In my last post, I shared with you the statement put forward by the Evangelical Immigration Table – a six-point solution to immigration reform. Each principle considers a different nuance of the overall debate. Today I share my thoughts on the first two.
Principle #1: Respecting the God-given Dignity of Every Person
Any meaningful reform must include language and action which respects every person, regardless of nation of origin, immigration status, race, or religion. Every person is made in the image of God and possesses infinite worth and value (Genesis 1:26-27). King David spoke of God intimately knowing him, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 138:16). People are not mistakes, nor are they problems needing to be solved. David’s words inform us that every person was fashioned before a first breath was taken outside the womb. Because all humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Creator (Psalm 139:14), each one is worthy of respect.
When applied to comprehensive immigration reform, the value of life should result in intentional protection of life. A portion of U.S. immigration laws deals with asylum seekers and refugee resettlement. These rules are intended to protect vulnerable people who possess a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The U.S. has a long history of extending a lifeline to those suffering in other countries through refugee resettlement. In 1948, 1953, 1960, 1968, and 1980, the U.S. passed notable immigration laws allowed resettlement beginning with those of post-World War II Europe and extending to those in war-torn countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.1 This protection also included the nations under the control of tribal warlords and revolutionary armies slaughtering their people (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, etc.). Footnote 2 The world sees the U.S. as a beacon of hope, liberty, and safety. To many around the world who live amid persecution, threats of violence, starvation, and the fear of human trafficking, the U.S. is the only hope for living a meaningful and productive life.
The number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. annually has a cap. Under the Refugee Act of 1980 (one of the laws mentioned above), the President consults with Congress to establish the overall refugee admissions ceiling at the beginning each year. In 2017, the refugee ceiling increased 29 percent from the previous year to 110,000. The care for the plight of the refugee appears to be waning under the current administration. A pair of executive orders issued early in the year adjusted the 2017 admissions to 50,000. 3 The subsequent annual numbers have decreased: 45,000 (2018), 30,000 (2019). A distinct possibility exists that the annual refugee resettlement number for 2020 could be as low as zero. 4 While these numbers are not the single barometer of the administration’s care and concern for the welfare of persons in harm’s way, they do communicate a lack of overall concern.
Not only should the dignity of life be protected, but it should be apparent in the way we speak to and about others. James told us there is a propensity for our tongues to, “bless our God and Father, and with it curse men who have been made in the similitude of God” (James 3:9). Anti-immigrant rhetoric is not helpful or God-honoring, nor is it a positive way forward. Immigrants are not “animals”, “killers”, invaders”, “criminals”, or “scum.” Soerens wrote, “If we forget, obscure, or deny that any particular group of people [are fully] human, we lose the ability to imagine ourselves in their circumstances and to act with compassion. We dehumanize them, but we also pave the way for action that ultimately dehumanizes us.” 5
Principle #2: Protecting the Unity of the Immediate Family
It is the firm and fixed belief of Evangelicals that God intended the family unit to be the bedrock of society. It would serve as the primary place of nurturing and instruction for children. God established the family unit (Genesis 2:18-24) before He ordained the church (Matthew 16:18) and the government (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1). The story of the Bible and its people moves through families. God made a covenant with Abraham and His descendants (Genesis 17:7). The Old Testament is replete with exhaustive genealogies utilizing the phrase, “…begat…”, denoting generations of family units. The Gospel writers Matthew and Luke include genealogies tracing the path of Jesus from heaven to human flesh – through family units.
We have all seen the pictures and read the stories in recent months of children separated from parents and husbands separated from their wives at border checkpoints. The media has educated the public as to the extent of family separation at border-crossing facilities allowed by current Customs and Border Patrol policies. When applied to comprehensive immigration reform, the importance of the family unit should move the government to prioritize it as often as is applicable. Families should be able to stay together except when a child’s physical or emotional well-being is in jeopardy.
I understand that the preservation of the family cannot be the top priority for CBP agents. Without a doubt, they are overworked, overburdened, and likely frustrated with ever-changing rules and guidelines. Whether at initial arrest or deportation hearings, the preservation of the family should be a factor balanced among laws and policies. Ultimately the victims of any government-sanctioned separation policy are the children of the undocumented immigrant. For a moment, put yourself in the place of the undocumented immigrant detained at the border for only wanting to make a better life for his/her family, knowing full well that their actions are illegal. Language, crowded detention facilities, shortages of immigration lawyers, overworked courts, an administration who appears at times to be anti-immigrant, and extraordinarily long wait times for court hearings are just a few of the barriers facing those who survive the journey to this country.
Upon arrest, detained immigrants may be refused the opportunity to properly ensure a safe place for their children with the foster care system a likely result. Hearings to determine the immediate future of the child will likely take place away from the detention centers where parents are held. Distance makes it more difficult for caseworkers to maintain contact and reduces the parent’s ability to care for their children who are likely in foster care. Unable to care for their children due to detention, undocumented immigrants face the risk of permanent separation through the termination of parental rights. 6
To say that I am over-simplifying this is like saying the Titanic is big. Many have spilled gallons of ink covering the issue of immigration – yet we are still without meaningful reform. I guess I am just one more voice, a few more drops of ink spilled hoping to bring the seriousness of this matter from 30,000 feet to ground level.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Ibid.
5 – Soerens, Matthew. “We Must Speak With Care on Contentious Issues,” The American Spectator, Jan 15, 2019, https://spectator.org/we-must-speak-with-care-on-contentious-issues/.