Immigration Reform 2013: It's What Jesus Would Do

People are often asking the question: what would Jesus say when it comes to the current immigration reform debate?

Well, that might not strictly be true, but apparently support for immigration reform from traditional evangelicals is on the rise. A group of evangelical Christian leaders pushing for immigration reform are calling for "92 days of prayer and action to pass immigration reform." According to their statement of principles for immigration reform, they insist that it "respects the God-given dignity of every person."

In a letter to Congress earlier this month, the leaders urged the passage of "commonsense and comprehensive immigration reform," arguing that "the moral case for reform is clear." Immigrants have been, and always will be, an important part of American society. And now Jesus increasingly thinks so too. But is it just about getting votes?

Richard Land, a Southern Baptist and one of the leaders behind the letter to Congress,  told Molly Worthen, assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, in an article for the New York Times that if Republicans tempered their anti-immigration rhetoric then Latino voters would increasingly support the party.

Talking about Lationos, Land said that they are "social conservatives, hard-wired to be pro-family, religious and entrepreneurial."

Pointing to Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as the new face of Republican Party, Land said: “Let the Democrats be the party of dependency and ever lower expectations. The Republicans will be the party of aspiration and opportunity — and who better to lead the way than the son of Cuban immigrants?”

In their letter to Congress, the evangelical leaders praised the efforts of the Senate’s “Gang of 8” and said that while it is not perfect, "the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 represents a good-faith, bipartisan effort that largely upholds our principles." Arguing that current immigration laws "have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America" and that the current political stalemate is resulting in a "tragic human cost," they are calling for a solution 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

Worthen argues that "evangelicals’ growing support for immigration reform suggests an important shift in how conservative Protestants — who policed the boundaries of our national identity for almost four centuries — think about what it means to be American." There have always been nativist fears regarding immigrants, whether it be the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Chinese, or the Mexicans. And these fears have always centered around the idea that new immigrants would not respect American values and would somehow harm American society. 

Increasingly, however, it appears that evangelicals are welcoming the prospect of more immigrants, with Worthen arguing that they have come to "see Latin Americans and Africans as defenders of traditional gender roles and Christian civilization." Indeed Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, notes that "we have a very positive ‘immigration problem’ in this country, in that the Latino community coming in, both legally and illegally, generally possesses a value system that is compatible with America’s value system."

Although there is doubt about the extent to which Latinos actually conform to the values that evangelicals think they do, the moral of the story seems to be that evangelicals increasingly support immigration reform if the new immigrants look likely accept the values and principles that they hold dear. And if they could please vote for the Republican Party too that would be great, thanks.