WASHINGTON (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity expressed hope new bipartisan legislation will translate into a focused endeavor to reform at last the United States’ immigration system.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) welcomed introduction Tuesday (May 23) of the Dignity Act. The bill, first offered last year, gained reintroduction by Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Fla., with co-sponsorship this time from Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and other Democrats as well as Republicans.
The revised legislation is designed to put an end to illegal immigration, offer a dignified answer for undocumented immigrants already in this country, repair the asylum system, build up the American workforce and bolster border communities, according to a release from Salazar’s office.
ERLC President Brent Leatherwood said he hopes the bipartisan proposal “signals the beginning of a concentrated effort to reform our broken immigration system.”
“For too long, immigration reform and border security have been pitted against one another,” Leatherwood said in written comments. “That shouldn’t be the case.
“This proposal provides a framework that encompasses both of those perspectives and, more importantly, starts from the position of affirming the inherent dignity and worth of each and every individual. This issue is too important to be sidelined by partisan politics.”
Leatherwood expressed hope for a similar reform attempt when Salazar introduced her measure last year, but her bill failed to make any progress. The addition of Escobar as the lead Democratic sponsor, along with other Democrats, would seem to provide more hope it might gain some traction in this congressional session.
For at least 15 years, the ERLC has advocated for reform of an immigration system with problems that have resulted in an ongoing crisis at the American border with Mexico and an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Congressional efforts to approve such legislation have repeatedly failed.
In 2011 and 2018, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting adopted resolutions on immigration reform that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
Among the provisions in the latest Dignity Act, according to a summary from Salazar’s office, are:
- A total of $25 billion to secure the border, the construction of physical barriers and deployment of high-quality technology and the hiring of thousands of personnel at the border.
- A mandatory, national e-verify system to prevent the hiring of illegal workers.
- A 60-day limit on asylum decisions and a halt to catch-and-release policies.
- Immediate protected status and a streamlined path to citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought across the border as children.
- The Dignity Program for undocumented immigrants to earn legal status that requires they pay $5,000 in restitution over seven years, comply with federal and state laws, pass a criminal background check and pay outstanding taxes.
- The American Worker Fund supported by restitution fees paid by undocumented immigrants in the Dignity Program and used to retrain workers.
Restitution payments and taxes on paychecks of participants in the Dignity Program will pay for the bill’s provisions, according to the release from Salazar’s office.
Salazar said in the release, “Our broken immigration system is frustrating Americans, causing people to suffer, and fracturing our country — economically, morally, socially, and politically. This bill gives dignity to the border agents who need support, the job creators who need employees, the American people who need secure borders, and those who currently live in the shadows.”
Congress’ failure to act for decades “has real consequences,” Escobar said in a release from her office. “I have seen the toll our broken immigration system has on federal personnel, local representatives, nonprofits, and the migrants themselves, and the need for a realistic, common-sense compromise could not be more urgent.”
The ERLC has served as a leading member of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) since the coalition’s founding in 2012. The EIT, a coalition of evangelical Christian denominations and organizations, has issued a statement of principles that calls for a bipartisan solution that includes a guarantee of border security, fairness for taxpayers, protection, the unity of the immediate family and a route to legal status and/or citizenship for qualified immigrants.