Evangelical Leaders Call for Immigration Reform
The Story: Earlier this week, more than 140 evangelical leaders joined together as part of a group called Evangelical Immigration Table to issue a call for bipartisan immigration reform.
The Background: Below is the entire text of the statement as posted on the website of the Evangelical Immigration Table:
Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America. Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other's positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost.
As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration 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
• Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
We urge our nation's leaders to work together with the American people to pass immigration reform that embodies these key principles and that will make our nation proud.
What it Means: The evangelical leaders who signed this statement should be lauded for attempting to find bipartisan agreement on the oft-divisive issue of immigration reform. Their articulation of Christian principles helps to provide a framework by which all evangelicals should think about the issue. Unfortunately, the statement is too vaguely worded to be of use as a guiding document on actual policy.
While almost all American evangelicals can agree on the first five principles, the sixth is so broad that it covers almost every proposed solution currently being considered---from keeping the current immigration system unchanged to complete amnesty for all residents currently living in the U.S. illegally.In fact, keeping the current immigration system largely unchanged may be the only option that harmonizes principles #2 (the unity of the immediate family), #3 (the rule of law), and #6 (a path toward legal status and/or citizenship).
Our current immigration policy is based on the Immigration Act of 1990 which set the annual limit of new immigrants into the U.S. at 700,000 and established family reunification as the main immigration criterion. Under the law, a minimum of 226,000 immigrants are allowed to become permanent residents each year under the family-sponsored preferences. Citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. are allowed to sponsor their adult children, parents, and siblings. However, the wait times for immigrants wanting to join their family are quite long.
According to data obtained from the U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, the wait time for a U.S. citizen petitioning for a brother or sister from the Philippines exceeds 20 years. A U.S. citizen petitioning for an adult son or daughter to join them can expect to wait 6 to 17 years, depending on the country or origin. Approximately 4 million people are waiting in family immigration backlogs.
Policies that give preferential legal status or citizenship to illegal residents over those who have followed the established legal procedures subverts both the rule of law and the unity of the immediate family. The only way that the issue could be resolved fairly and in accordance with all six principles would be to allow all 4 million family members on the current immigration backlog to obtain the same legal status or citizenship that would be offered to current illegal residents. Yet if we were to give amnesty to both the 4 million people on current waiting lists and the 12 million residing here illegally, the total would exceed---in one year---all of the immigrants that were processed through Ellis Island. (In comparison, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted amnesty to about 3 million immigrants.)
Since such mass immigration is politically untenable, there is no policy solution currently being proposed that can harmonize all six principles. Because of this reality, evangelicals wanting immigration reform will have to compromise or discard at least two of these "key principles" listed in the statement. We should ask those evangelical leaders who signed the statement which two they believe are dispensable.