The summer that once sizzled with expectation over the possible passage of comprehensive immigration reform will now fizzle into a five-week Congressional recess. Insiders say the chances Congress will pass sweeping reform this year is just north of nil. Fifty-three percent of voters prefer Speaker Boehner’s piecemeal approach, which would attempt to chop it up into a series of smaller bills.
The sticking point for lawmakers continues to be the the conditions under which to offer a “pathway to citizenship” to any or all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Republicans have balked despite political pressures.
In addition to the popular refrain that the GOP must pass this bill to remain competitive with Latino voters, Christian leaders via the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) have added pressure. The EIT has been effective in adding high-powered religious leaders to the pro-reform side of the debate. But, as I stated in an article last week, it has neither tipped the scales among lawmakers in Washington or among the evangelical core in heartland America and the Bible Belt.
Yesterday, many reported on a new CBS poll showing that 75% of evangelical Christians support a pathway to citizenship. Several conveniently left out that they supported it “with conditions.” Many evangelicals believe immigrants should pay steep fines before offering a pathway. Others think the border should be completely secure before a pathway is granted. Digging into the stats reveals an evangelical community that is still deeply divided on this issue.
My own faith and values have led me to support offering undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. Here are four reasons I think conservative Christians should too:
1. Because it will promote prosperity. Immigrants are natural entrepreneurs, which often leads them to start businesses and create jobs. According to Partnership for a New American Economy, 42% of U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies (that employ more than 10 million people) were started by immigrants or their children. And the impact on American prosperity increases with the second generation. A Pew study shows that children born to immigrants outperform the population as a whole in education and are less likely than the general population to be in poverty.
“In all the ways our country measures how well you’re doing, the second generation is doing very well,” says Paul Taylor, the executive vice president of Pew Research Center.
2. Because it is fiscally responsible. Ever wonder how much it costs for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest, detain, and deport an undocumented worker? The answer is approximately $12,500. Do the math and you’ll discover that deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants would cost taxpayers $137.5 billion. That’s a lot of marbles that Americans simply don’t have.
3. Because it is pro-family. Conservative Christians often talk about their desire to protect the nuclear family, a belief in conflict with many conservatives’ desire for mass deportation. During the Obama administration, 1.7 million undocumented immigrants have been deported and thus separated from their families. A pathway to citizenship will allow these families to remain unified.
4. Because the Bible commands us to “welcome the stranger.” Christians base their faith on the “word of God,” and yet many Christians don’t know how the Bible speaks to this issue. The Old Testament speaks about the “immigrant” or the “stranger” at least 90 times, but few Christians ground themselves in these passages. Instead, they often lead with their politics rather than their theology. But in Exodus, for example, God commands the Israelites not to oppress immigrants. And in Leviticus, God commands the Israelites to treat immigrants no differently than citizens. Though the Bible does not necessitate that Christians support a pathway to citizenship, I think the principles we find throughout the Scriptures lead us to reconcile immigrants with the law in this way.
We must strive to build our country on the rule of law and secure our borders. But we must also address to the millions of undocumented parents, children, brothers, and sisters currently residing in the United States. Future generations will judge us for how we respond to the “strangers” among us.