WASHINGTON (BP)–Most Southern Baptists want the country’s immigration laws to be enforced before supporting a type of guest-worker program, ethics leader Richard Land told President Bush March 23 at a White House meeting on the controversial subject.
The president discussed the topic with Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and 14 others during a week in which the rhetoric on illegal immigration had escalated even as the United States Senate prepared to confront the issue when it returns from a recess March 27.
Various proposals have been offered to address the increasing number of illegal immigrants, which numbers 12 million in this country, according to The Washington Post. Some include provisions to permit temporary guest-worker visas for illegal immigrants, while others focus on securing the borders to prevent the influx.
Bush favors strengthening border security but also supports a guest-worker program, positions he reiterated after his meeting with Land and the others while calling for a civil debate.
“Ours is a nation of law and ours is a nation of immigrants, and we believe that we can have rational, important immigration policy that’s based upon law and reflects our deep desire to be a compassionate and decent nation,” Bush told the news media after the meeting. “[The debate] must be done in a way that doesn’t pit one group of people against another.”
The ERLC’s Land said he told the president Southern Baptists “are deeply offended at a very basic level when the government doesn’t enforce the law. And it’s clear that the government is not rigorously enforcing the law at the border or in the country when it comes to illegal immigration. As Southern Baptists, we believe that Romans 13 teaches the government is to punish those who break the law and reward those who obey the law.”
Land told Baptist Press he also said to Bush, “Second, if it is felt that there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform and the laws need to be changed, then change the laws but rigorously enforce the law, whatever it is.
“Third, the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists want the government to secure the borders. That does not mean sealing the borders but having control over who goes in and who goes out and making sure that everyone is doing so legally.
“And finally,” Land said, “if the government can convince Southern Baptists it is serious about controlling the borders, then I think a consensus can be built for some kind of guest-worker program that does not involve amnesty and that does not allow people who have come here illegally to jump place in line over those who are attempting to come into the country by the normal, legal channels.”
After the meeting, Bush said plans had been made to tighten security on the borders. “But part of enforcing our borders is to have a guest-worker program that encourages people to register their presence so that we know who they are and says to them, ‘If you’re doing a job an American won’t do, you’re welcome here for a period of time to do that job.’”
Bush “assured us in the meeting that he does not favor any program, guest worker or otherwise, that would grant any form of amnesty for those who entered the country illegally,” Land told BP. “Any guest-worker program would include the paying of fines and back taxes and not allow them to jump line for any kind of permanent legal status.
“All of us left the meeting understanding that the president cares very deeply about this issue, understands its importance to the American people and wants the federal government to approach solutions to this problem in a fair and equitable manner,” Land said.
Bush said afterward he would continue to address the issue. “I feel passionately about the need for our country to conduct themselves with dignity and, at the same time, enforce our border and treat people here with respect,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist recently introduced his version of immigration reform without a guest-worker component, signaling he would bring the measure focused on border security to the floor the week of March 27 if a version in the Judiciary Committee is not reported out, according to The Post. The bill in committee includes a temporary worker provision.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid threatened to “use every procedural means at my disposal,” including a filibuster, to stop any immigration bill that comes to the floor without committee approval, according to the Associated Press. Reid criticized the potential action March 22 while he was visiting the California border near Tijuana, Mexico.
The House of Representatives approved an immigration reform measure in December. It does not include a guest-worker provision but concentrates on border security and enforcement against illegal immigrants and those who aid them.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D.-N.Y., slammed the House bill March 21, invoking the New Testament in the process.
“It is hard to believe that a Republican leadership that is constantly talking about values and about faith would put forth such a mean-spirited piece of legislation,” she said, according to The New York Times. “It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scripture, because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself.”
The 15 participants in the March 23 meeting with Bush included religious, conservative and business leaders. In addition to Land, others attending included Michael Barrera, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Todd Bassett, national commander of the Salvation Army; Charles Caput, Roman Catholic archbishop of Denver, Colo.; Linda Chavez, chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity; Ed Fuelner, president of the Heritage Foundation; Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Jerry Sanders, mayor of San Diego, Calif.