"I don't lament the fact that Christians are concerned about border security, or that they feel Trump will fix it. I lament it when I don't also hear us talking about the need to love and respect immigrant families. I don't sense the Christian values of gentleness, patience, compassion, and forgiveness in some of their chants. God tells us to welcome the immigrant. I'd like to hear us talking about how we honor this command. What would we want policy to look if our families lived south of our border? That's the standard Jesus set."
I’m writing this blog in response to a discussion that occurred on my Facebook page this weekend. This post is about the interplay between Trump’s candidacy and immigration reform, an issue I care about deeply.
In my Facebook post I my lamented the fact that at Saturday’s rally in Dayton, when Trump mentioned his intent to build the wall (you know which one), and when the crowd immediately began chanting “Build it. Build It,” Trump’s first reaction was to thank evangelicals for their support. I mentioned that I could not imagine Jesus joining in the chant and if that’s so, neither should we. I stand by these comments, but not for the reasons you many think.
First, allow me to address the elephant in the, well, elephant. Let me comment on what is happening in the Republican Party. Trump excites people. Those who like him like him a lot and the same is true for those who dislike him. This isn’t just a phenomenon occurring outside the church. Christianity Today has noted that we can’t let this issue divide us within the church. We need to allow each other to go through a process of selecting the candidate whom he or she feels is best suited to fill the office. Some friends, and good Christians, have come to the conclusion that Trump is that man. Most who have done so admire his business savvy and feel that country needs that right now. Others trust him to fix the things that are broken in our immigration system. Bottom line, those who do not like Trump shouldn't judge those who come to the conclusion that he is the best available option this fall. Those not supporting Trump, need to resist the urge to judge those who are. The same is true for any other candidate. Doing so, in the wrong spirit, is sinful.
Other people joined the Facebook conversation because they thought that I meant that good Christians could not support Trump’s wall. As an immigration advocate my position on this issue will surprise you. I think securing the border is a first, and necessary step to fixing all the other things that are broken.
My opposition to the wall is not an indication that I don’t appreciate the need for national security. I don’t like the idea of a wall because I think it is the most expensive way to secure our border, and I think it sends the wrong message to our neighbors in Mexico. I would prefer solving the border issue with unarmed drones, fencing in some areas, cameras, sensors, and strategically placed border guards. If economic conditions in Mexico improve at some point, the wall would be an obsolete structure that we will have to maintain for centuries. (And regardless of how nice Trump makes it, I don’t think it will compete with China’s as a tourist attraction.) I also think that the demands for drugs are so high in the United States that drug dealers will just develop other routes. If so, do we build a wall along our beaches and Canadian border too? I don't think so.
I think my next comment will really shock you. As a matter of fact, it shocks me. For three reasons I suspect that Trump may be a good candidate to fix immigration. First, once he builds the wall, or does whatever he ends up doing to secure the border, he will have lessened the main reason many won’t address the other aspects of our outdated and broken immigration policy.
Next, as a businessperson who employs hundreds, perhaps thousands of undocumented immigrants (Who do you suspect are cleaning the rooms in his hotels?) he is keenly aware of the economic benefits of a lower skill/lower pay workforce. I don’t think we want this labor resource to go away. The vast majority of economists agree.
Third, Trump has shown a remarkable ability to morph into whatever suits him best at the moment. I suspect that if Trump is elected, perhaps even after he secures the party's nomination, he will morph into something else. My guess is that he will transform himself into a centrist dealmaker, which is what it will take to accomplish bipartisan immigration reform.
Here’s what I think needs to be done to fix immigration.
First, I think we must have bipartisan cooperation. A bill that only Republicans, or only Democrats support probably won’t be a good bill.
Second, I believe that reform needs to honor the six principles laid out by the Evangelical Immigration Table.
Respects the God-given dignity of every person. It must treat immigrants with respect and human dignity. The people caught in the middle are people like you and me who want most of all to care for our families. Bush was right, most are motivated by love. They would love to be able to put meals in the table, and for their children to have a shot at the American dream.
Protects the unity of the immediate family. Second, stable families are foundational to society. Our immigration policies should have high respect for the family unit and try to keep immediate families intact.
Guarantees secure national borders. Securing the border is important for two reasons. It is in everyone’s best interest that we know who is in our country, and that we prevent those who are intent on harming from entering. It is also a necessary first step politically. There are many who will refuse to consider any other aspect of reform until this one has been addressed.
Ensures fairness to taxpayers. I don’t believe huge numbers of immigrants are coming to get on our entitlement programs. The ones I have met (and due to the nature of my work I have met many) come here to work. Some are willing to do hard manual labor that we don’t want to do. Others are highly skilled and do high skill work where we have labor shortages, medicine for example. Entitlement programs and interest account for 75% of government spending. This is unsustainable and fixing it is part of the solution. Good immigration policy must prevent new arrivals from abusing the system. On another issue, we need to fix policy that discourages our own citizens from working. Currently we reward people for refusing to accept low wage jobs. We need policy that encourages people to use these jobs as a bridge to better jobs with higher pay.
Respects the Rule of Law. Respecting the rule of law is a fundamental requirement for stability and peace. Our current approach does not show respect for rule of law because for decades we have looked the other way because it has not been in our economic best interests to stem the flow of immigrants who will do hard work for a lower wage. First, we need to fix laws that are not in our best interest as a nation. After the laws have been fixed they should be enforced. I do believe there should be some sort of judicial review for exceptional cases, i.e. someone who broke laws a decade ago but who has now become an upstanding member of our community. I’m thinking of a specific case involving a person who was saved from drug addiction years ago, he has married a U.S. citizen, and is now a Pastor. He has tried to get right with the law but there currently any way to do that without leaving his ministry. The same could be true for a person who had multiple DUI’s years ago, but who now owns a business that provides employment and tax revenues.
Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents. I’m in favor of deporting people who are criminals and felons. This is a tiny, tiny portion of the 11-12 million who are already here. The rest are hard working people who want a piece of the American Dream. To deport the entire population would be equivalent to deporting the entire state of Ohio. It was also be an economic disaster. And most important, it would make it almost impossible to get a good burrito at Los Mariachis, El Toro, or any other Mexican restaurant in America.
I believe that legal status and/or citizenship are rights that need to be earned. Two or three years ago, the Senate passed a bill that established a 12-15 year process that included fines, payment of taxes, and multiple criminal background checks. The bill prevented them from accessing entitlement programs during this time, and it required them to maintain steady employment and learn English. The bill also stipulated that none of them could begin the process of obtaining citizenship until all who have been in line legally have been processed. I think that the Senate bill provides a good starting point. We should break it down into a series of smaller bills, fix the things within the bill that need to be fixed, and then pass all of the bills, starting with the one that addresses national security.
What I would like to hear more of from my brothers and sisters in Christ is a thoughtful conversation about we can fix immigration in ways that show compassion for all of God's children.
I don’t know who our next President will be, but I believe that God has already ordained the person he intends to lead our nation. Our job is to think carefully, pray for wisdom, vote our conscience, and then pray for whoever is elected so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives.
At Central Christian Church we are committed to addressing issues of justice and standing with those in need. Jesus didn't put us in Springfield so that we could worship comfortably in a beautiful sanctuary. He put us in springfield so that give our most vulnerable neighbors a taste of heaven and a relationship with Jesus. Join us for worship at 10:30 Sunday Mornings. Join us in community service the rest of the week.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.