By Ralph Reed And Russell Moore
Laws to deal with those already here should respect each person’s God-given dignity.
Republicans in the House of Representatives—sensing the political winds at their backs heading into the midterm election and distrustful of President Obama’s willingness to enforce the law—have opted to do nothing about immigration. Their strategy is shortsighted.
Reform will require moral courage and leadership, but it is necessary. Because of the federal government’s failure to secure the border, antiquated policies and a patchwork of conflicting regulations, there are now millions of people who have overstayed visas or crossed our borders illegally. The current system is inadequate for the country’s needs, and it is inequitable as well.
Reforms passed in the 1960s focused on entry to the U.S. based on blood relation. Currently, the majority who come to America legally do so on this basis. The law allows little priority based on education or job skills. As a result, Canada, with one-tenth our population, issues about 120,000 permanent and temporary skilled-worker visas annually, nearly twice the number of H1-B visas issued by the U.S. every year.
The immigrant community is brimming with hard-working, entrepreneurial, family-oriented men and women who yearn for freedom and aspire to be Americans in the fullest sense. Others violate our laws, committing crime and living off the system. As Christians and conservatives, we have had to ask ourselves how to move forward.
First, we need to maintain respect for the rule of law. That means no blanket amnesty or guarantee of citizenship. People who entered the country illegally should admit their wrongdoing, pay fines and back taxes, submit to background checks, learn English, and demonstrate their ability to support themselves.
Those who desire citizenship should take their place behind those who have begun that process. There should be no special pathway for those who entered the country illegally. Criminals need to be deported.
But we also must remember that every individual is created in the image of God and precious in His sight. This means laws for how immigrants will enter the U.S. in the future and how those already here are dealt with should acknowledge each person’s God-given dignity. That means a system that allows new Americans to find safe and legal work to support their immediate families.
It makes sense to prioritize entry for those who have education and job skills, and the spouses and minor children of legal immigrants already here also deserve to be let in. However, chain migration—the current failed system that treats every blood relative the same for purposes of entry to the U.S.—needs to be replaced with a more humane and rational system that strengthens marriage and family.
Someone who obeys the law should not be forced to wait years, and in some cases decades, to be joined by his or her spouse or child. Strong marriages and families help produce better citizens.
Christian leaders, the business community and law-enforcement officials have been calling for months for a conservative approach to immigration reform. “Congress must work together to pass effective immigration reform that adheres to conservative principles: the rule of law, security and safety, family unity, and human dignity,” urges Sheriff Mark Curran Jr. of Lake County, Ill. “We need to ask ourselves what our founding fathers would do, because we know what Jesus would do.”
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference decries the current system. It “invites unjust working conditions and even human trafficking; divides families through deportation and backlogs for lawful family reunification, and stifles the full flourishing of people made in God’s image.”
The message is clear: Reform is the right thing to do for our economy and needed for a safe and secure border. It is also the smart thing to do for our future and the moral thing to do for the soul of our nation.
Congress has an opportunity to act. The House should pass legislation that reflects conservative values of strong and secure borders, the rule of law, economic opportunity, and strengthening of the family. Doing the right thing takes not only wisdom, but courage. We pray that our political leaders will exercise both for the good of our nation.
Mr. Reed is founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. Mr. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.