President Biden’s visit to the border this week highlights our nation’s broken and outdated immigration system. As the New York Times reported, in the 12 months leading up to October 2022, the Border Patrol encountered 1.7 million migrants trying to cross illegally, the highest number since 1960. Its reform should be a priority on both sides of the aisle. We need authentic leadership, the kind that seeks solutions over soundbites, which has been vanishingly rare in our nation’s capital these days.
Together, we recently visited the border in El Paso, Texas, where a delegation of our nation’s senators arrived on Monday (Jan. 9). On our visit, we learned of the numerous churches and ministries at work serving migrants on both sides of the border. As Southern Baptists, we are grateful for the consistent, biblical perspective offered by our 50,000 churches and congregations on this issue over the years. For decades, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest protestant denomination, has spoken clearly about the need to both care for our immigrant neighbors and strengthen our national borders. The SBC has backed up words with action, spearheading compassion ministry by our churches, state conventions and national entities. Around the country, our Baptist brothers and sisters are opening their churches and their homes to people from around the world as they assimilate into our communities.
Our experience in El Paso has given us additional appreciation for what is needed for actual border security. We are thankful for the hard work and commitment of the men and women who patrol our southern border. They face a daunting task as the sheer volume of migrants approaching the border can be overwhelming on any given day. They are in desperate need of more resources to expedite hearings by employing more judges and processing facilities to quickly discern which migrants have valid cases.
Our new Congress must find a way to marry these dual concerns of border security and immigration reform. We believe one viable pathway was floated in the closing days of the last session of Congress. Two of the visiting senators, Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Tom Tillis, R-N.C., developed a framework that called for increased funding for border protection and a permanent solution for Dreamers. Dreamers are the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here through no fault or decision of their own. Many of them were brought here as infants and have grown up in our schools, our communities and our churches. They are Americans in every sense of the word and, without action by Congress, will be stuck in legal limbo.
A recent court ruling has, once again, given an uncertain future to these neighbors. They have been allowed to stay here through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While this executive policy sought to help, it lacked the permanence and thorough process of a law approved by Congress. Should our new Congress fail to move on this legislation, they invite a crisis into our communities where these coworkers, fellow worshippers, and colleagues may be forced to leave.
Recent surveys reveal Southern Baptists are not alone in wanting action here. A recent poll showed 80 percent of conservative evangelicals support these priorities. While the Sinema-Tillis proposal failed to gain the necessary momentum, this is the type of creative thinking it will take to address how our current system is failing us and those who seek to come here for a better life.
Detractors label almost any related legislation as “amnesty,” which has become a catch-all phrase for any reform that improves the sorry state of our immigration system. Amnesty is the act of pardoning someone for a crime he or she committed. Dreamers have done nothing wrong. They are currently being punished for the actions of their parents – an injustice that moves conservatives to speak up for the vulnerable in other areas, such as in the sanctity of life of the preborn. The same reasoning should apply here.
Our affirmation of the principles in this framework should not be read as a lack of support for others, such as proposals to fulfill our nation’s commitment to our allies and partners fleeing the Taliban or a clear pathway for Ukrainian refugees. These groups also deserve a coherent and secure solution from lawmakers. Instead, our support is an admission that this particular community, Dreamers, is in need right now.
Our Christian faith tells us every person is made in God’s image – meaning everyone is endowed with immeasurable worth. Our laws should reflect this profound truth. As citizens of this republic, we have a responsibility to insist that policymakers apply this principle as they address our problems, including those surrounding our immigration system.
Politics always comes into play in Congress, but should not be a barrier to action on this issue. Moreover, we would assert that good policy equals good politics. Americans repeatedly express frustration with Congress’ inability to accomplish anything helpful. This visit from our nation’s leaders and the new Congress presents a prime opportunity to achieve real results for real people and our nation.