By / Jul 1

The ERLC affirms that Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner. God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner is a consistent biblical theme, and he calls his people to do the same. Jesus Christ himself, the greatest example of love, implores us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, regardless of race, nationality, religion, or status. 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) passed the National Security law, which represents a dramatic violation of the “one country, two systems” agreement between China and the West.  This aggressive act gives China the power to use the same “security” practices used in mainland China to punish and suppress dissent and unrest.  This law puts political dissenters and people of faith in Hong Kong in danger and at risk of life in prison and perhaps extradition to the mainland.

The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act designates Hong Kong residents as Priority 2 refugees and streamlines their admission process to the United States. This bipartisan bill opens up an asylum path for frontline activists in immediate danger. Additionally, the bill instructs the Secretary of State to coordinate the intake of Hong Kongers as refugees with other like-minded countries. Passage of this bill would send a clear message to Beijing that the United States does not support the CCP’s attempt to silence its dissenters by denying them fundamental human rights.

The United States has a history of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution. Hong Kongers will face increasing threats to freedom of assembly and the right to practice religion in the community as the CCP begins to enforce the National Security law.  The Chinese government treats large groups—even those peacefully gathered and maintained—as a disruption to public order unless registered and controlled.  To that end, the government deploys surveillance devices capable of facial recognition in state-sanctioned and unregistered houses of worship as a means of control and intimidation.  With these mainland “security” measures now extended to Hong Kong, Christians and other religious minorities are especially vulnerable and in need of protection.

The ERLC supports the bipartisan Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act so that the United States can be a place of refuge for Hong Kongers fleeing political persecution.

By / Jun 18

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 18, 2020—The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 today that the Trump administration did not properly rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed nearly 700,000 young people, known as “Dreamers,” to avoid deportation and remain in the U.S. 

In the ruling on the case, Department of Homeland Security et al. v. Regents of the University of California et al., Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to rescind DACA in the fall of 2017 was “arbitrary and capricious” and did not properly follow the Administrative Procedures Act. While the ERLC did not file an amicus brief in this case, Southern Baptists have long advocated for immigration reforms, particularly to protect this special category of young men and women from unjust deportation.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, responded to the ruling below: 

“Dreamers are not an abstraction. They are people created in the image of God, who were brought here as children by their parents. Their entire lives are at stake right now. This Supreme Court decision might address an immediate question of administrative law, but it does not, ultimately, protect our vulnerable neighbors. There is no sending these people ‘back’—in many cases they have no memory at all of the land of their parents’ origin. Those who have lived as good neighbors and contributed so greatly to our country should be protected from the constant threat of having their lives upended. That will take action by the United States Congress. Most Americans agree on this question, which is quite a feat in times as divided as these. Congress should move immediately to protect our Dreamer neighbors.”

For more information on the ERLC’s advocacy on this issue, see the Evangelical Statement of Principles on Dreamers released in October 2017 with over 50 original signatories.

By / May 4

One of the bright spots of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the immediate and innovative responses of churches to help their local communities. There are countless stories of Christians caring for vulnerable adults, providing meals to healthcare workers, and offering support to those who have recently become unemployed.  

There are some needs, however, that can easily be overlooked, especially in times like these when the gaps between social circles are disproportionately wide. Our immigrant and refugee neighbors are among those whose needs often fly under the radar. Many of these individuals and families were already facing significant challenges before the coronavirus began to spread. With the virus reaching pandemic level, those challenges have increased exponentially. As U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Patrick Leahy argued in a bi-partisan letter to the State Department, refugees and certain immigrant visa holders “are among the most vulnerable populations during this global COVID-19 pandemic.”  

In addition, several drastic changes to immigration policies and benefits have been enacted during this lockdown period, and many immigration court dockets are delayed indefinitely. This means thousands of cases will remain unresolved for prolonged periods and could even result in expired documentation for many who could have otherwise had their papers renewed. Such complications and the recent executive order from the White House have clearly heightened concerns and insecurity among immigrants and refugees.  

In a recent interview for a Christianity Today article, I broached the subject of practical ways the Church can serve our immigrant and refugee neighbors during this pandemic. I want to expand further on those ideas, and present seven ways we can serve our immigrant and refugee neighbors right now.

We can demonstrate the love of Christ to our immigrant and refugee neighbors by helping to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in his name, and share with them the most important message they could ever hear.

