Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why I Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and Hope Others Will Do The Same

Those who know me well would likely identify me with the conservative end of the political spectrum.  And I guess that is true.  My biblical convictions on the sanctity of life, including both opposition to legalized abortion and the protection of life through sanctioning capital punishment is certainly at that end of the debate.  I tend to oppose efforts of the government to "parent" people, preferring that it stick to its biblical reason for existence, according to Romans 13: the promotion and protection of societal peace and the punishment of evildoers.  I am to pay my taxes, even when I don't want to or don't support something the government does.

So why do I support comprehensive immigration reform, when that seems always to include rewarding those who broke the law by coming here illegally?  And why open the doors to immigrants who will take jobs that current citizens need?  I have practical reasons, historical reasons, and biblical reasons for doing so.  Let me try to spell them out here, in no particular order.

  1. I support this approach because it is "comprehensive."  It would be a fundamental mistake to tackle, say, legalizing those already here without doing something about the current flow of newly undocumented people.  Those who are a part of the Evangelical Immigration Table, for example, offer these principles to govern such a comprehensive policy: a) respects the God-given dignity of every person, b) protects the unity of the immediate family, c) respects the rule of law, d) guarantees secure national borders, e) ensures fairness to taxpayers, and, f) establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.  These are all important concerns and need to be addressed together.
  2. There is biblical encouragement to care for those around us, even if there is no earthly reason to do so.  One only needs to read the story of the Good Samaritan to be reminded that our compassion to our neighbor is to be broader and wider than family, friends, those next door, and people like me.  The gulf between the Samaritan and the waylaid traveler could not have been greater, but Jesus says his willingness to address the need before him made him the right kind of neighbor.  
  3. The laws of God for Israel in the Penteteuch are not directly applicable today, but they model the ideal of a compassionate society that seeks to include, not exclude.  I want to be careful here, because I know that God's purposes of inclusion in Israel were for salvation.  Israel was God's people, and the stranger and sojourner who came to live among them was coming in order to become a follower of Israel's God and a part of the people themselves.  But when you read the wording of so many of these instructions, they remind Israel of its own troubled history as sojourners in Egypt and call the nation not to be like the Egyptians, who got what they could from them and only let them go when they had to do so.  Israel was to model God's compassion.  The U.S.A. is not Israel, but many of the principles of governance and jurisprudence that we have stem from biblical roots.  When in doubt, biblical precedents are always good places to look for guidance.  
  4. A comprehensive plan can address the varying conditions that describe the problem.  The case of coming here "illegally" only touches on some of those here without papers.  Some came legally but overstayed.  Some came legally, had children here who are citizens, and now face either leaving the children behind or taking them from what would most likely be a better life into difficult circumstances; sometimes these children would not be allowed back into the country of their parents' origin because they are not citizens there.  And many "illegals" were children brought by parents, who did not themselves break the law.  Instead, they went to school and got an education.  Now that they could actually contribute to our country, should we deport them?  That is throwing away our investment in teaching them.  Many of these undocumented have married citizens and have children.  We've accepted the taxes and Social Security they've paid.  They hold jobs and contribute to the economy.  We cannot simply say, "deport those who came illegally, or those who came legally and overstayed."  The time we have allowed to pass doing nothing has complicated matters far beyond such solutions.
  5. A comprehensive plan will address securing the border and creating actual paths for people to come here.  U.S. foolishness, inaction, and inconsistency bears a large share of the blame for the problem.  No one believes we could not close the border.  We could do it tomorrow.  But we will not.  Our government has said, "don't come without a visa," but it has done two things that make this problematic.  One is simply to not have any visas available for most of the world's people.  We speak of getting into line, but there is no line for average people.  Refugees from certain dangers or deprivations may apply; the rich and well educated may apply.  People from preferred cultures may apply in some cases.  But the stereotypical immigrants--the tired, poor "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" as it says on the Statue of Liberty.  No lines or visas are there for them.  Then, for decades, we do nothing to close a wide open border, do nothing to discourage people from coming, and do little to nothing to remove people who come illegally.  What message does that send to the poor and impoverished of the world?  Most of the rest of the world doesn't even form single file lines to get on a bus; why would they think we are serious about our border?  A comprehensive plan must address border control and legal paths of entry.
