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Where should Christians stand on immigration?

The rise of UKIP made it inevitable that immigration would be a big issue in this election. Net inward migration has risen steeply since 1997 when restrictions were relaxed. Freedom of movement is a foundation principle of the EU and the recovery of the British economy has attracted large numbers from other member states. Numbers of incomers from elsewhere have declined but David Cameron’s pledge to reduce net migration to tens of thousands has not been achieved because EU citizens have a right to come here. So what are we voters to make of this?

The Jubilee Centre has published a pamphlet to help Christian voters get to grips with this issue. They remind us that immigrants are not a homogeneous group. Some seek asylum from persecution in their homeland. Others have been recruited for their skills. Students come for a course and only stay if offered jobs. Many come because Britain has a strong economy and good public services. Some come illegally and more than 14,000 were detained last year, often working in ethnic restaurants.

We disagree about the merits of free movement. Some want us to leave the EU and cut immigration; others take the opposite view and see a need for young immigrant workers to fill jobs in our ageing society. They remind us that 5.5 million Britons permanently live and work abroad and they appreciate the positive contributions of immigrants. Their opponents are concerned about the pressures on our public services: school class sizes, NHS waiting times and housing shortages. In some communities there are growing fears that Islamic immigrants may include extremists. 2.7 million Muslims (4.7% of the population) live here and only a small minority - such as the 7/7 London bombers - constitute a threat. How immigrants are integrated in British society and culture – learning the language and sharing values of tolerance and citizenship – is an issue for the hosts as well as the incomers.

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

The Jubilee pamphlet draws on biblical teaching to help us prayerfully consider our own attitudes and voting intentions. Whilst the Old Testament portrays Israel as wary of foreigners who might lure Israelites away from Yahweh and the Laws given to Moses, it still expects them to act justly towards resident aliens. Those aliens could integrate like Ruth. The New Testament offers a wider perspective. We are all made in the image of our Creator and called to love our neighbours and show them grace and mercy regardless of their birth origins. It is noteworthy that immigrants may be active Christians. In London roughly 8% of indigenous white people attend church. 16% of Asian immigrants and 19% of Black people do so. That is why church attendance in London is growing faster than anywhere else in the country.

This is a sensitive issue and merits prayerful reflection before we vote. As Christians we have a special responsibility to act as citizens of the Kingdom of God as well as the UK.

For a booklet from the Jubilee Centre on Immigration and Justice click here

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