1. Reach out personally to your immigrant and refugee neighbors. With so many in-person services and organizations closed to the public, including most of those provided by our churches, this is a great time to take the initiative to reach out to someone personally. Many immigrants and refugees are facing higher levels of fear, stress, insecurity, separation, and loneliness. Though we may not be able to visit them in person, most are easy to communicate with using texting, social media messaging, or other social apps such as WhatsApp and Viber.

2. Ensure individuals and families receive and understand community-wide health and safety communications. Language and cultural barriers make it difficult for some to fully understand the reasons behind the “steps to slow the spread,” such as social distancing. This can be of particular concern for immigrant and refugee churches, some of whom have continued meeting in groups simply because they have not accessed or interpreted CDC or health department guidelines adequately. Those of us who are more connected can help others who are not by disseminating and interpreting this vital information for them. USA Hello has set up a helpful website to help communicate this information. Other helpful resources with multiple languages include DSHS and these COVID-19 facts sheets

3. Look to address job and income insecurity. The economic impact we are all feeling has hit immigrant and refugee households hard as well. It has been well-documented that many immigrants serve in healthcare and other critical support industries such as food supply, transportation, maintenance, and manufacturing. These jobs are often performed in environments where social distancing is not possible, resulting in elevated risk factors for workers and their families. On the other hand, many others are self-employed, small business owners, or employed in nonessential entities. In addition, many immigrant workers are not eligible to receive a coronavirus stimulus payment. Here are a couple practical ideas:

  • Order take out or buy gift cards from immigrant-owned restaurants or businesses as a way to provide them earned income. 
  • Be part of the “Share Your Stimulus” movement where people who continue to receive paychecks or have a stronger financial foundation are sharing stories of using their coronavirus stimulus to help those who are struggling financially, and are encouraging others to do the same. 

4. Keep an eye out for concerns regarding mental and emotional health. Many immigrants and refugees already deal with trauma-related illness or difficulties because of past experiences. Consider the additional strain added to those who have been further separated from loved ones and cannot care for them as they previously could. These problems are often worsened by a lack of education and awareness of basic concerns related to mental and emotional health. In some cultures, there is a stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment. Mental health resources are also limited for those without financial resources. USA Hello’s website is a good starting place for information and resources regarding mental health among immigrants and refugees.

5. Learn from and serve alongside your immigrant and refugee neighbors. One of the most common mistakes made by churches and missionaries is viewing ministry to others as one-directional. Our immigrant and refugee neighbors have much to contribute in many different areas, and they are eager to do so. In our own church, a Chinese Christian couple has provided thousands of N95 masks for healthcare workers in Oklahoma, New York City, and China. We’ve also had a group of refugee women who have been sewing and distributing medical masks and caps for several weeks. It is also important to remember that many immigrants and refugees have survived the gravest of circumstances and can offer a great deal of knowledge and experience to benefit others.

6. Invite your immigrant and refugee neighbors to join your online services. If your church is currently broadcasting services or producing other media content; invite your immigrant and refugee neighbor to watch. I’m confident you will find many who will not only say “yes” to your invitation; they will also follow through by logging on to your broadcasts. Our church has seen a measurable increase in the involvement of our international families during this time. We hope this will help us recapture some of the momentum we’ve lost by not being able to conduct our church and local ministries in person. Online services may actually be a preferred way for some to visit your church for the first time because many of the barriers they may perceive in terms of being welcomed are removed. Subtitles and text banners on videos can also be helpful in improving cross-cultural communication.

7. Look for opportunities to introduce or discuss the gospel to your immigrant and refugee neighbors. I’ve heard from many in our church who have been approached directly by friends, neighbors, or colleagues from another faith asking specifically about how the Christian faith teaches us to navigate these times. I’ve personally been contacted by multiple Muslim-background friends who want to know more about how the Bible addresses our current crisis. There has never been a better time to introduce the good news about Jesus into conversations and interactions with those from other faiths and cultures.

Hearts are open and opportunities abound in times of greatest need. I believe the Church is poised to take the lead in moments like these and provide hope in ways no one else can. We can demonstrate the love of Christ to our immigrant and refugee neighbors by helping to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in his name, and share with them the most important message they could ever hear.  

