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immigration reform

Editorial: It’s time to embrace the ‘stranger’

Call it a heavenly trifecta: U.S. Christians can take advantage of a rare opportunity to simultaneously (1) strike a blow for bipartisanship in Washington, (2) strengthen the nation’s current and future economies and (3) stand up for the human rights of people Jesus would include among “the least of these” throughout the land.

We can advocate for immigration reform.

knox newEditor Marv KnoxFour months ago, who would have dreamed resolving America’s immigration problems could become a fertile field for bipartisan endeavors? To the contrary, leading up to the 2012 elections, immigration provided a wedge issue in races for offices from county commissioner to president. For the most part, liberal/Democratic candidates favored reform, and conservative/Republican candidates opposed it.

But then Latino voters lined up 3 to 1 behind President Obama and similarly in support of other Democratic candidates. And on Wednesday, Nov. 7, Republicans realized their future is doomed if they can’t count on at least a decent share of the Hispanic vote. Now, bona fide economic and social conservatives are lending their voices to ongoing calls for reform from progressives, minorities and advocates of social justice.

For example, Grover Norquist, the uber-Republican anti-tax guru, told a gathering in Austin that famously red-state Texas should lead out in calling for Congress and the White House to enact immigration reform.

“Texas is a voice on making sure the center-right movement—conservatives, Republicans, Americans—are seen properly on this issue,” Norquist said at the Texas Summit, an immigration conference held at First Baptist Church in Austin. “We’re getting past this sense that conservatives are supposed to be anti-immigrant.”

Evangelical Immigration Table

Richard Land, head of the conservative Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and progressives like Sojourners founder Jim Wallis joined to support an initiative called the Evangelical Immigration Table. That group demands a two-party solution to the immigration dilemma and calls for a solution that affirms “the God-given dignity of every person.”

With leaders from the poles of the religious spectrum coming together, you’d think maybe politicians from both parties could join forces, too. And you’d be correct.

A bipartisan group of eight senators—Republicans Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) alongside Democrats Michael Bennet (Colo.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.)—are working on a bill that could pass both houses of Congress and receive President Obama’s signature. Collectively, they carry clout in the Senate. And with public opinion of Congress at historic lows, only the most rigid, contentious and possibly clueless extremists in the House would be likely to counter their plan.

Sticking points

Of course, both parties want to position themselves as champions of a solution to the nation’s immigration problem. And even with goodwill—fueled by desperation to garner future votes, plus recognition that President Obama could exercise executive orders to accomplish several fixes—negotiations will be contentious. The primary sticking points will be secure borders and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens.

Besides political expediency, lawmakers should implement immigration reform in order to strengthen the nation’s current and future economies. That may sound ludicrous to the uninformed and/or xenophobic. But it’s true.

In the short term, immigration reform can boost the economy on at least two fronts. First, as most Texans intuitively understand, immigrants help fill out the vital workforce. The petroleum, agriculture and construction industries would suffer mightily without immigrant workers and can be much more stable if a long-term workforce is assured. After a couple of decades of rapid Hispanic immigration, this situation is replicated nationwide. Our economy depends upon the valuable labor of these noncitizens who have strengthened our nation.

Moreover, the infrastructure of our governmental, healthcare and educational systems would be stronger and more durable if all immigrant workers were brought into the light of day and placed on all the tax rolls.

Population growth

Long-term, the situation is even more serious. Economists point out one of the most vital factors for economic strength is population growth. That’s right—growth.

One of the key factors for economic health is the fertility rate—the expected number of children born per woman in a nation. If the rate drops below 2.1, population will decline and also age steadily. Ultimately, that means fewer and fewer working-age adults to provide resources to care for an expanding senior adult population.

This has exacerbated economic challenges in Japan and some countries of Western Europe, where the fertility rate has stayed below 2.0. And the United States is hovering near that mark. As the baby boom generation retires, smaller generations of workers are coming along to take their places.

Healthy immigration resolves this situation on two fronts. First, and immediately, new residents arrive to supplement the active workforce. Second, fertility rates of the newcomers typically are higher than the general population, thus raising the average.

So, people who fret over the strain of immigrants on local, state and national infrastructures and worry about the economic costs of immigration are wringing their hands about the wrong issues. We need immigrants, and we’ll be stronger if they’re legal and fully part of society and the economy.

The moral thing to do

Finally, Christians should advocate for immigration reform because it is the Christlike and moral thing to do.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, the broad-based gathering of Christians, has called for a bipartisan immigration solution that:

• Respects the God-given dignity of every person

• Protects the unity of the immediate family

• Respects the rule of law

• Guarantees secure national borders

• Ensures fairness to taxpayers

• Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

These steps not only can strengthen the nation, but also elevate an underclass of residents who are made in the image of God and deserve the dignity that should be afforded and expected of all people.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform for almost a decade, noted Suzii Paynter, director of the BGCT’s Christian Life Commission.

Paynter told the Austin American-Statesman the convention supports a reasonable pathway to citizenship.

“It all depends on how that’s structured,” she explained. “There’s very much room for a path to citizenship, especially a path that acknowledges illegal entry and (includes) a commitment toward citizenship education and complying with laws and paying taxes.”

Straight from the Bible

The impetus to deal with immigration comes straight from the Bible, Paynter noted. "The Scripture is full of migration—everything from the Exodus to Jesus and his own family having to flee to Egypt," she told the Austin paper. "So, biblically, we're looking at the Scriptures that have to do with migration. Secondly, we're also looking at the way in which the faith community helps to bring together many voices.”

A tangible way to educate yourself and your church and join those voices is to participate in the Evangelical Immigration Table’s “I Was a Stranger”  challenge. It involves 40 days of Scripture reading and prayer for immigration.

It can change your life. It will change our state and nation.

 

       
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