WASHINGTON (BP)–The federal government’s failure to secure the nation’s borders has sparked “severe consternation” among many Americans and precipitated the current crisis over illegal immigration, Richard Land said April 28 during a public policy discussion at the Family Research Center in Washington. He expressed concern that there has been “more heat than light” in the dialogue over this issue.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was joined on the panel by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan.; Rep. Tom Tancredo, R.-Colo.; John O’Sullivan of the Hudson Institute; Samuel Rodriguez Jr. of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and others.
“We have a right to expect the government to fulfill its divinely ordained mandate to punish those who break the laws and reward those who do not,” Land said, citing Romans 13:1-7, during a discussion of “Faith, Culture, and Law in the Immigration Debate.” Christians, he continued, also have a “divinely mandated reason to act redemptively and compassionately toward those who are in need.”
If there is to be a national consensus on the immigration crisis, it will flow out of the “federal government convincing the American people that it is willing to commit whatever resources necessary to secure our borders,” Land said. That does not equate to a closing of the borders, he said, but having control over “who comes in, who goes out.”
Brownback said the illegal immigration issue is an “extraordinarily difficult topic,” noting that the U.S. has been dealing with the problem for decades. He said it will be the “major legislative issue of this year’s Congress.”
By themselves, “amnesty doesn’t work; enforcement doesn’t work,” Brownback continued, saying jobs are the major attraction for those wanting to come to the U.S. Brownback said the federal government needs to do a better job of giving employers the tools they need to be sure that the workers they hire are in the country legally.
Land called the government’s failure to control the borders “disgraceful,” noting both Democratic and Republican administrations have fallen short in this area, leading to the “immigration crisis we find ourselves in today.”
“Border security is a question of national sovereignty, national security and the government fulfilling its divinely mandated responsibility to enforce the law,” he continued, noting that the government also has failed to enforce the laws in ignoring businesses that employ illegal workers.
“We are doing very little to secure the borders,” Tancredo said, suggesting if the president resolved to address the issue, he could do so immediately.
Tancredo criticized recent raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on businesses employing undocumented workers as nothing more than “window dressing” designed to sway public opinion to favor an “amnesty bill.” The government does not have a “true commitment to enforcement,” he said.
“Amnesty encourages more illegal immigration,” he said. “Some people [in Washington] were glad to see the price of gas go up so we can avoid talking about immigration.”
Tancredo questioned the compassion those favoring amnesty for illegal workers have for those who are pursuing entry into the U.S. legally. “We are making a mockery of the immigration process,” he said, calling it a “slap in the face to those who are doing it the right way.”
Concerning what should be done about the estimated 12 million people in the U.S. illegally, Land said the political or economic will within the American citizenry for a forcible roundup and deportation of these individuals does not exist. “Politics and public policy,” he explained, “are the art of the possible.”
The immigration issue is about “family values,” said Rodriguez, expressing concern over the “possible disenfranchisement of 12 million people.” There is a biblical mandate on how to treat aliens and immigrants, he said, citing Leviticus 19. “The deportation of 12 million people is not practical,” he said.
Saying each faith’s holy book — the Bible, the Torah and the Koran — is an “immigrant handbook,” Joan Maruskin of Church World Service stated that Moses was an “undocumented criminal alien” and that God sent Jesus to earth as a “migrant and a refugee.” Warning that everyone will be impacted by immigration reform, Maruskin said if illegal immigrants are deported, the “country would be devastated.”
“Immigration doesn’t drive American prosperity, and American prosperity doesn’t drive immigration,” Sullivan said, insisting the country needs “to consider the impact of immigration upon low-paid Americans.” He said low-income Americans are “visibly harmed by immigrants willing to work for less,” suggesting that through illegal immigration “we are importing poverty.”
Immigration reform would not result in a “seizing-up of the American economy,” Sullivan continued. He said if the government “firmly and gradually enforced the law, it would reduce the likelihood of further illegal immigration.”
Land said he believes once the government has convinced Americans it is serious about enforcing the laws, “a consensus can be built and will form around some type of guest-worker program.”
Such a program should not involve any type of “amnesty” that would forgive individuals for illegal entering the country or for not leaving when their visa expired, Land said. “It would recognize that these people did break the law in order to come here and work,” he said.
Such a program would allow those who are here illegally “a one-time opportunity of six months to come forward and apply for a guest-worker status, agree to undergo a criminal background check and agree to learn English,” Land said.
The government should go further, Land said, and establish an expanded “guest-worker” program for people who in the future want to immigrate to the U.S. to work. “The government could establish such a program with a ceiling of perhaps 350,000 people a year, who could come to fill jobs that have been advertised in the United States by American employers for an adequate length of time and for which they have not been able to find employees domestically,” he said at the FRC event.
Expanding the program for new guest workers would make the job of border enforcement easier, Land suggested. “If immigrants have a meaningful, legal pathway to cross the border, there will be less temptation to enter illegally and less opportunity to remain here illegally, and the number of people attempting illegal entry would drop,” he said.
With the exception of Native Americans, Land said all Americans are immigrants or the descendents of immigrants. Yet as a “nation of settlers who came to settle in a new country,” Land said these groups put the emphasis on the American half of the hyphenated name of their people group.
Speaking to those seeking citizenship, Land said, “If you came here to start a new life in a new country, then put the emphasis on the American half of Hispanic-American” and you will be welcomed.
“Our government should not criminalize private citizens who give a cup of cold water, a hot meal, a warm bed or medical assistance to those who are in our country illegally,” Land said, noting Christians have a divine mandate to care for those in need.
“While the government must insist on the enforcement of the law and a probationary period and fines for those who have broken the law, Christians are mandated to forgive and to act redemptively within their communities toward all people, including illegal immigrants,” he said.
Through a comprehensive legislative approach to the issue that acknowledges the U.S. is a “compassionate nation,” Brownback said, the government is “trying to get people to come in out of the shadows.”
“We are a nation of immigrants,” Brownback continued. “We identify with people who are trying to work to better themselves.”