WASHINGTON (BP)–Arizona’s controversial new immigration measure is “a cry for help” demonstrating the need for federal reform that affirms the rule of law and treats illegal immigrants with compassion, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said May 12.
Addressing the issue in a first-person commentary and in coalition with other evangelical Christian leaders, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called on Washington to enact comprehensive immigration reform that would begin with securing the country’s borders. Such a law also would enforce current immigration measures within the United States and require a series of standards illegal immigrants must meet to earn citizenship, he said.
A lack of federal government action will “rend the fabric of our society,” Land said in a May 12 telephone news conference call. The federal government has failed regarding immigration for more than 20 years under both Democrat and Republican presidents, he said.
“This is a moral issue. It’s an issue that … must be dealt with or it’s going to lead to deep fissures in our society.
“This is not an issue that one state out of 50 can deal with,” Land said. “This is a national issue. It must be dealt with nationally.”
Land’s call for federal immigration reform came less than three weeks after Arizona enacted a law to deal with illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico. The measure requires police to check with the federal government on a person’s status if they suspect during a stop, detention or arrest he might be in the country illegally.
Critics have charged that the law legalizes racial profiling and are calling for a variety of boycotts of the state. The American public, however, supports the measure. A Pew Research Center survey released May 12 found 59 percent of Americans approve of the Arizona law, while 32 percent oppose it.
“The Arizona law is a symptom, not a solution,” Land said in a written commentary published May 12 at http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=32916. “While I sympathize with the plight of the beleaguered citizens of Arizona, the law they have passed faces severe challenges.
“Attorneys I trust and respect tell me that if the law survives the manifold court challenges it faces and goes into effect, it will be abused by genuinely bad people (like drug dealers and human traffickers) whose unscrupulous lawyers will claim falsely that they were victims of racial profiling and prejudice when they were arrested legitimately,” he wrote.
There is a “stalemate in Congress and growing frustration and division in society” because two extremes in the immigration debate — deportation and amnesty — “are being played against each other,” Land said in his commentary.
He described deportation of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country as “neither politically viable nor humanitarian.” Amnesty, he said, is “disrespectful of the rule of law.”
Land and his fellow evangelicals denied they support amnesty.
A pathway to citizenship should require an illegal immigrant “to undergo a criminal background check, pay a fine, agree to pay back taxes, learn to speak, write, and read English and get in line behind” legal migrants after a years-long probation, Land wrote. Such immigrants also must pledge faithfulness to the American government and its values, he said. Those who fail to abide by the requirements “should be deported immediately,” Land said.
“It doesn’t help when you have parts of the conservative coalition that insist on mislabeling an earned pathway to citizenship as amnesty. [T]hese people need a course in remedial English themselves,” Land told reporters on the conference call.
Securing America’s borders must come first sequentially in reform, Land said. That might not require separate measures, he told reporters. A border-first, comprehensive law could establish standards that, when met, would trigger other provisions, such as a pathway to citizenship or a temporary worker permit for illegal immigrants.
Land’s principles for immigration reform match those he espoused in 2006 and 2007, when Congress last attempted a push for such legislation. As he did then, Land referred in his proposals to a 2006 resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, which urged increased border security and enforcement of the laws, while encouraging Christian outreach to immigrants regardless of their legal status.
In 2007, Land did not endorse a specific piece of legislation but said a bill would gain his endorsement if it lined up with four points made in the SBC’s 2006 resolution. It will:
— “Insure the federal government provides for U.S. security ‘by controlling and securing our borders;’
— “Enforce immigration laws, including oversight of the hiring practices of private employers;
— “Deal judiciously and ‘realistically’ with those in the country illegally; and,
— “Allow the people of God to act ‘redemptively,’ reaching out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants as they work toward an earned pathway of ‘legal status and/or citizenship.'”
During the conference call sponsored by Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., spoke and asked for help in promoting his immigration bill that requires a biometric identification card for workers. None of the other participants on the call endorsed his bill or any other specific measure.
In addition to Land, other speakers on the call included Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE); Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel.
Land, Rodriguez and Staver were among evangelicals who signed onto a NAE advertisement in the May 13 Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. The ad calls for bipartisan reform 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.”
Others signing on to the NAE ad included Michael Gerson, columnist for The Washington Post and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago.
Land, Rodriguez and others also joined Staver on a May 11 statement by evangelicals calling for a “just assimilation immigration policy.” The document may be accessed via Liberty Counsel’s website at http://www.lc.org/index.cfm?PID=14100&PRID=937.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.