many families do not qualify for the pathways to Legal Permanent Residence. The needs of our economy and these families suffers when we refuse to update our immigration laws/system to meet the demands of the 21st century. Specifically we hope for an immigration system that would:
- Protect the rule of law
- Guarantee secure national borders
- Ensure fairness to taxpayers
- Respect the God-given dignity of every person
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
We also believe it’s important that if someone has broken the law that there is a way for them to make restitution and return to good standing. Immigrants should have the opportunity to make things right. Currently, there is no path for undocumented immigrations to adjust their status legally with the law/U.S. government.
Shouldn’t we just help people in their own countries?
We believe it’s incredibly important to help others in their own country. A few women from Women of Welcome visited the border and every migrant they spoke with said that they didn’t wish to leave their home country. When sharing their stories with our team, parents told us they felt as if they had no choice, that this was the only way they could provide for and protect their children. It’s an excruciating choice to leave home. But most mothers said regardless of the dangers, they would do anything to provide a better life for their children.
Women of Welcome is run in partnership with World Relief, the relief and development arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. They do significant work around the world to come alongside families and communities that need assistance in strengthening their support systems so families won’t have to flee their homes, and we support their effort.
Why don’t people stay and try to fix their own governments?
Many people are working to improve their countries of origin. However, in some cases, the risks of staying are simply too great. When we read Scripture, we see a plethora of examples of migrating families fleeing for safety or better opportunities. The Bible tells us how the Israelites followed Moses in leaving Egypt (rather than simply staying to fix the country in which they had been enslaved) and Joseph obediently fled Bethlehem with Mary and Jesus when Herod was seeking to kill all baby boys under the age of two (rather than staying in Bethlehem and seeking to defend his family, violently if necessary). Consider what it would be like to leave everything you’ve ever known, not because you wanted to, but because you felt you had no other choice in order to survive. For the vast majority of immigrants, leaving their home and community is a decision full of grief and is incredibly hard.
There are so many vulnerable people in need here in the U.S. Shouldn’t we help them first?
It’s hard to see so much need around us and know where to start. We believe this question should be answered from a Kingdom-minded perspective. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 tells us how the Lord intends the Body of Christ to operate. The Body is designed to work differently and yet cohesively together in our various callings and passions. If your time and resources are spent helping those who are in need in your own community, that is wonderful! There’s a common notion that in order to regain order and fairness in society we have to pit one vulnerable population against another. But we believe every person is made in the image of God and are of equal importance to Him. This belief gives all of us the freedom to advocate for anyone we know who is in need. We highly encourage you to get involved in whatever passion/ministry work you feel God has equipped you for, and to serve those you see in need. There are many great organizations we love and appreciate that restore dignity, demonstrate love, and meet the tangible needs of people here in the U.S.
Women of Welcome is a community of Christian women, committed to living out Christ-like hospitality for all God’s children, specifically for “the stranger.” We are a partnership between World Relief and the National Immigration Forum (NIF). Evangelical leaders at World Relief and leaders at NIF recognized there was an interest among Evangelical women in having a conversation about immigration. Many World Relief staff speak in churches and could see that people want to go beyond the social media debates and be able to learn more about this topic. Especially as more women and children are arriving at the border, women want to know their stories and learn how we can love our sisters in Christ. Women of Welcome fosters these conversations and creates Bible-based resources for women to share in their churches, small groups, and homes.
Who are World Relief and National Immigration Forum?
World Relief is the relief and development arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. The National Immigration Forum is a non-partisan, policy organization that advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to our nation. At Women of Welcome, World Relief provides biblical and theological leadership, and the National Immigration Forum is a partner in current events and policy.
Do you have a specific political stance?
A lot of Christians, including Women of Welcome, hold a wide variety of stances on issues of immigration. But we are all united in the belief that God calls us to have welcoming hearts toward “the stranger.” We seek to provide resources and opportunities for Christians to learn more about Scripture and immigration policy to engage more accurately and thoroughly in this complex issue. One helpful resource is the Evangelical Immigration Table and their statement of principles.
Many have questions about the stance concerning open borders or the wall along our southern border. We believe the U.S. should have secure borders. Our government has a reasonable responsibility to ensure that no one seeking harm to the U.S. (or its citizens) is allowed to enter the country. But we can also be pro-immigrant, living into our country’s legacy of welcoming people from throughout the world who want to become Americans. We’ve long championed policies that would make it harder to immigrate unlawfully but easier to immigrate lawfully. We also support policies that create processes by which those living unlawfully in the U.S. could admit their violation of law, pay an appropriate penalty, and then earn the chance to remain lawfully in the United States.
What is Biblical hospitality?
The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia; which literally means “the love of strangers.”
Our mission at Women of Welcome is to follow Christ’s example of love, invitation and welcome, especially to those whom society has deemed unworthy and unacceptable. Jesus went looking for these forgotten and hidden people, intentionally bringing them back into relationship and community, for His glory. We seek to do the same.