Recommended video resource: Kent Annan of Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute interviews Jenny Yang, Durmomo Gary, and Matt Soerens of World Relief on this topic.   

By / Nov 15

What just happened?

The Supreme Court is considering the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which gives temporary legal status to undocumented children in the U.S., commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” The program was created by the Obama Administration and rescinded by the Trump Administration.

What is DACA?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy President Obama implemented by executive action in 2010.

Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. President Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to consider requests for deferred action for certain people who came to the U.S. as children and met qualifications similar to the DREAM Act. (This is why people who qualify for DACA are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.”)

Those who fill out the required form and qualify for eligibility are allowed to remain, legally work, and/or attend college in the U.S. for a period of two years. As long as they continue to meet the criteria, they are exempt from deportation during the period of deferred action and may be allowed to renew the deferment.

Who are “Dreamers?”

The term “Dreamers” (sometimes DREAMers) refers to young undocumented immigrants who would qualify under the DREAM Act for permanent residency in the U.S. The DREAM Act (an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is proposed federal legislation that would provide permanent resident status on a conditional basis for certain long-term residents who entered the U.S. as children.

Even though the DREAM Act was never passed, the term “Dreamers” is still sometimes used to describe young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors, are pursuing or have pursued education, and have never been convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanors.

What is the DREAM Act?

The bipartisan act would grant lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis to young, undocumented immigrants who meet the following qualifications:

  • Demonstrate that they were 17 years old or younger when they were brought to the U.S. and that they have been in the U.S. continuously for the last 4 years
  • Pass a government background check, establish “good moral character,” which means they have had no felony convictions or multiple misdemeanor convictions, and pass a medical exam
  • Establish that they have obtained or are in the process of obtaining a college degree or high school diploma
  • Pay a fee

The conditional permanent resident status is valid for eight years but may be terminated if it’s determined the person ceases to meet the admissibility criteria, has a serious criminal conviction, or is found to have participated in the persecution of U.S. citizens.

Various versions of this act were introduced in 2001, 2006, 2007, and from 2009 to 2012, though none have yet passed in Congress. Efforts by Congress in 2018 to implement a replacement to DACA in 2018 failed, resulting in a three-day government shutdown.

How many people are currently DACA recipients?

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, as of June 30, the approximate number of active DACA recipients is 660,880. An additional 35,680 are pending renewal.

Where are DACA recipients from, and where do they reside in the U.S.?

The vast majority are from Mexico (80%), followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru. But countries with more than 1,000 recipients include Nigeria, Poland, and South Korea.

While recipients reside in all 50 states, more than half live in California, Texas, and Illinois.

Are people under DACA on a path to U.S. citizenship?

No, nor do they have “lawful status” for the purpose of immigration laws. DACA allows immigrants to obtain a “lawful presence” in the U.S. but not a “lawful status.” In other words, they are still considered to be here unlawfully, but they are legally allowed to stay in the U.S. during their deferment.

What is the Supreme Court being asked to decide?

The justices will first decide whether the government’s decision to end DACA is a matter the courts can review at all. The Trump administration says they have the discretion to overturn previous policies of executive branch agencies, like the DHS.

If the Court rules that the issue is one of judicial review, they will then decide whether the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law governing administrative agencies. Lower courts ruled that it did, and ordered the government to retain DACA.

The Court will issue its final ruling in May or June of 2020.

What happens if DACA is overturned?

If the Supreme Court allows the Trump administration to repeal DACA, Congress could once again attempt to move forward on the DREAM Act. In a tweet on Tuesday, President Trump said, “If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” But it’s unlikely a legislative remedy will be in place before the next election.

By / Oct 30

In recent years, few issues have dominated the headlines as frequently and divided the country as deeply as immigration. Many Americans—including many Christians—feel conflicted as they think about such a complex issue: They want the United States to be a secure country with just and fair immigration laws that welcome those immigrants who want to contribute to our communities and become a part of the American story.

This is why we published A biblical view of immigrants: Part 1 to equip Christians with how Scripture calls us to treat immigrants and what that means for our own communities today. In the second part of this series, we want to explore how biblical principles can apply to a policy framework for immigration reform.

Upholding the God-given dignity of every person

One of the most foundational biblical passages for thinking about public policy is the truth that every human being is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26).

