FIRST-PERSON: A moral and just response to the immigration crisis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The time has come for our nation to resolve its immigration crisis. It is imperative that we find an acceptable solution to the plight of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in our nation. Currently, the two extremes of deportation or amnesty are being played against each other, resulting in a stalemate in Congress and growing frustration and division in society.
The recent passage of the new law in Arizona is a cry for help from the citizens of a state made desperate by the federal government’s shameful and flagrant dereliction to its duty to control the nation’s borders and to enforce its laws. This is manifestly a federal responsibility and the U.S. government has failed in its responsibilities to its citizens under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
The Arizona law is a symptom, not a solution. While I sympathize with the plight of the beleaguered citizens of Arizona, the law they have passed faces severe challenges. Attorneys I trust and respect tell me that if the law survives the manifold court challenges it faces and goes into effect, it will be abused by genuinely bad people (like drug dealers and human traffickers) whose unscrupulous lawyers will claim falsely that they were victims of racial profiling and prejudice when they were arrested legitimately.
Neither of the extreme solutions of deportation or amnesty are appropriate, workable solutions. To force those who are here illegally to leave is neither politically viable nor humanitarian. To offer “amnesty” to those who broke the immigration laws of our country is disrespectful of the rule of law. What is needed is a solution that respects the rule of law while at the same time treats undocumented immigrants compassionately.
As Christians, we must think through the question of illegal immigration not only as concerned citizens, but also as compassionate Christians. As citizens of the United States we have a right to expect the government to fulfill its divinely ordained mandate to punish those who break the law and to reward those who do not (Romans 13:1-7).
As citizens of the heavenly kingdom (the church), we also have a divine mandate to act redemptively and compassionately toward those in need. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12). Our Lord instructed His followers to meet the needs of those who are suffering (Matthew 25:31-36). The writer of the Book of Hebrews instructed his readers to “show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2).
As U.S. citizens we have a right to expect the federal government to enforce the laws regarding who may cross our borders. Border security is a question of national security, domestic safety and tranquility, and the federal government fulfilling its divinely mandated responsibilities to enforce the law.
As people of faith we must lead our churches to engage in multi-faceted human needs ministries on a massive scale to meet the physical and spiritual needs of millions of men, women and children living in the shadows of society where they are exploited by the unscrupulous and victimized by predators.
As citizens, we also have a responsibility to help our nation respond to the plight of these millions of people in a manner that respects their innate dignity and humanity. The millions of undocumented workers living among us suffer as outcasts without the full protections of the law or full access to the opportunities this nation offers to all to fulfill their God-given potential.
It is imperative that the U.S. Congress -- consistent with national sovereignty and national security -- expeditiously find a way to resolve this moral problem in ways that are consistent with our national ideals.
I favor a measure that includes controlling the borders and enforcing immigration laws inside the country first, while offering no amnesty for lawbreakers. This is my position and the position that emerges from any fair and objective reading of a resolution on immigration that Southern Baptists adopted at their annual convention in June 2006.
The resolution calls on the federal government “to address seriously and swiftly the question of how to deal realistically with the immigration crisis in a way that will restore trust among the citizenry.”
It also stresses that it is the government’s obligation “to enforce all immigration laws, including the laws directed at employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants or who are unjustly paying these immigrants substandard wages or subjecting them to conditions that are contrary to the labor laws of our country.”
Proper reform should consist of a program that provides an earned pathway that requires an illegal immigrant who desires to remain legally in the U.S. to undergo a criminal background check, pay a fine, agree to pay back taxes, learn to speak, write, and read English and get in line behind those who are legally migrating into this country in order to apply for permanent residence after a probationary period of years. They must also acknowledge and pledge allegiance to America’s governmental structure, the duties of citizenship and our core values as embodied in the Declaration of Independence. People who fail background checks or who refuse to comply with this generous opportunity to earn legal status, should be deported immediately.
This is not amnesty. Amnesty is what President Carter gave the draft dodgers who came home from Canada with no penalties, no fines, and no requirements whatsoever.
It should be remembered that most of these undocumented workers who have broken the law (and thus should be penalized) came here in order to work whereas most of our home-grown criminals break the law in order to avoid work.
While the government focuses on enforcing the law, Christians are mandated to forgive and reflect God’s grace toward all people within their communities, including illegal immigrants. The recent SBC resolution encouraged “churches to act redemptively and reach out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants.”
As citizens of the Lord’s heavenly Kingdom, we have a divine mandate to respond compassionately toward those who are in need.
There is neither the political nor economic will in the U.S. population for forcibly rounding up 12 million people -- many of them who have children who are American citizens -- and shipping them back to their country of origin. Politics and public policy are the “art of the possible.” The reality is that it is not feasible for the United States government to attempt to deport 12 million people. There has to be another way to resolve this issue.
In hopes of providing a biblical solution to this matter, I have joined with other evangelicals in calling for bipartisan immigration reform that:
-- Respects the God-given dignity of every person;
-- Protects the unity of the immediate family;
-- Respects the rule of law;
-- Guarantees secure national borders;
-- Ensures fairness to taxpayers; and,
-- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.
The reality is that we have been, and are, a nation of immigrant settlers, and the descendents of such settlers, who braved oceans and many obstacles to come to this matchless land of opportunity to become Americans. Whether our ancestors came early, or late, we are Americans, whatever nationality may be used to describe our heritage before we arrived. We should, and we will, always have room in this great nation for those who are willing to embrace the American dream and the American ideals that both inspired that dream and define it.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.