RECONCILING THE CENTRAL TENSION OF THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE
Politically speaking, comprehensive immigration reform is perhaps the ultimate Catch-22: Do we enforce the rule-of-law with people who have entered our country illegally? Or, do we compassionately assimilate undocumented peoples despite having broken our laws getting here in the first place?
As Christians in America, the answer must be yes and yes.
In fact, I believe there are 5 essential policy points that must be included in any serious, comprehensive immigration reform bill that seeks to resolve this central tension while simultaneously bridging the two political parties’ discordant objectives. The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference has established these principles as guideposts to help Congress find a bipartisan solution that bridges compassion and pragmatism with the rule of law.
1. Secure Border:
As a sovereign nation, the U.S. must reserve the right to determine who crosses our borders and who is allowed to stay. We must establish a clearly defined certification process that once satisfied, would enable those that are here illegally to have the opportunity to get permanently right with the law. In the meantime, improved border security and enforcement will help to disincentivize future migration surges as well as slow human and narcotics trafficking.
2. No Amnesty:
We should not simply allow the undocumented population to have a free pass, or amnesty, which would enable them to stay here in America ahead of people that are lawfully in line to immigrate to the United States. However, we understand that this large population will neither be deported nor will most self-deport.
Therefore, we must legislate a process by which these people can admit to their wrongdoing, submit to and pass rigorous state and federal background checks, pay a fine and prove their financial viability.
If they meet all these criteria, they would be able to stay legally as Guest Workers, but they will not be able to adjust their status to permanent resident or citizen unless and until all of the legal immigrant applications already in process have been adjudicated. In other words, they would go to the end of the line.
3. Guest Worker Visas:
Currently, undocumented individuals should initially be able to adjust their status to that of a Guest Worker. They could choose to remain in the United States as Guest Workers indefinitely, so long as they passed the requirements as listed above, and remain current on their tax liabilities.
However, should they choose someday to pursue permanent residency or citizenship, they must pay additional fees, and would not be able to adjust their status unless and until all legal applications previously filed by aspiring immigrants are adjudicated.
4. Deport Serious Criminals
Any and all undocumented individuals engaged in nefarious activities such as murder, rape, assault, drug trafficking, and gang-related activities should and must be deported as expeditiously as possible.
However, a clear distinction must be made between these individuals and others who illegally obtained driver's licenses, social security cards and other documents necessary for employment and basic survival.
The latter, with families raised in America and currently employed, should be protected from deportation as promised by President Trump in interviews with both 60 Minutes and TIME Magazine in addition to phone conferences we at the NHCLC have had several occasions with representatives of this administration.
5. Integration process:
Immigrants must be encouraged to assimilate into the mainstream of American society. America is the only country in the history of the world founded on an idea. Newly legalized undocumented individuals must learn English, as well as American Civics beginning with our founding principles.
As a nation of immigrants, we know that those who come to our country are seeking opportunity, a better future for their children, and liberty. As long as these people obey the laws going forward, they must be treated with the dignity that God has bestowed upon all people equally. Any other option is far too costly politically, financially, and most importantly, from a humanitarian and spiritual perspective as well.
There will be some on both sides of this contentious debate that will disagree with me because I’ve either gone too far or not far enough, but with an issue as difficult as immigration reform, Christians must remember to look to Christ for answers, specifically the cross of Christ. The radical center of the cross is where both righteousness and justice meet. There is nothing more radical than the center of the cross because that is where the law and love were once and for all reconciled and gave birth to grace.
As a leader in the Hispanic Community who is personally and professionally tied to this incredibly emotional issue, I have had to confront the simple truth that there are no easy answers – at least none that have a real chance of being signed into law. But if we honor the rule of law as well as the sanctity of all life, we can find a way forward together.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, executive producer of The Impossible with 20th Century Fox, and bestselling author of "Shake Free”. He has been named by CNN and Fox News as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement” and TIME Magazine nominated him among the 100 most influential leaders in America.