WASHINGTON (BP)–America’s borders should be secured, illegal immigrants should be penalized and the rule of law should be upheld, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and three other panelists agreed during an Oct. 13 panel discussion on immigration reform on the Washington, D.C., campus of Nyack College.
That does not mean, however, that Americans will support mass deportation of those who are in the country illegally, Land added.
“We have the rule of law, and we need to penalize those who have broken the law,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The only question is: What will the penalty be?
“We’re not going to deport 12 to 14 million people…. [A]ny attempts at deportation would not last very long,” Land said, predicting television coverage of children of illegal immigrants being separated from their families.
“So in the realm of reality, what do we do with those who are here? We separate the bad actors from the good ones, and we give the good ones an opportunity to earn their way to full legal status,” Land said.
Land and the other panelists — Carol Swain, Vanderbilt University professor; Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, and James Edwards, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies — addressed workforce issues in the immigration reform debate during the forum, which was sponsored by a coalition of faith-based organizations.
Much of the discussion focused on the impact of immigration, especially illegal immigration, on American workers, particularly minorities and the economically and educationally disadvantaged.
Edwards told the audience: “It doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going to happen to the members of the First World’s middle and working classes when employers can easily displace native-born workers with people from the poorest nations on the planet. … If national borders mean nothing anymore, then the middle class is going to be killed off, the poor underclass will grow in size and wealth disparity, and only elites will make enough money for a decent life.”
Swain said illegal immigration most negatively affects black males and legal Hispanics. The unemployment rate among young blacks with high school diplomas is 40 percent, Edwards noted.
“And there’s a belief that this flood of immigrants into the country was deliberate to undercut African Americans, Swain said. “And I can’t help but think that, in some part, racism is a part of what” is happening.
Land told the audience: “[I]t’s not so much that [illegal immigrants] take jobs, but they suppress wages when it’s illegal, because they can be taken advantage of and preyed upon by unscrupulous employers, and they are. And it also retards the assimilation process.”
Referring to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, Land said moving illegal immigrants toward legal standing would help.
“[I]f we had a way for them to come out of the shadows and get documented and get on a pathway to full legal status, I’m fully confident … it would raise the wages of those at the bottom level of society within two years about 10 percent,” Land said.
Carey addressed immigration in general, rather than the illegal immigration flow from Mexico, during many of his comments. He told the audience the arrival of immigrants appears to be a temporary disadvantage only to other immigrants. Carey called for churches to help refugees and urged a greater investment in public education.
Churches do help refugees, but they do not have the resources required, Swain responded.
Land said he is encouraging Baptist churches to start English as a Second Language classes. He also said a major shake-up is needed to resolve the “national crisis” from the “under-performance of the vast majority of our nation’s urban public schools.”
“I would voucherize every parent in America and say, ‘You’re empowered to make the best decisions for your children,'” Land said.
Edwards recommended three actions — holding employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants, instituting employment verification and enforcing the law consistently at the borders and inside the country — to help bring about the “reduction of the illegal population, and it would free up the labor market.”
Land said every American should receive a new biometric, tamper-proof Social Security card to counter the hiring of illegal immigrants. As he has on previous occasions, Land not only urged border security but called for illegal immigrants to register in a six-month period, undergo criminal background checks, pay fines, agree to learn English and take an American civics class before going to the back of the line behind those who are seeking to enter the country legally.
Michel Martin, a National Public Radio show host, moderated the discussion.
The Oct. 13 panel discussion is part of a series on immigration reform co-hosted by the Institute for Public Service and Policy Development, an affiliate of the Washington, D.C., campus of Nyack College; the National Association of Evangelicals; Center for Public Justice; Institute for Global Engagement, and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.