IF THERE is any agreement across the ideological spectrum on the subject of immigration policy, it is that our currrent system is broken.
For those with good sense, the solution is a holistic -- and rather complex -- set of provisions addressing the myriad drivers and symptons of the broken system. It's a complicated problem, but many smart and dedicated people have drawn up the contours of policy that could just wrestle it to the ground, if not solve it completely and with the snap of the fingers.
For those who just want to use immigrants as a political punching bag, the solutions are crude and painful, both to immigrants themselves and to the country as a whole. In spite of what they may say, they really don't want sensible and effective immigration reform and for too many years have torpedoed efforts to fix our immigration system (such as a 2007 federal immigration reform bill that, while not perfect, would have left us better off than we are now). Fueled by the extremist talk-radio and TV shouters, this constituency has so terrified our political leaders to do anything to fix the problem, that the prospect of even talking out loud about a fix has been remote at least since the 2007 federal bill went down in flames.
And, ironically, many of the same people who are undermining good-faith attempts at true immigration reform justify their hideous policy solutions by saying that they are acting only because Congress failed to -- as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer did in 2010 when she signed SB 1070, which infamously requires state and local law enforcement officials to question anyone who appears to be an illegal immigrant.That's the same sort of hypocrisy we hear from many of the other proponents of draconia (and ineffective) immigration measures, such as the Alabama law designed to make life for immigrants in the state so miserable they will "self deport." (Yes, "self deportation" is the same policy embraced by Governor Mitt Romney, whose views on immigration policy suggest he, too, has been cowed by the extremists.)
A recent statement by 150 or more Evangelical Christian leaders in favor of comprehensive immigration reform is, therefore, an important breath of fresh air.
What's truly notable and encouraging about this group is not just what they said but who they are. They represent communities and points of views within the Evangelical community that hardly agree on much else, particularly hot-button issues like abortion or GLBT rights.
On these and other isssues, many of these groups are usually screaming at one another, though they've found common cause in the past on matters such as the aspects of the environment, global human rights and poverty. It might suprise liberals, who disagree strenuously (as I do) with Evangelicals on many issues. But it shouldn't. It's important for everyone to understand that in many areas, the compassion of conservatives isn't much different from the compassion of liberals.
On June 12, these leaders, as part of a coalition called the Evangelical Immigration Table, stepped up and said:
Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America. Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other’s positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost.
As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration 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 taxpayer; Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.
We urge our nation’s leaders to work together with the American people to pass immigration reform that embodies these key principles and that will make our nation proud.
As far as I can tell, that's about as specific as they've gotten in their written statements, press conferences and radio advertising. So, sure, the details that derive from those broad principles are subject to many interpretations. But I'm encouraged because these leaders seem to understand the solution has to be multi-facted and comprehensive. Building higher and longer border fences and roughing up a bunch of illegal immigrants -- the old chestnuts of the extremist anti-immigrant camp -- simply aren't going to fix the problem.
I don't usually get too excited when religious leaders issue statements of principle on major policy matters. Not because I don't respect what they're trying to do -- use their moral and communal prestige to help mobilize opinion. That's admirable and important in any society.
But too often these statements are ineffective, either because they're watered down as a result of a need for consensus or, more likely, because they give little if any cover for policy makers to take a courageous stand. The result is that few people, particularly the very policy makers who have the power to make a change, give much attention to these statements. Sadly, nothing happens.
Though I don't think we should hold out collective breath, this could be different, if only because of the presence of so many conservative voices in the Evangelical Immigration Table. They have enormous constituencies and political clout that can, hopefully, neutralize immigration reform opponents, who are almost entirely conservative.
They're also giving the lie to the assumption many have that comprehensive immigration reform is just a liberal dream and a Democratic Party political play for the growing Latino vote. The truth is, there has long been a lot of conservative support for immigration reform. Some pro-immigration reform conservatives represent the interests of businesses that rely heavily on immigrant talent and others who see the issue through a libertarian lens (believing in the unfettered movement of capital, in this case human capital).
Now, if that's the case and they've done little to bring about real reform, what makes me hopeful that this coalition might be different? Well, again, don't let's all hold our breath on this just yet. This is really one of many pieces we need to build a solid constituency for reform. But religious leaders, perhaps more than business and purely ideological leaders, have shown an ability to influence their communities through moral language and the emotional responses it can evoke.
Maybe more importantly, and this will sound crass, many of these communities, understand that their own survival depends on the growing numbers of immigrants (legal and illegal) in their ranks. They have a self interest beyond mere compassion and a desire to fix a broken system. As Lisa Miller wrote in today's Washington Post:
According to a 2007 Pew [Research Center] report, 15 percent of all Hispanics in the United States are Evangelical, and among native-born Hispanics, the number is as high as 30 percent. White Evangelicals, concerned about their institutional future in a country where religious affiliation is declining, see that Hispanics are sitting in their pews, taking communion and worrying about their families’ safety as anti-immigration laws like Arizona’s go into effect. (The Roman Catholic bishops also call for comprehensive immigration reform, but notice that in this case, Catholics and Evangelicals did not work together as they so often do on abortion and other social issues. That’s because competition for Hispanic souls in America is so fierce. “We call it strategic recruitment,” [Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference] said.)"
Maybe I'm encouraged because I'm desperate for good news about immigration policy. Most of what's happened in the name of "immigration reform" over the last few years especially has gone from dreary to depressing -- a lot of beating up on immigrants and avoiding real solutions. In contrast, the Evangelicals statement therefore gives some hope. Maybe only a little, but I'll take that. Let's see what happens.