One of the most admirable trends I’ve observed in American evangelicalism over the last several years is a renewed interest in adoption and foster care. Focus on the Family, for example, has done a remarkable and commendable job of partnering with local and state governments across the country with their “Wait No More” conferences, challenging Christian families to adopt children waiting in foster care for adoptive parents. More than 1,700 families have stepped forward in just the three years since implementation of this effort.
Adoption should be a no-brainer for Christians: the biblical mandate to care for the fatherless is clear and repeated, as is God’s judgment on those who fail to do so (Ex. 22:21-22, Deut. 10:18, Deut. 14:29, Deut. 24:17, Deut. 27:19, Job 29:12-16, Ps 94:6, Ps 146:9, Jer 7:6, Jer 22:3, Ezek 22:7, Zech 7:10, Mal 3:5, and many more. This is not a proof-texted idea). Not only that, but, as authors like Russell Moore, Tony Merida, Rick Morton, and David Platt have helped to highlight, the Bible uses adoption as one of the central metaphors for what it means to be a Christian. By Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we who were once spiritual orphans can be adopted by our Heavenly Father and brought into his family (Rom 8:15-17, Gal 4:4-7, Eph 1:3-7). Thousands of American Christians have an opportunity to extend a small taste of the grace we have received by adopting those waiting in foster care for a healthy home. Those not in a position or who do not feel called to adopt can find other ways to support those who do.
Tragically, according to a new report out last week, even as families within local churches are helping to clear the backlogs of kids waiting in foster care for a safe home, U.S. immigrant detention and deportation policies are adding many more to the foster care system. This often results in removing kids from healthy, supportive parents to do so. 5.5 million kids living in the U.S. have at least one undocumented parent, and as the Obama Administration has stepped up deportations in recent years—to a record 396,906 people last year—that has left many kids without their parents. They either wait for deportation hearings in detention facilities or have already been deported. 5,100 kids are currently in the foster care system as a result of detained or deported parents, according to a report last week (and that covered just 22 states). In some parts of the country, children of the detained and deported account for as much as 7% or 8% of the total number of kids in foster care.
That would be an unfortunate necessity if these kids’ parents were neglectful, abusive, or criminals who had to be jailed, but what’s even worse is that most of them are probably not. Only about one half of those deported last year had a criminal conviction of any kind, and many of those “criminals’” only offense was driving without a license (for which they were usually ineligible to apply) or an immigration violation. They were not deported because of violent offenses that would put children at risk. Beyond the 5,100 kids sent to foster care, many, many more whose parents have been deported are now being raised with a single parent or by relatives. I’ve known a few of these in my neighborhood, and it breaks my heart to see these kids growing up without the blessing of the healthy, intact families, that they had before my government got involved (spending billions of taxpayer dollars in the process, because detaining and deporting about 400,000 people per year costs a lot of money).
This is important because, beyond our biblical mandate to care for children and do nothing that would cause them to stumble (Mark 9:42), each of the many verses that I cited above that call us to care for the fatherless also reference another vulnerable group: the immigrant (or alien, sojourner, or foreigner, depending upon your English translation). Immigrant kids (and the children of immigrants, most of whom are actually US citizens) are vulnerable on multiple counts, and the Scripture directs us to care for and seek justice for them. Ministering to kids in foster care is a vital way to do so, but when kids are being placed there because, as Focus on the Family president Jim Daly has said “families are being torn apart” by deportation, we must also “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Pr 31:8), insisting that our representative government not divide safe and healthy families in the first place—and especially not in our name.
We also ought to remember that, alongside adoption, another metaphor the Apostle Paul uses to describe the gospel regards naturalization: I who was once “excluded from citizenship… without hope and without God in the world…have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13). As Gentiles, we who were shut out of God’s promise to Israel, are now “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Eph 2:19). The role of the U.S. government may differ than that of the individual Christian. It is to say that, in the government’s responsibility to uphold the rule of law, it may be necessary to require a penalty (such as a fine) to allow undocumented parents to earn legal status and eventual U.S. citizenship. However, we who have been so graciously included into God’s Kingdom should not be so quick to insist that others be excluded from this much less valuable, temporary country in which we were privileged to be born.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. This blog originally appeared at UnDocumented.tv.