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ERLC urges Congress to address border crisis

Women hold their wristbands high in the hope they are chosen by U.S. Border Patrol agents to be taken to processing after waiting for days between two border walls to apply for asylum Friday, May 12, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

WASHINGTON (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has urged Congress to find a solution for the “ongoing humanitarian emergency” at the United States’ southern border.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) sent letters to members of Congress Friday (May 12) asking for long-delayed action to reform the immigration system after the federal government’s pandemic-era Title 42 order expired Thursday night. Under the Title 42 policy the last three years, the United States has quickly blocked people seeking to enter the country for the stated cause of protecting public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. A reported 2.8 million expulsions occurred under the order since it took effect in March 2020.

A wave of immigrants seeking to enter the United States at its border with Mexico preceded the transition from Title 42 to a new Biden administration policy. More than 10,000 people a day were apprehended seeking to cross the border during the week leading to Title 42’s expiration, and detention facilities had reached their capacities, Reuters news service reported.

The new Biden administration rule presumes those entering the United States illegally are ineligible for asylum, “unless they can demonstrate an exception to the rule or rebut the presumption,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Under U.S. law, individuals seeking to enter the country may be eligible for asylum if they have a “credible fear of persecution or torture” in their homeland, according to USCIS.

Advocates on both sides of the ideological aisle have challenged the administration’s new policy or an aspect of it in federal courts.

In response to the border crisis, the ERLC repeated its long-standing request for Congress to approve immigration reform. Congressional efforts to enact a comprehensive measure to address the problem have repeatedly failed, and the presence of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States has been one of the results.

From Southern Baptists’ experience of meeting needs at the border, “we have consistently called for immigration reforms that secure our border and also respect the dignity of migrants as human beings made in the image of God,” ERLC President Brent Leatherwood wrote in a letter to members of Congress. “However, this call has only been met with decades of partisan posturing that have brought us to this moment of crisis. Elected officials’ failure to lead on this issue has created a vacuum that has been filled by self-inflicted chaos and catastrophe.

“With the ending of Title 42, we are already beginning to see devastating levels of humanitarian needs and troubling reports of buckling immigration systems,” he wrote.

“As we work to meet immediate needs in this ongoing humanitarian emergency, action must be taken now to limit the scale of this disaster, and Congress must look ahead and find real, bipartisan solutions that can keep this from happening again.”

Leatherwood told senators and representatives, “The principles of safety, compassion, justice, refuge, and the rule of law are not in tension — we are able to most effectively and compassionately serve the vulnerable and keep our communities from being overwhelmed when we have strong border security paired with robust, navigable legal pathways for those who need them most.” 

The ERLC president quoted from a 2018 resolution adopted by messengers to the SBC annual meeting that called for immigration reform that includes “an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honors the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”

He also cited the work of Send Relief and many churches and state conventions, which he said “have been on the front lines, filling in the gaps where government has failed, meeting the basic needs of migrants.” Send Relief is the SBC’s compassion ministry carried out through the cooperative efforts of the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board.

In a similar letter Friday to the congressional delegations of four southern border states, Leatherwood said, “Now, in this moment of deep need, our churches and ministries are already at work serving your communities but have been left hamstrung by inadequate planning and communication from federal authorities.”

The letter went to the delegations from Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

In one of the legal challenges to the Biden administration, a federal court in Florida Thursday night (May 11) temporarily blocked a parole policy announced May 10 to alleviate overcrowding at border detention centers.

The memorandum issued by U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz would permit the release into the United States of adult undocumented immigrants who do not “pose a national security risk” or a threat to public safety or to flight. Under the memorandum, those released would be required to make an appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement during a parole period that would last generally for 60 days. The policy, however, does not require tracking or limitations on a parole recipient’s movements.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), meanwhile, has asked a federal court in California to block enforcement of the Biden administration’s new asylum policy. The policy “places vulnerable asylum seekers in grave danger and violates U.S. asylum laws,” ACLU lawyer Katrina Eiland said in a written statement.

Before the 2018 SBC resolution, messengers to the 2011 meeting approved a measure that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.