Immigration and the Christian Conservative

Recent initiatives among Christian conservatives to craft and present to the country a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) fly in the face of the supposedly conservative hard line  position of “round ‘em up and ship ‘em back.” In spite of how seemingly late Christian conservatives have come to uniting behind a reform of immigration that employs both Christian and conservative principles, formulating and implementing such a response to immigration brings Catholics and Evangelicals together in common witness on a roiling issue.  It is to be hoped that they have not come too late and that the national attention drawn by the Arizona situation provides an opening for their voices to be heard. To that end let’s consider what conservative and Christian principles together shed light for our country on responding to this dire problem.

Defense and the Rule of Law

It is a conservative principle that the roles and power of government must be limited and placed in proper hierarchal order to allow space for other social organizations to flourish.  The roles of government must not encroach upon the rights of persons, families, and the Church and not all roles are of equal priority. In spite of that, the situation is such that the several things needed to be done, regardless of their usual relative priority, have to be done together.

The first priority of government is found in St. Paul’s observation that the government “bears the sword” as God’s servant (Romans 13:4). The sword serves properly when used in just defense of the population and in upholding the rule of law.

Illegal immigrations, especially in the rampant numbers coming across the US southern border, have always been a security threat. Since the rise of Islamic terrorism, this threat has gone from severe to urgent and is now critical. Reports are increasing that Hezbollah is cooperating with Mexican drug cartels. It is public record that persons from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen  have been among illegal entrants  captured and detained in Arizona.

Properly securing the borders of this country must be the first priority of any immigration policy and enforcing existing laws, especially as regards employing illegal aliens, runs a close second. Deborah Honeycutt, a candidate for US congress outlines the legal enforcement needed:

  • Mandatory employer verification of worker eligibility to work in the United States.
  • Stiff penalties for knowingly hiring illegal workers, not fines that are considered by businesses as simply “a cost of doing business.”
  • Prohibit illegal aliens from any access to Social Security and other government benefits.
  • Prohibit companies that hire illegals from receiving government contracts.
  • End the current “Catch and Release” policy by making expedited removal of illegal aliens mandatory.

But for the sake of both security and justice, these things have to done in concert with offering a path to citizenship for those already here illegally.

To a large extent the food security and the viability of food production in the United States depends right now on “undocumented workers.”  This is another reason why all the pieces of immigration reform have to be done together — it has to be comprehensive.  Anything less will, at best, drive up food prices — especially to the detriment of America’s poor –  and, at worst, cause food shortages that negatively impact our national security.

Security and Families

The simple fact is that many of the people who are here illegally are members of families with mixed immigration/citizenship status.  Immigration hardliners who espouse the “round ‘em up and ship ‘em back” approach are failing to come to terms with the security implications (not to mention the moral and spiritual hazard) of doing this kind of massive damage to families.

Right now the incarceration rates among certain minorities is so high that police make special efforts in many large cities to reach out to youngsters whose parents are imprisoned.  They do this as a matter of (usually Christian-motivated) charity, but also as a prophylactic measure.  They understand that the basic civil loyalty of these children – their ability to see the law as a good thing, their assent to living a law-abiding life , their conception of law enforcement officers as “friends” – these things that so many of us take for granted as a normal part of civic life, has been damaged.  “The police,” for these children, are the “bad people who locked up my Daddy.”  Their hearts are wounded and the police know that preventing them from becoming criminals in turn requires some medicine to that wound.  This is not even a patch on what this country would be fostering if we did not provide a path to citizenship for those who are here.

If the US, as a nation, ends up being perceived as “the country that sent my Daddy away” or “the country that made my Mommy and baby brother go away” how will this country ever accomplish the assimilation and claim the loyalty of the next generation directly affected by these policies?  We will instead be clutching a viper to our bosom, creating the seeds of homegrown rebellion.  I do not even think that this country has the stomach to force the millions of family separations that hard line policies would  create and it is not a conservative position to advocate for such policies.  Both conservatism and Christianity recognize the prior membership of the citizen in the family and the obligation of the law to protect the family unit and keep it intact where possible.

