Though the issue of illegal immigration is no stranger to America’s history, the perfect storm of 9/11,
the war against terror, political parties struggling for identity, and an economy that is moving from
recession to depression has brought the issue to the fore of not only American politics but also to the at-
tention of the church. Though our country may struggle to identify the “ethical” answer to the political
quagmire of “illegal immigration,” the church claims that her ethical standard, the Bible, is fixed for all
times, peoples, and places. How does the church respond then to the issue of illegal immigration? Carroll seeks to answer that question in a winsome and compassionate manner in Christians at the Border.
Carroll is no stranger to the issue since every member of his family has immigrated or knows
someone who has immigrated to the US. Recognizing that certain titles in the discussion can be
politically and emotionally charged, he replaces “illegal alien” with “undocumented immigrant.”
Carroll is convinced that many, including Christians, either consciously or unconsciously approach
the issue of illegal immigration from “passionate ideological arguments, economic wrangling, or
racial sentiment” (19). Carroll is not exhaustive, but he endeavors to reorient one’s thoughts on the
issue through a more biblical and theological lens.
Carroll sets the stage in chapter 1 by giving a brief history of Hispanic immigration focusing
on two of the most hotly debated issues: national identity and economic impact. He successfully
demonstrates that the issue is by no means simple. For example, many boldly speak out against
illegal immigration while reaping the benefits of the cheap labor that such a reality brings. But matters become more complicated when one realizes that many “undocumented immigrants” are real
confessing Christians. For this reason Carroll turns to the bible in chapters 2–4 in hopes offending
a “divine” answer to the matter.
Chapters 2 and 3 are devoted to the light that the Old Testament sheds on the matter of illegal
immigration. Carroll shows how the image of God bears upon the matter and also shows that many
of the characters in the OT were “foreigners.” Above all Carroll seeks to illustrate that foreigners
are “human beings” and need to be treated as such. In chapter 3 Carroll deals with the “treatment
of immigrant within the general ethos of hospitality that was common in the ancient world” and “the legislation concerning foreigners in Israel’s laws” (89).
In chapter 4 Carroll focuses on the light that the New Testament may shed on the issue. He works through Jesus’ teaching as modeled specifically with his interactions with “outsiders,” the general NT theme of “Christians as sojourners,” and then brie y addresses the thorny issue of Romans 13
where Christians are commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1). Instead
of starting with the lens of Rom. 13 and then reading the rest of the bible, especially the passages
about the “foreigners” in the OT in light of the Rom. 13, Carrol begins with the OT teaching about
foreigners together with Jesus’ teachings about hospitality and how to treat outsiders the starting
point and reads Rom. 13 through that lens. Or, to put in another way, Carroll employs the analogy
of scripture (i.e., the clearer passages govern the meaning of the more obscure passages) with a
theology of compassion and hospitality for the foreigner as the clear scriptural default while the
obedience to governing authorities is the more obscure passage.
Carroll is to be commended for moving the discussion forward. The bottom line is that there is
not a simple answer to this issue. What is needed is an honest and carefully nuanced position that
takes as many scenarios into account as possible. It just won’t do for Christians to say that the Bible
instructs us not to disobey the civil authorities without any quali cation that addresses the ineptitude of the American government to uphold its own laws. Blanket statements often times fail to deal
adequately with the issue at stake and the matter of the church’s role in ministering to Christians
who are illegal immigrants is no exception.
At the same time, though Carroll has made a valiant effort to push the conversation forward, his
own treatment of the text leaves much to be desired. It seems to this reviewer that Carroll has quite
possibly fallen into the same error as the proponents on the other side of the debate, that is, letting
one scriptural issue or theme become the theological black-hole that swallows every other objection. Given Carroll’s position, the political debate of immigration at the civil level almost seems to
become a gospel issue. Now this is a very hard pill to swallow but I’m not sure that the doctor prescribed it. To make connections between the Israelites treatment of the foreigner in the theocratic
Yahweh-centered cultic-community and the church’s treatment of the illegal alien (whatever his/her
ethnicity be) in the New Covenant era disconnected from any kind of church-state theocracy involves a necessary treatment of the relationship between the Old and New covenants. Carroll gives
virtually no space to such concerns. Carroll points out that the United States’ laws on immigration
are confused and contradictory concluding from this that they are unjust. Yet he doesn’t show, in
any concrete way, how this is the case. Carroll must show that the United States does not, somehow,
have the prerogative to make the immigration laws that it makes. This is a tall order.
The bottom line is that the church must have a biblical-theological answer to this pressing modern
issue and Carroll has made an earnest contribution to that discussion; for this he is to be commended.
May this book be a “stepping-stone” to further discussion for the good of Christ and His Kingdom.