Book Review

Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang. 2018, 2nd edition. Welcome the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Downers Grove: IVP. 274 pp. Reviewed by Jerry Ireland, PhD.

In Welcome the Stranger, Soerens and Yang address many of the contentious issues surrounding the immigration debate in the United States. They do so with evidence-based arguments and balance, with personal stories, and from hands-on experience.

This book published by IVP Books in cooperation with World Relief (where both Soerencs and Yang are employed), is the second edition of an earlier version published in 2009. Chapter one describes the “Immigration Dilemma” and sets the agenda for the text. “This book seeks to address the most common questions and misconceptions that we and other Christians have wrestled with as we consider the immigration ‘problem.’” Here we learn that the authors write not only from their academic expertise, but also from their experience working with immigrants (Soerens) and growing up as the child of immigrants (Yang). Chapter two addresses the question of who immigrants in the U.S. are, where they come from, and why they are here. Against false assumptions, one learns that, for example, that only about 25 % of foreign-born residents in the US are here illegally (p. 23). Chapter three provides a very important historical perspective on immigration in the U.S., noting that the issue has always been something of a mixed bag, but also that many of our ancestors came to the U.S. for some of the same reasons and in the same way that immigrants come today. That is, they fled desperate conditions in hopes of a better life and did so without any sort of prior paperwork. In that sense, they were just as “illegal” as many immigrants today (57). Chapter four lays out the tremendous difficulty and cost involved in coming to the U.S. legally, and that most legal immigrants in the U.S. didn’t start off that way, but explored one of four main paths allowing people to become a Lawful Permanent Resident. Chapter five discusses immigration from a biblical perspective, setting the issue not only within the Bible’s many admonishments to be generous to foreigners, but also framing the discussion in the context of justice. Chapter six deals with why people object to immigration, and chapter seven discusses the positive impact that immigrants make on the U.S. Chapter eight focuses on the political climates that shape immigration policy and offers concrete ideas for immigration reform. Finally, chapters nine and ten deal with what both churches and individuals can do.

This book has many strengths, but its greatest is that it offers a way past the rhetoric so that the reader can better understand the issue of immigration in the United States. Sadly, too often the truths of immigration, such as the fact that an undocumented immigrant is more likely to be an evangelical pastor than a murderer (p. 21), become obscured behind exaggerated or false statistics. Nor do most evangelicals seem aware that at least one prominent promoter of lower immigrant numbers, John Tanton who leads three prominent anti-immigration groups, also supports Planned Parenthood and lauds China’s one child policy. The point being that “few Christians would affirm such extreme views, but many consume misinformation about immigrants from sources motivated by the same population control ideologies without realizing it” (p. 22).

Also helpful is the discussion of a biblical perspective on immigration and the authors do a fine job of dealing with passages not only regarding how Israel was commanded to be just and generous to foreigners in their midst (e.g. Deut 14:28-29), but also that Christians must decide if laws regarding immigrants are just laws. If not, then believers have an abiding responsibility to reject those laws (p. 91). Other notable point of interest for the church in this book are:

  • a widely circulated Fox News report that illegal immigrants commit 13.6 percent of all crimes in the US, is patently false because it only examines Federal crimes, and 90% of all crimes committed in the US are not Federal crimes. (pp. 20-21)
  • About 1/3 of all undocumented immigrants have at least one US-citizen child, accounting for 4.5 million US-citizen children
  • The US has a sordid history of ill-treatment of immigrants, sometimes built on blatantly racist policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the “Know Nothing” party that sought to limit more German and Irish immigrants, and the Immigration Restriction League of 1894 (ch. 2)
  • The notion that entering the US via Ellis Island was a more humane and more legal process is simply false as there was no process for a pre-arranged visa at that time. (ch. 3)
  • Many illegal immigrants pay taxes but do not reap any social service benefits, often because they become employed with false SSNs. They pay about $12 billion annually into the social security system but will never see any benefits. (p. 28).

Aside from these statistics that often get lost or ignored, perhaps the most effective aspect of this book is that it puts a human face to the immigration issue. No matter what side of this issue you’re on, reading this book is certainly to make you better informed. And it may even make you a bit more compassionate towards those who come here, as did many of our ancestors, hoping against all odds for a better future for their children. I highly recommend this book!