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Think. Discuss. Act. Immigration

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Review: Welcoming The Stranger

Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang (2009) Welcoming the Stranger, InterVarsity Press, 240pp.


Do the terms: alien, immigrant, refugee all mean the same to you. Do you sense strong opinions and stereotypes about aliens or immigrants from those around you?

In their compelling and informative book, immigration experts Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang explore and explode some of the beliefs, stereotypes and misgivings many Americans have toward immigrants and immigration policy. The authors work in advocacy and legal counsel for World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. Besides their professional expertise, both have first-hand experience living among legal and undocumented immigrants, giving them a compassionate touch and insider’s perspective.

The authors open their book by giving historical and modern-day definitions as to who an “immigrant” is and what role they have played in shaping our nation’s history and identity. In general there are four statuses of foreigners residing in America:
• legal nonimmigrant,

• Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR),

• U.S. Citizen, and

• illegal (undocumented) immigrant.

(Refugees generally become LPR’s after one year, and so fall into a unique

Each of these statuses is defined and statistics are given on current population estimates in America. The book addresses various facets of the immigration debate, and shows how those who are for tightening border security and for relaxing naturalization policies are not inconsistent with one another, as often thought.

Soerens and Hwang do an excellent job validating the concerns of those opposed to more lax immigration laws while balancing fears with facts. In recalling our nation’s rich immigration history, they remind us that being “America” means being a land of freedom for all. Part of the very beauty and uniqueness of America is its multi-ethnicity.

The most compelling aspect of the book (for readers of faith) is the biblical foundation it gives for the compassionate and just treatment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status. The authors want Christians, especially evangelicals, with whom they align, to be as concerned for the cohesion of the immigrant family as they are with their own families. The immigration issue must be looked at as a justice issue. Part of the authors’ mission is to inspire American Christians to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8) by giving of their time, money, hospitality and service to the immigrants who have no voice in this country. The book is a challenge to empathize with the hardships and feelings of futility faced by undocumented immigrants, described as mostly sincere, hard-working people, instead of viewing them as criminals. Yet in no way do the authors endorse illegal activity; rather they encourage Christians to speak out against unfair policies. They write: 

We do not condone any violations of the law, such as living in the United States illegally, but we recognize that our complex and inadequate immigration system has made it nearly impossible for many of the hard-working people our country needs to enter or remain in the country legally and/or reunite with family members” (p. 198).

They dedicate two chapters to practical suggestions on how churches can minister to immigrants. They also provide World Relief’s Statement in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, congressional legislation which is endorsed by many faith organizations and defined by these four principles: (1) border protection policies consistent with humanitarian values, (2) reforms in family-based immigration to reduce backlogs, (3) creation of legal avenues for workers and their families, and (4) earned legalization of undocumented immigrants (p. 140-142). Legislation in America alone will not solve the immigration dilemma; the government also faces the challenge of addressing root causes of migration, like poverty and oppression, and how to assist in economic development of sending countries in order to curb incoming immigration.

Immigration complexities easily lend misunderstandings and dispute in dialogue regarding immigration. Helpfully, the book’s resource-rich appendix offers a section with discussion questions for each chapter. Also included are lists of various humanitarian organizations serving immigrants and refugees to help the reader become more involved with advocacy. In our globalized society, immigration is an issue we cannot be ignorant or passive about. As stated by Dr Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “Immigration continues to transform the evangelical landscape. In twenty years, African, Asian, Latin American Evangelicals/evangelicals will likely be at the forefront of [global] movements and within the US” (in “USA Evangelicals/Evangelicals in a Global Context,” Lausanne World Pulse, January 2006). The same article claims that the fastest growing among evangelicals in America are the Independent immigrant churches. The challenge to the church is how to live up to the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger” (Gen. 18:1-6, Dt. 10:18-19).

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. How important do you consider the issue of refugees and immigration to be?

2. What is your opinion on these matters, and how was it formed? Has your opinion changed any in recent times? How open are you toward some change in your opinions?

3. Have you read and listened to those with a different opinion than your own?

4. What was your reaction and response to the book here reviewed? Do you think it was reviewed fairly? What would be your comments, criticisms or suggestions?

5. Do you think it possible for those who approach this issue strictly from a humanitarian position and those who do so from a faith perspective, to arrive at some common conclusions?


1. The U.S. and, further back in history, all countries, owe their existence to incoming people groups, immigrants.

2. The gap between haves and have nots is huge within all countries around the world, and also, between richer and poorer countries. Elites, the world over, appear from the perspective of many, to have too much; while the poorest poor struggle in desperate situations to feed their children and survive.

3. Globalization has made the movement of the world’s people more extensive than ever. All “developed countries” have barriers to protect themselves against an overwhelming influx of poor.

4. Acceptance of some reasonable amount of immigrants, and development of underdeveloped economies, would seem not only to be the right thing to do, but the necessary response or richer countries if they are to preserve global and internal peace.

5. To move in such a direction will necessitate the changing of opinions about the poor and the immigrant. That is what this book is about.

Cindy Wu (with Dean Borgman)
© 2018 CYS

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