The Bible, immigration, and private property (Part 1)

A website on which I’ve encountered some good articles frames the illegal immigration issue as follows. I cite it here because it is, I think, not an uncommon viewpoint among many Christians.

Are the immigration laws of the United States unfair or unjust? Some think so, but that is not the issue. All developed countries in the world have immigration laws, some more strict than the USA’s, and some less strict, and all have to deal with illegal immigration. There is nothing in the Bible to prohibit a country from having completely open borders or to have completely closed borders. Romans 13:1–7 also gives the government the authority to punish lawbreakers. Whether the punishment is imprisonment, deportation, or even something more severe, it is within the rights of the government to determine.

I’ve emphasized the last sentence of that paragraph because I think it is the key assumption upon which the argument relies.

I believe, however, that it is an incorrect assumption for those who believe that the Bible, in addition to teaching about how Christians should relate to the state, affirms the principle of private property. In fact, the very same website says the following in regard to the question “What does the Bible say about capitalism?

In Genesis 1:28, God says we are to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. One aspect of this is that humans can own property in which they can exercise their dominion. Since we have both volition and private property rights, we can assume that we should have the freedom to exchange these private property rights in a free market where goods and services can be exchanged.

For a little bit more on the biblical roots of private property, take a look at this post by Dr. Jay W. Richards at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Perhaps some Christians do, nevertheless, reject the notion of private property and any rights arising therefrom. That very well may be a good topic for another post, but for now I want to focus on those Christians who agree with me that there is a right to private property that is not only consistent with Biblical Christianity, but also required by it.

For those who agree with me about private property, but who would also tend to agree with the paragraph about immigration above, I pose the following question: “Upon what Biblical basis do we conclude that ‘it is within the rights of the government to determine’ conditions for immigration?” In order to reach that conclusion, it seems clear to me that the underlying assumption must be that the state is the rightful property owner of all the land encompassed within its borders. If one accepts the idea of private property, that is the only basis on which one could conclude that the state has the “right” to exclude or admit people. Exclusion is the sort of right entailed by the right of private property (e.g., if I own an apple I have the right to “exclude” anyone else from eating it), but it’s a right held by the property owner, not someone else. Thus, for the state to tell someone living on the border with Mexico “You have no right to admit anyone from Mexico to your land unless we say so” is really for the state to say “We have the right to exclude people from this land because we are entitled to exercise the rights that would naturally belong only to the property owner.” The state (in effect, if not in so many words) has claimed ownership of all the land.

If the state’s claim to own all the land is a legitimate one, then it would naturally follow that the state can exclude people as it chooses. If, however, the state’s claim to ownership of all the land is not a legitimate one, then it is reasonable to conclude that its claim of a right to exclude certain individuals from the property of certain other individuals is, at the very least, a questionable one. How to resolve those questions will be a topic for another post. For the time being, I hope I’ve written enough here to at least get people thinking about this issue in ways that might not have occurred to them before.

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One response to “The Bible, immigration, and private property (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Bible, immigration, and private property (Part 3) | Providence, not Fate

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