What you need to know about the House debate on immigration

June 15, 2018

Next week, the House of Representatives will consider two bills that could determine the future of immigration policy and its key issues, including border security and the citizenship status of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children. The bills were introduced by Speaker Paul Ryan in order to prevent a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats from bringing a “discharge petition” to the floor that would have forced votes on key immigration issues, including the future of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.  

What is “DACA”?  

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—DACA—was created by President Obama to provide deferred action for certain people who came to the United States as children by allowing them to remain and legally work or attend college in the U.S. for a period of two years, subject to renewal. In September 2017, the Trump Administration expressed its desire to end the DACA program to protect employment opportunities for native-born Americans and prevent illegal immigration, calling instead for a focus on increased border security.  

What is a “discharge petition”?  

Discharge petition” is the term for a procedural method of bringing a bill to the floor of the House of Representatives without the approval of the Speaker or a specific Congressional committee. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures—half of all congressional representatives—in order to pass and force the House to consider the particular bill or bills.   When Speaker Ryan announced the two new bills on Tuesday, the discharge petition on immigration needed only two additional signatures to pass. The House’s decision to finally address immigration issues in these two bills resulted in several key congressmen withdrawing their signatures from the discharge petition, preventing it from passing by Tuesday’s deadline.  

Why did Speaker Ryan oppose the discharge petition?  

The discharge petition, if passed, would have forced the House to consider four different proposals concerning the future of the DACA program, which allows millions of Dreamers to work or attend college in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The discharge petition came after over nine months of debate but no action in the House and Senate regarding to a solution for DACA.  

Many Democrats and moderate Republicans have voiced a strong desire that any proposed bill include a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Under a specific provision of their discharge petition, whichever of the four proposals received the most votes would pass, meaning that a decision on DACA would have been guaranteed.  

What are the details of the two new immigration bills?  

Speaker Ryan was able to halt the discharge position by proposing two new immigration bills, so the next step will be for the House to consider those bills next week. The first bill is known as “The Goodlatte bill,” as it was drafted by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Goodlatte bill is a proposal in the House that is focused on a decrease in legal immigration and a significant increase in immigration enforcement measures. The second bill, which is being coordinated with House GOP leadership, is expected to be a conservative consensus alternative to the discharge petition.  

The Goodlatte bill does not include a permanent path to citizenship or even a permanent guarantee of legal status for Dreamers. The bill only offers DACA recipients a three-year extension of their DACA status. In exchange, the bill calls for dramatic changes to the American immigration system, including harsh new enforcement penalties and a decrease in legal immigration numbers. The bill is also expected to contain some funding for a wall on the southern border. It is also expected to contain a provision mandating that employers use a process called E-Verify to ensure that potential employees are in the country legally.  

The consensus bill provides a permanent path to citizenship for DACA recipients and provides approximately $25 billion in funding for a wall on the southern border. The bill would also reform the legal immigration system by creating a new merit-based visa system. The new visas for this system come from the reallocation of portions of the family-based immigration preference categories and the diversity visa lottery. The bill also makes several changes to increase immigration enforcement.  

What is the ERLC’s position on the discharge petition and the two bills before Congress?  

The ERLC is encouraged that there will be substantive debate on these important immigration issues, but we have significant concerns with both bills and are working to resolve those concerns.  

The ERLC believes that Congress must find a permanent solution to the immigration issue that treats Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants with the respect and dignity that all people are entitled to. Dreamers have come into this country under circumstances out of their control and, as such, it would be unfair to hold them responsible for the actions of others. The Bible is clear that we do not hold children accountable for the actions of their parents.  

As a result, the ERLC supports a path to citizenship for eligible Dreamers. Many of these Dreamers have become valuable contributors to society, with jobs and families here in America. God has ordained the family as a foundational institution of our society and separating these Dreamers from their families hinders this foundational institution, often leading to poverty and increased crime. Our immigration policy ought to be pro-family by prioritizing the importance of the family unit, keeping families together, and allowing families to be reunited.  

The ERLC also strongly advocates for effective border security. God designed our government to protect His people, and ensuring that our borders are safe and secure is a crucial part of that protection. Any solution to the immigration issue must respect the rule of law.  

As the House prepares to debate both bills next week, we hope you will join us in praying for our lawmakers as they approach the difficult task of reaching a solution to this extremely important issue.  

Here are several resources to better understand the recent conversation over immigration and DACA:  

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24