The U.S. immigration system is broken. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have argued that the immigration system is in urgent need of an overhaul. Essentially we have a twentieth-century immigration system addressing twenty-first century immigration realities. The question is not whether or not we need to repair a broken system but rather what should be done to repair this broken immigration system. I am reminded of the existential question of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the height of the civil rights movement: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?”
As an evangelical leader, Scripture and Christian tradition help shape the principles I bring to bear on the immigration debate. St. Augustine provides a guiding question for Christians interested in moral laws and good policies. When it comes to any action or law, Augustine asks, “What is the summa bonum (highest good)?” Christians and all people of good will should relentlessly pursue the highest good. The highest good could modernize our immigration system while providing a way for 11 million people, created in the image of God, to come out of the shadows. For the sake of our shared humanity, we must find a better way forward.
While no policy is specifically endorsed by Scripture, biblical principles overwhelmingly point to practicing hospitality while not imposing undue hardships on citizens. Common-sense immigration reform can do both. Scripture continuously underscores the moral mandate of hospitality. The word for hospitality in the New Testament is “xenophilia”— love of the stranger. Love is the highest Christian principle and must always be balanced with justice. That is why I have endorsed the principles of the Evangelical Immigration Table that balance border security, fairness to taxpayers, family unity, and an earned path to citizenship. We can do all of these things. The status quo is both unsustainable and keeps the door closed to approximately 11 million people. Reform would provide a way for many of them to get right with the law and contribute to the future of our country. Few opponents to comprehensive immigration reform have provided a rational response to what do we do with these 11 million people, many of them women and children. No one argues that keeping 11 million people in a state of perpetual limbo is the right course of action.
Of course, love of the stranger must be balanced with love of the citizen. Fortunately, wise immigration policies can do both. Our country has the creative genius and economic viability to make immigration reform a win-win for everyone. Some opponents of common-sense immigration reform said we have a duty to not put undue hardships on those who are already U.S. citizens. We do have this duty, and immigration reform helps us fulfill this responsibility. Any argument that says immigration reform would do irreparable harm to our economy is premised on a false dichotomy of winners and losers that often stokes the flames of economic fears and insecurity. Just laws cannot be based on fear. Moreover, conservatives like Grover Norquist, Alberto Cardenas, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have made the case that immigration reform makes economic and business sense. A recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center reinforced the fact that common-sense immigration reform would help both the economy and contribute to reducing the deficit. Spurious economic arguments that create zero-sum winners and losers are falling away. In short, immigration reform is not just the hospitable thing to do, it is the economically sound way forward. Our country needs bipartisan leadership to move forward on reform this year rather than kicking the can down the legislative road. No action is simply a de-facto endorsement of a broken system.
One of the most difficult tensions to resolve has been between border security and providing a pathway to citizenship. The reality remains that the border is more secure than anytime in history. In addition to a historically high number of deportations, most people enter legally and overstay their visas. Immigration reform could address the issues of both backlog and visas by modernizing our immigration system. Tragically, some have used the argument that the number of unaccompanied children entering the southwest border in recent months is a sign of a porous border. This argument is not supported by the facts. Many of those displaced children are not sneaking into the United States; they are turning themselves in at the border, seeking asylum as they flee from extreme violence and life-threatening conditions. Diverse voices such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the conservative columnist George Will have argued that the United States could easily integrate these children and that playing political ping-pong with the lives of these children is unacceptable. I agree.
The largest obstacle to overcome in the immigration conversation is global myopia. We need a comprehensive response beyond immigration reform. Immigration requires us to look more deeply at U.S. foreign policies and their effects on the people of the world. Immigration conversations require that we take a close look at economic depravation, gang violence, environmental degradation, corrupt governments, and global hunger. We must advocate for a robust foreign policy of sustainable development and security to address the root causes of mass immigration. Ignoring these realities will always leave us with an incomplete response to the movements of people across borders.
In short, the great commandment of “loving your neighbor as yourself” is at the core of why we advocate immigration reform. When the undocumented man, woman, or child seeking a better life dies in the desert between Mexico and the United States or in a large cargo vessel from Asia, we all mourn. Perhaps the way ahead is simply remembering the words of Christ, when he said, “I was a stranger (xenos) and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35). On immigration reform we can and must do better. Inaction on a broken system is not viable, wise, or the summa bonum.