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Statement of Immigration Principles
The Bible instructs God’s people to show compassion and love for the foreigner and the immigrant. Scripture bases this command on the fact that the Israelites were themselves aliens in Egypt and experienced harsh mistreatment at the hands of their task masters. (Deut 10:19) Throughout the Bible God shows concern for the immigrant. Abraham “lived as an alien in the land of promise” (Hebrews 11:9), and Jesus lived as an alien while a child in Egypt after his parents fled persecution under Herod. (Matthew 2:14)
Scripture combines this obligation to care for the alien with a corollary responsibility of the immigrant to obey the law and respect the customs of the nation in which he resides. In the Old Testament, the same law applied “to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.” (Exodus 12:49). Those immigrants who obeyed the law were to share in the inheritance of Israel as if they were native-born. (Ezekiel 48:22)
How these Biblical principles apply to immigration reform is a matter of prudential judgment in enacting sound public policy. Our immigration system is broken. Illegal immigrants have crossed a porous border, many fleeing abject poverty, authoritarian regimes, drug cartels, and crime. The current visa system is inadequate for our economy. Leaving illegal aliens in the shadows allows them to be exploited by those who break the law and do not pay payroll taxes. All this undermines the rule of law, breeds cynicism, and destroys trust between the government and the American people.
We applaud Senator Marco Rubio and others for stepping forward and providing critical leadership to modernize and reform immigration law based on conservative, pro-family principles. We believe the faith community has much to contribute to this discussion. Immigration reform is not only an economic and national security issue; it is a moral issue that is best advanced by applying principles from Judeo-Christian tradition.
To this end, we offer the following principles that should guide immigration reform:
1. Immigration should strengthen, not undermine the family.
The intact, loving family is the most successful department of health, education, and welfare ever conceived. Just as our forebears came to America to seek a better life for their children and grandchildren, so too do today’s immigrants. Family values do not end at our shores or on the banks of the Rio Grande. Priority in the issuance of green cards should be given to spouses and children of legal residents who have obeyed the law and played by the rules.
There are currently an estimated one million spouses and children of legal residents of the United States awaiting green cards. Under current law it could take 3 to 10 years before these spouses and children can join their loved ones. The reform proposal by Senator Rubio would prioritize immediate family members prior to granting a green card to anyone who has entered the U.S. illegally. President Obama’s proposal would clear out the current visa backlog without giving priority to family members. We oppose this measure because it fails to recognize the centrality of the family. We believe a newly arrived American who is joined by their husband or wife and children will make a better employee, employer, member of the community, and future citizen.
2. Respect for the rule of law.
The first act one commits on the path to becoming an American should not be to violate our nation’s laws. For this reason, those who have come to the U.S. illegally must pay a sizeable fine, pay back taxes, undergo a criminal background check, learn English, and wait for an extended probationary period before they can apply for a green card. If they have committed a violent crime or felony, they should be deported. Those who entered the country illegally (as opposed to those who came legally on a student or work visa and stayed past its expiration) should not be guaranteed a path to citizenship.
There are currently 38 million people in the United States who are foreign-born. Over two-thirds of them entered the country legally and played by the rules. Of the 11 million here illegally, an estimated 40% came legally and over-stayed their visa. The number of aliens who entered the country illegally is small relative to our population. If the 1986 Simpson-Mazolli legislation is any guide, the vast majority of these will not apply for non-immigrant resident visas.
3. Reform the visa system to meet the needs of the U.S. economy.
Recruiting foreign workers to meet national needs is as old as human civilization itself. When Solomon built the temple in ancient Jerusalem he recruited workers from Lebanon and elsewhere to perform most of the work. Completing the temple would have been impossible without the highly-skilled artisans and stonemasons from other countries. (1 Kings 5:6). The same is true in the U.S. today, especially regarding the scientists, engineers, and software designers needed by our technology sector. Too many U.S. companies must locate facilities in China or India because of a shortage of Americans with undergraduate or advanced degrees in these fields.
The current immigration system is based on country quotas rather than one’s skill or education. Only 6.5% of current legal immigration is skill-based. This model, enacted under Lyndon Johnson nearly a half-century ago, is antiquated and inadequate to today’s economy. We call for the expansion of H-1B visas so foreign-born engineers can assist our technology and manufacturing sectors. We need guest workers for agricultural and other sectors. We should staple a green card to every college or graduate-school diploma so we can keep the best and the brightest as we compete with the rest of the world in an increasingly global economy. We should also create a visa program for those immigrants who have started a business and are employing others. One of these immigrants might well be starting the next Facebook or Google in their garage.
4. Secure the border and strictly enforce the law.
U.S. border security has improved in recent years, with border apprehensions falling by roughly 50% to just over 300,000. The number of border guards has more than doubled since 2004 to 22,000 agents. However, more must be done. We must control our border, and we support the “enforcement triggers” in Senator Rubio’s proposal as a predicate to anyone in the country illegally being able to apply for a green card. These enforcement triggers should include the appropriation of funds for the completion of a fence and other border security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border that have already been authorized by Congress, a further increase in border agents, and at least an additional 50% drop in apprehensions along the southern border. In addition, the visa system must be modernized to allow for the tracking of entrance and exit of all visa holders to and from the U.S. We also support an e-verify system that allows employers to conduct immigration status and criminal background checks on prospective employees, along with reasonable fines and penalties for those who employ illegal immigrants.