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Reform immigration, SBC’s Land urges House panel

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land again called for comprehensive immigration reform that begins with “border security” July 14, this time before a panel of members of Congress.

Testifying at a hearing held by a House of Representatives subcommittee, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said the government must show its willingness to secure the country’s borders while also acting justly toward those whom it has permitted to enter the country illegally while not enforcing immigration law since it was last reformed in 1986.

“What’s immoral is to not enforce the nation’s laws for over two decades and then to say, ‘Oh, now we’re going to enforce the law, and we’re going to enforce the law retroactively,’” Land told members of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.

“You know, it would be like the government sent out a letter to every driver in America and said, ‘By the way, for the last 24 years, we’ve been conducting surveillance by satellite on the interstates, and up until now we haven’t had the ability to ticket you for all of the times you’ve exceeded the speed limit. But we do now. And so now we’re going to send you a ticket for every time you exceeded the speed limit retroactively over the last 24 years.’ I don’t think most Americans would think that’s fair, and I don’t think most Americans would accept it,” Land said.

The issue of immigration reform has become more heated the last three months. The state of Arizona enacted a law in April that has come under heavy criticism. 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 or she might be in the country illegally.

Critics have charged the law legalizes racial profiling and have called for a variety of boycotts of the state, but Americans have expressed their support for the law in opinion surveys.

President Obama has criticized Arizona’s action, and his Department of Justice filed suit against the state July 6.

Immigration reform appears unlikely to occur in Congress before November’s election. There is no piece of legislation moving through either the House or Senate.

Land and fellow evangelical Christian Mathew Staver reiterated to the subcommittee their belief the Arizona law is a “symptom” and “a cry for help” from a state that has been harmed by the federal government’s failure to enforce its immigration law.

He thinks “most Americans do not accept the argument that our government cannot secure the borders,” Land told the representatives.

“The federal government has the resources to do what it chooses to do and has the ability to do. The Internal Revenue Service comes to mind,” Land said.

Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., said there are three options regarding illegal immigrants: “(1) amnesty; (2) deportation, or (3) earned legal status.”

Both Land and Staver said they oppose amnesty and believe deportation is neither just nor practical.

They both expressed their support for a pathway to earned citizenship or legal worker status for illegal immigrants already in this country after the borders have been secured. As they have before, they pointed to a pathway that would include such requirements as paying fines, undergoing a criminal background check, learning English, pledging allegiance to the American government and going through a probationary period. Land reasserted his recommendation that illegal immigrants should go to the back of the line behind those seeking to enter the country legally.

Land and Staver rejected the label “amnesty” for their proposal of a pathway to legal status.

“I do not believe you can strain the English language into saying that is amnesty,” Land told the subcommittee.

Staver said, “Amnesty is complete forgiveness without any consequences whatsoever.

“I reject amnesty, and I call upon those who label an earned pathway to legal status as amnesty to stop politicizing this debate needlessly and to honestly acknowledge the difference,” Staver told the panel.

The subcommittee’s leading Republican, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, disagreed. King said his definition of amnesty is “to pardon immigration lawbreakers and reward them with the objective of their crime.”

Staver told King his definition was inconsistent with the rule of law and the definition of amnesty in Black’s Law Dictionary, considered the most used law dictionary in this country.

James Edwards, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies and the sole witness opposing comprehensive immigration reform, said the current legislative proposals for such change constitute amnesty.

Under questioning by Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D.-Texas, however, Edwards agreed deporting all 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants would be unjust.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D.-Calif., chair of the subcommittee, asked Land if he spoke for Southern Baptists in his position on immigration reform.

Acknowledging “no one speaks for all Southern Baptists,” Land said, “I think it’s clear that I speak for a majority of Southern Baptists.”

In support of his assessment, Land cited the overwhelming passage of a resolution on immigration reform adopted at the 2006 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). He told Lofgren his recommendation on immigration reform was “very enthusiastically supported by the messengers that were there” during his report at the 2010 SBC meeting. He also spoke at the Southern Baptist Hispanic conference in an event before this year’s SBC meeting, with the participants “very supportive” of what he proposed, including an earned pathway and going to the back of the line, he said.

King told Land, “The back of the line is actually in the other countries where people are waiting to come into the United States of America.”

Also testifying in support of comprehensive immigration reform was Gerald Kicanas, bishop of Tucson, Ariz., and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The hearing was held on the same day Michigan and eight other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Arizona’s law. The other states signing onto the brief were Florida, Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

The SBC’s 2006 resolution on immigration urged increased border security, enforcement of the laws, and judicious and realistic dealings with illegal immigrants, while encouraging Christian outreach to immigrants regardless of their legal status.

Land’s written testimony is available online at http://erlc.com/documents/pdf/20100714-land-house-testimony-immigration.pdf.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.