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. …

The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. …

The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family (CCC 2207-2210).

The Christian Role

The Christian imperative of charity cannot tolerate the status quo on immigration in this country and fortunately Christians are in a position to vigorously move the national dialogue forward.  Voter education on this issue falls naturally within the purview of churches. Among the Christian leaders to testify July 14th before the House Committee on Immigration was Richard Land, President, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land outlined the core demands that we can rally around and the support of which we can communicate to those desiring our votes this November:

Fundamentally, Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals view immigration through the lens of their faith. As citizens of the United States, we—meaning Southern Baptists— have an obligation to support the government and the government’s laws for conscience’ sake (Romans 13:7). We also have a right to expect the government to fulfill its divinely ordained mandate to punish those who break the laws and reward those who do not (Romans 13:1-7). But, Southern Baptists also recognize a biblical mandate to care for “the least of these among us” (Matthew 25:34-40), to care for the “strangers” who reside in our land (Leviticus 19:34; Hebrews 13:2), and to act justly and mercifully (Micah 6:8).

Bearing this in mind, Southern Baptists pledged in the 2006 resolution to, among other things, “act redemptively and reach out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants, to start English classes on a massive scale, and to encourage them toward a path of legal status and/or citizenship.”

Acts of mercy by the church have been and will remain insufficient to repair our broken immigration system. Nor is the church’s responsibility equivalent to the government’s. While Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals will do their part individually and collectively as churches to reach out to those here illegally, only a proper government response can resolve our immigration crisis.

Over the last four years, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has repeatedly called for comprehensive immigration reform. In April 2006, two months prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s formal action on the issue, I laid out the parameters of a plan to address our immigration problem in a comprehensive manner. My holistic approach, published in Baptist Press, rests on three broad pillars that expand upon the Convention’s resolution: a secure border, enforcement of internal immigration laws, and a path to legal status and expanded guest-worker program.

Land’s approach closely matched the testimony of Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as reported in the USCCB’s coverage of the event:

The testimony the bishop delivered made several points about what comprehensive immigration reform should include.

A new immigration law should “honor the rule of law and help restore it by requiring 11 million undocumented (immigrants) to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English and get in the back of the line,” the bishop said. “We believe this (is) a proportionate penalty.”

The bishop said federal law should be enforced and those who do not uphold the law should be held accountable.

Bishop Kicanas said immigration reform would help to make the nation more secure and focused on “those coming who intend to do us harm.”

Others who testified at the hearing included the Rev. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University’s School of Law; and James Edwards, fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

All of these men, from different religious and political viewpoints, came to a unanimous conclusion that the policy Congress should adopt for new immigrants must include an English competency requirement and a means to ensure them an earned pathway to legal status.

They disagreed, however, on the best solution for the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

Bishop Kicanas said that at minimum one measure would be a temporary residence program for the undocumented immigrants living in the United States to “force them to come out of the shadows.”

The matter of immigrants’ family ties being broken by immigration policy was often debated.

Committee member Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., asked the bishop his view on separating immigrant families, specifically those who take part in immigrant worker programs.

Bishop Kicanas said he was basing his answer on what the church teaches, that is families must be kept together.

As both Land’s and Bishop Kicanas’ testimony indicated, the accomplishment of legislation will be just the beginning. Churches already lead the way in many communities in providing services that help immigrants assimilate into the country. Offering education for immigrants on the path to citizenship can help form them as citizens even while encouraging their ties to faith communities helps to form them as Christians.

It means we have our work cut out for us.

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  • liturgylover

    What does a person tell the legal immigrants who are suffering through the legal system (which includes completing one set of requirements just to be told that “there are a few more things you need to do” before the other person can even be queued into the system? I have many friends who are separated from their loved ones who are back in Mexico, because our red tape is so slow to be cut in the INS system. They are going through the legal immigration process, only to see that those here illegally are probably going to be offered citizenship or at least legal status. These law-abiding folks will still be waiting at the INS office for a little hope, while those who are lawbreakers reap the benefits of being here legally with amnesty! How fair is that?

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