  6. A comprehensive plan would seek to address questions of who should and should not receive government benefits, what penalties or fines should be levied in varying situations, and who does not belong--violent criminals, for example, who are a tiny percentage but nonetheless have shown no regard for the privileges of being in the U.S.  It would address how long the pathway should take, what other requirements would be in place--learning English for example.  Doing this right, after decades of neglect, can resolve longstanding problems and keep future ones from happening. 
  7. Only a comprehensive solution can avoid the very undesirable consequences of trying to act based on present policies.  Attempts to now enforce laws we have not enforced for decades will be catastrophic, and not just for those being targeted.  Does our nation have the stomach, let alone the will and desire, to round up 11 million men, women, and children, herd them into resettlement camps and then ship them to their "home" countries, many of which will not want them?  How will the stories and TV images of children and parents being separated, moms and dads sent away from kids, workers being rounded up, students taken out of classrooms, families forcibly removed from homes they paid for--how will all of this be received?  As much as we will deny it, the parallels of our actions to "ethnic cleansing" that we deplore in other nations would be unavoidable to see. Will we ever do this?  Would we be proud of our nation?
  8. I believe America has been at its greatest when immigrants have been flowing in, with the energy and creativity needed to create a new beginning.  Immigrants do work that citizens will not do--you can deny that all you want, but I've seen first hand jobs go without workers until immigrants come.  They will take low wages and long hours, and they will succeed.  That is the economic story I watched in southern California, which has replayed with every wave of immigrants.  The continual rebirth of the nation through immigration has, historically, made us stronger and better, not weaker.
  9. As a Christian, I see the amazing opportunity for spreading the gospel and using our ability to meet needs of new immigrants as opportunities to make much of Jesus and his message in the minds and hearts of many who have come from places where they have not seen or heard gospel truth. 
We might say, "my ancestors came legally, why can't they?"  I think the points above have already answered much of that thinking.  But you also need to realize that the situation for your ancestors was probably much different.  If they came before the last quarter of the nineteenth century, they came before there were any immigration laws.  Anybody could come.  The first laws that were adopted were racially motivated, to stem the flow of Chinese coming to the U.S.  No laws for anyone else came until later.  Then it was other races and ethnicities, including Jews fleeing Germany prior to World War 2.  Even now, a look at our policies shows very selective targeting.

Our current situation is a mess.  Government has a biblical mandate to provide for social peace and safety under justice--in our case under the rule of law.  We are paralyzed by the current disarray of law and circumstance.  A comprehensive solution is possible that exercises both justice and mercy, and pragmatically deals with difficult situations.

Richard Land, the past president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Board said that trying to enforce the laws now would be like a driver discovering that every one of his infractions against traffic laws for the last twenty years were now going to be enforced fully--with penalties for the time passed between when tickets should have been issued and now.  And then the government will take away the license because of all the violations, and then impound the car.  We would say that enforcement long after the fact was unjust! 

Finally, there is actually biblical precedent for not holding people's past mistakes and sins against them.  A nation can choose to exercise mercy.  Israel was instructed to do so in various cases, even in wars against enemies.  Our nation has done so in the past, when we have rebuilt nations we once destroyed in war.  We do so every time we declare a tax "amnesty," where people who have failed for years to pay taxes are given the chance to do so, sometimes with a penalty, and all other legal claims are set aside.  Why object to the idea of an "amnesty" for the millions who came here illegally, but ever since have abided by our laws, paid taxes, worked hard, and contributed to society in other ways?

This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the subject, but now you have some idea of why I support comprehensive immigration reform.