When it comes to illegal immigration, should we build a bigger fence or cultivate more compassion?
During his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said: “We know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done.”
Was he talking about the economy? Avoiding the sequester? A military proposal? Something to do with Social Security or Medicare?
No, the President was speaking about immigration.
Specifically, he was talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform to address how to prevent illegal immigration and, at the same time, develop an approach to address the estimate that more than 11 million people are already in the United States illegally.
The fact that President Obama would address immigration during such a wide-reaching speech demonstrates that it’s become part of the national dialogue in a major way.
And as with any major policy debate, Christian leaders are also weighing in. But while believers in positions of power may share the same faith, their approach to addressing the topic of immigration has varied widely.
Obeying the governing authorities
With the status of illegal immigrants being, well, illegal, much of the anti-illegal immigration sentiment has come from those who say that breaking the law invites consequences.
“The whole concept of lawful vs. unlawful entry into a nation is based on principles of property rights that flow from the Ten Commandments,” wrote evangelical politician Len Munsil in a 2010 issue of The Arizona Republic. “Those who violate our immigration laws by jumping the fence are stealing rights of citizenship (to live and work in America) and, in essence, coveting and stealing their neighbors’ property. ‘Love thy neighbor’ works both ways, and those who break into their neighbor’s property are violating that principle.”
Munsil, who was also the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Arizona in 2006, suggests that to oppose immigration reform that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants is not to be racist or hateful — it’s to pursue justice.
Other Christians to the far right of the political spectrum have also come out as strongly, condemning many of the comprehensive immigration reform bills that Congress has taken up.
Gary Bauer, head of the Christian Right group American Values and former presidential candidate, wrote in a 2006 USA Today editorial that the conversation surrounding illegal immigration was ignoring the deeper issue: Namely, that immigrants weren’t interested enough in becoming American. “Today, hyphenated Americans put other countries and affiliations first, and they drive a wedge into the heart of ‘one nation,’” Bauer wrote.
Other conservative Christian leaders like Phyllis Schlafly and Tony Perkins have also opposed any immigration reform plan that includes “amnesty.” They each argue that to stand against amnesty is to fight for the rule of law and for American cultural identity, not to be prejudiced.
But many evangelicals, particularly Hispanic Christians, have suggested that a stance that puts such a high value on a normative “cultural fabric” is at best unmeaning xenophobia and at worst an ethnocentric racism.