News of President Obama’s announcement of a policy change on immigration swept the nation last week, as pundits both celebrated and decried the presidential order to suspend deportations of some young immigrants. The Obama administration has been responsible for more deportations than any previous presidency until last week’s dramatic shift in policy.
For some observers, the timing of the historic announcement seemed more than coincidental. Obama’s former silence on the immigration issue combined with his sudden election-year interest left some questioning the motives for the policy change.
But when it comes to taking a firm stand on immigration for the first time, President Obama isn't alone. This year a diverse group of evangelical leaders has weighed in on the immigration debate – an unprecedented step that is possibly signaling a new level of bipartisan cooperation on the issue.
The Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform was presented by the Evangelical Immigration Table, consisting of voices from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the National Association of Evangelicals and other right-leaning groups, as well as the left-leaning Sojourners, among others. Signatories include heads of more than 20 evangelical denominations, numerous evangelical organizations, as well as pastors and evangelical journalists, authors and thought leaders.
“Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America,” the statement reads. “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.” The group concludes that “this false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost.”
The coalition calls 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 taxpayers
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
The statement concludes by urging the “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.”
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, said that immigration impacts families – one of the main reasons he spoke out on the issue. “When you look at it, the immigration issue is not just a legal issue,” he told Christianity Today. “We respect what needs to be done there and hopefully we can strengthen laws, enforce laws and do all the things that we need to do in that way, because it's important for a country to establish its borders and maintain its borders. But when you look at the family impact now and the stories we've received over the past year or two, it's pretty tragic what's occurring.”
But is Obama's temporary suspension of some deportations the answer? For political commentator Karen Hughes, President Obama's policy shift on immigration signaled little more than “a raw display of political power” – just in time to garner more votes ahead of the election. Hughes laments the president’s lack of concern for immigration throughout the majority of his presidency, and mentions his former reluctance to engage on the issue. She recounts Obama’s 2011 town hall speech during which he told Jorge Ramos of Univision that he couldn’t even consider overstepping his bounds as president. “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed,” he said. “For me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.”
But this year is another story entirely – and deportations have officially been suspended by order of the President. While reactions are mixed, the announcement has been heralded as a step in the right direction by thousands of individuals and organizations working on the issue. Church World Service, an organization working with refugees and immigrants throughout the world, welcomed the presidential announcement. “Too many DREAM students were still among the 400,000 immigrants the United States deported last year,” CWS Immigration and Refugee Program Director Erol Kekic said. “This opportunity for deferred action means that as many as a million young people can finally rest easy and get on with their lives in the United States, the country that is their home.”
Kekic says that while the order is a big step toward fulfillment of the DREAM Act, it stops short of creating a path toward citizenship for eligible immigrant young people, a goal he says “we will continue to pursue.”
Kekic says that “Most of these young people know no country but the United States,” and that “many do not remember their home country or language. At the same time, they have so many talents to offer the United States. Expelling them is tragic for them and shortsighted policy for the United States. We need the DREAMers’ youthful energy to keep renewing America.”
For evangelicals joining the debate at a crucial point, there is a sense of optimism and hope for bipartisan cooperation. "I think it's really going to give some new energy to the movement," says National Association of Evangelicals spokesman Galen Carey. "Our focus is not just addressing ourselves to politicians but to our own communities and encouraging all evangelicals to take a serious look at the issue from a biblical and pastoral and human perspective."
Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinwright.net. Kristin can be contacted at [email protected].
Publication date: June 21, 2012