Millennial Attitudes on Immigration


Has your congregation weighed in on the Border Crisis, the Border Wall, refugees, the immigration debate, and how America should respond?

The viewpoint of your church, and the ways in which your position has been articulated, could have an impact on how well your congregation connects with U. S. Millennials.

The Washington Post took up this question in an article by Stella Rouse, “Republicans’ Hard-Line Stance on Immigration May Alienate Millennials for Years.” The headline sums up the findings.

Here are a few particulars from the article:

The Millennial generation is the most diverse adult generation in U.S. history. Hispanics make up 21 percent of all U.S. millennials. My research shows that this diversity contributes to their more progressive and tolerant attitudes toward immigration, compared with older adults.

In my book “The Politics of Millennials,” co-authored with Ashley Ross, we conducted a survey in late 2015 to gauge the generation’s attitudes toward immigrants. The online survey of 1,251 Americans (including an oversample of 621 Millennials) was fielded by Qualtrics, with quotas used to make the sample nationally representative. The survey matched U.S. Census figures for gender, race/ethnicity and region, and a weight was employed to calibrate sample so that it equals the general population of age groups.

Across a variety of measures, we found Millennials to be significantly more favorable toward immigrants and immigration than older Americans. For instance, one item asked respondents whether they thought immigrants “strengthened the diversity of the country” or “threatened traditional American values.” Among Millennials, 52 percent said immigrants strengthened the country’s diversity, while 48 percent said they threatened the country’s values. Among non-Millennials, those numbers were 41 and 59 percent, respectively.

We found similar divides when we asked respondents whether immigrants “only take jobs Americans do not want to do” or whether they “take jobs away from Americans.” Fifty-nine percent of Millennials gave the pro-immigrant response, while just 49 percent of non-Millennials did. Likewise, 45 percent of Millennials said illegal immigrants did not threaten the nation’s security, compared with 33 percent of non-Millennials.

If your congregation has made public statements on the immigration debate that have echoed the Republican Party’s talking points, then it is possible that Millennials have developed a negative association.

Political theology requires careful and sustaining thinking. These matters are far from simple. Some Christians are vocal in their support for open borders, a fast track to citizenship for immigrants, accepting more refugees, halting deportations, and generally fostering what they would describe as more welcoming policies to those seeking residence in the United States. They argue for these ideas on the basis of their theology and draw support from Scripture.

But these same advocates fail to outline a plan for assimilating new residents into the broader American culture, one that effectively imparts the sustaining ideas that are critical for living in a democracy. Maintaining a collective national identity does matter for the preservation of ideas like freedom, fairness, and justice. People do not become Americans by residing in America, just as people do not become Christians simply by attending a church.

On the other hand, some Christians advocate for strong law and order policies and the upholding of the rule of law. They believe immigration should be very limited and not all refugees should be admitted, and that the United States has a responsibility to care first for her own citizens.

According to this logic, the nearby, proximate neighbor takes precedence for action and care, while other countries are expected to take responsibility for their own problems and to address them in a localized manner. They also believe that the preservation of a strong American identity better lends itself toward being a good global citizen. In other words, “America First.”

But the arguments here can fail as well, equally lending itself toward proof texting. Jeff Sessions’s invocation of Romans 13 comes to mind. But if America is engaging in unjust practices and enforcing unjust laws, Christians have a higher responsibility to obey God. In recent memory, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement demonstrated this powerfully.

I am not arguing for one position or the other. In no way do I believe churches should avoid talk of immigration, or take a position over for pragmatic reasons. If you choose a position, you should believe it is true, and you should back it up with reasoned argument.

But I am advocating for careful thought and nuance, while raising awareness among church leaders that rhetoric mirroring that of one political party can have repercussions. Christians should be careful theologians, and this includes the area of political theology. So examine the issues, and then bring the witness of the Scriptures and the tradition to bear upon the key questions. Then, equip your people to have thoughtful conversations, emphasizing that Christians should care for the good of all people--regardless of race, citizenship, or nation of origin.

Those conversations may not always be easy, but they have the potential to be very good.