ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Immigration is “an important issue that has reached a critical phase,” Richard Land told members of the National Hispanic Fellowship of Southern Baptist Churches June 13.
Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, addressed the small gathering of Hispanic Southern Baptists at First Baptist Church in Kissimmee, Fla., before the opening of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
“I’m not telling you anything you don’t know when I tell you this issue is rending the social fabric of the country,” said Land, who had visited with President Barack Obama’s advisers at the White House on the subject during the previous week.
The current situation is due to “the failure of the government to fulfill its role for 24 years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations,” Land told the group. “In fact, in reality our country has sent a mixed message. Too often at the border we’ve had two signs. One says ‘No trespassing’ and the other one says ‘Help wanted.'”
Calling for the nation and federal government to bear collective responsibility for the current situation, Land said, “We have to find a way to a just and compassionate immigration policy that will begin to mend the social fabric, rather than continue to rend it.”
The controversial Arizona law that requires police to check with the federal government on a person’s status if, during a stop, detention or arrest, they suspect that the person might be in the country illegally is a “symptom” and a “cry for help,” Land said.
“As a symptom, it needs to be addressed with a federal immigration policy that works,” Land said.
Border security is the first step the federal government must take in addressing the immigration crisis, Land said. Securing the border, however, does not mean closing the border but controlling it, he added.
“Securing the border isn’t beyond American competence,” Land said. “It’s a question of will and a question of commitment and resources.”
Land went on to outline what he considers a moral and just response to the immigration crisis: Illegals who wish to remain in this country legally must “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 those who are legally migrating into this country….”
Immigrants also should be given tamper-proof social security cards to begin a pathway to legal status, whether as a migrant worker or citizen, Land said.
Land also encouraged Christians to help people in need, whether they are in the United States legally or illegally. Christians are not required to check a person’s legal status in order to minister in Jesus’ name, he said.
In the end, Americans should leave room for those willing to embrace the American dream and the ideals that help define it, Land said. He called immigration a “Kingdom issue” because controversy over the issue inhibits efforts to reach the country’s growing Hispanic population with the Gospel.
Jill Waggoner is public relations manager of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. With additional reporting by Elizabeth Wood.