Immigration continues to dominate much of the discussion among Republican presidential candidates. The issue sparked a fierce back-and-forth exchange between candidates Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney during the recent CNN/YouTube debate.

Another candidate, Tom Tancredo, has made the issue the primary focus of his campaign, even releasing a television ad that attempts to scare people to vote for him to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the border and blowing people up.

Romney, who is losing his long-held lead in Iowa to former Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, recently attacked Huckabee on the issue of immigration. At contention was a proposal by Huckabee when he was governor of Arkansas that children of illegal immigrants receive the same college scholarships as other Arkansas children.

“He may be conservative on social issues,” Romney argued, “but when it comes to economic issues like immigration, he’s a liberal on immigration. He fought for tuition breaks for illegal aliens.”

In the attack, Romney argued that immigration is an economic issue and not a social one. But should the issue be viewed merely as economic? Or does such a framing of the debate misrepresent key aspects of the issue?

Although there are clearly economic aspects to the issue as the individuals are coming into this country for jobs, putting on the economic blinders hides critically important points. The attempt to frame immigration as solely an economic issue might explain some of the arguments made by some on the issue.

Recently, a man entering the United States illegally saved the life of a young boy who survived a car wreck that killed his mother. The man gave food and clothes to the boy and started a fire to attract border patrol agents so that the boy could receive needed attention. The boy is now fine and has been reunited with family, but his hero was promptly shipped back to Mexico. Apparently there is no grace for even a “good Samaritan.”

Under a purely economic perspective, the illegal immigrant is not viewed as another person and thus cannot be rewarded for his caring actions. It is as if an object or tool has been moved and thus must be shipped back to where it belongs.

And yet, Jesus used a story about a similar man ”a man of a different race who was looked down upon by most in society ”as the example of how we are supposed to live and treat others. Rather than returning that attitude of being a good neighbor, we instead deport the man and just keep walking on the other side of border.

While the modern “Good Samaritan” is shipped out, many conservative Christians instead keep clamoring for President George W. Bush to pardon two border patrol agents who shot an unarmed man ”who was in the country illegally ”from behind. The two agents ”who initially lied about and tried to cover up the shooting ”were convicted for failing to follow the very laws they swore to uphold.

Under an economic perspective, their actions are no big deal. So what if they hurt a product or asset that was in the wrong place. Their lives are superior and their actions are justified no matter what the circumstances. The cost-benefit analysis always comes down on the side of border agents because they are viewed as valuable humans and the illegal immigrants are not.

However, the Christian faith should know no boundaries or nationalities. Our neighbors are not just those like us but ”like the Samaritan ”those who look, speak and live differently than us.

Thus, certain actions ”like shooting an unarmed person from behind ”cannot be justified because of the victim’s identity. We must seek justice for all people and punish the wrongdoers in each case.

Finally, one of the most contentious issues in the current immigration political debate is one of the charges that Romney leveled against Huckabee ”taking care of the children of illegal immigrants.

Under an economic model, the focus is all about the bottom line and providing nice dividends for investors. The people in general ”especially those not “paying their fair share” ”do not really matter except as potential consumers who will hand over their money.

If, however, the social implications of immigration are considered it becomes impossible to justify not taking care of those who are literally among “the least of these.” Jesus told his disciples not to keep the children from him and warned them to not harm the little ones. Thus, it does seem quite wrong to punish or neglect children because of the actions of their parents.

During the 1992 presidential election, Bill Clinton’s advisors urged him to remember, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

It seems that the pocketbook argument continues to guide the political decisions of many politicians today. However, economic issues cannot be considered black-and-white decisions with no moral or social implications. As evangelical activist Jim Wallis has argued, “budgets are moral documents.”

Likewise, how we treat our neighbors from south of the border are moral, social decisions.

Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.

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