One ramification of this belief as applied to immigration policy is that, since human life is sacred, it should always be protected; that’s one reason that U.S. asylum laws, which guide the government not to send someone back to a situation of danger, are so vital. The notion that immigrants are made in God’s image also should inform the way that we speak about them. James laments the use of the same tongues to praise and worship God and to “curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). 

Not only does each immigrant — like every other human being — have dignity and value, but the belief that each person is made in the image of the Creator also implies the potential to create and to contribute. Indeed, immigrants have used the potential God has placed within them to contribute mightily to the U.S. economy: 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and another quarter were founded by the children of immigrants. Were it not for immigration, close to half of these companies that employ tens of thousands of Americans — including Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Disney, General Electric, Google, Home Depot, Kraft, McDonald’s, UPS and many others — would likely not be American companies, and might not exist at all.

Protecting the unity of the immediate family

Christians believe that the family unit was established by God at creation as the fundamental building block of society. The reformer Martin Luther recognized three institutions ordained by God: the household, the government and the church. Even before God ordains the church (Matthew 16:18) and the government (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1), he first establishes the family unit (Genesis 2:18-24). 

One of the most foundational biblical passages for thinking about public policy is the truth that every human being is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26).

God designed the family unit to be the primary place of nurturing and instruction for children. Our immigration policies should reflect this value, keeping children with their parents and keeping husbands and wives united. If the family truly is the core building block of our society, all American policy, including immigration policy, should prioritize the strength and unity of families. While this may not always be possible — and the church, as the family of God, should take particular concern for children not able to experience this ideal — government policy should prioritize the unity of families wherever possible. Broadly, this means that immediate families should be able to stay together except in the very rarest of circumstances, such as when the life or well-being of a child is at risk. 

Respecting the rule the law

Whether by crossing the border illegally or overstaying their visa, a significant minority of immigrants in the United States, likely between 10 to 12 million, are living here unlawfully. Undocumented immigrants often choose to come to the U.S. illegally under very difficult circumstances, fleeing serious economic hardship or even persecution. However, except for those brought as minors or trafficked to the U.S. against their will, they still did knowingly break U.S. law. This is why amnesty is wrong: Amnesty communicates that the law doesn’t matter. Even when laws don’t work well, they shouldn’t simply be ignored — participants in a democratic society should work to change them. 

The best way forward — both to respect the law and to keep families together — is to have an earned legalization process, which includes the payment of a monetary fine as restitution for adults who willfully violated U.S. immigration laws and, of course, criminal background checks. For many who have lived under both the fear and shame associated with their unlawful status for many years, the opportunity to earn legal status would feel akin to the biblical Year of Jubilee, a time of redemption, when debts were canceled (Leviticus 25:8-17). 

Guaranteeing secure national borders

While immigration is a much broader topic than just the U.S.-Mexico border — after all, most immigrants come to the U.S. via airplanes, including many unauthorized immigrants who initially enter on temporary visas — the security of the United States’ borders with both Mexico and Canada is an important matter. Christians want to be part of a compassionate nation that welcomes immigrants, and we also want to be safe. That’s consistent with the God-ordained role of government described in the Bible (Romans 13:1) and with the Israelites’ establishment of fortified cities “for protection” (Numbers 32:17).

The role of secure borders should be to protect the nation, however, not to keep out those fleeing persecution. The U.S. refugee resettlement program is a great example: Since 1980, when the Refugee Act was signed into law, roughly 3 million refugees have been identified overseas, vetted and then invited to rebuild their lives in the U.S. Of those 3 million refugees admitted since 1980, not a single one has taken an American life in a terrorist attack.

One of the best ways to reduce illegal immigration is by building a more functional, robust legal immigration system — not just for those fleeing persecution (who may qualify for asylum or refugee status) but also for those seeking to meet a labor need in the U.S. Most immigrants would much rather go through an application and vetting process closer to their homes and then come safely to the U.S. on an airplane with a visa than make a very dangerous journey across Mexico.

A functional legal immigration system would go a long way toward reducing illegal immigration and allow the Department of Homeland Security to improve border security to keep Americans safe.  

Ensuring fairness to taxpayers

It’s important that immigration policies are fair to taxpayers. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers that those who were unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10), and likewise it’s right to expect immigrants to work, not to depend upon social programs funded by the taxes paid by others.

It’s true that some categories of immigrants receive some governmental assistance, which involves some costs to taxpayers. But, while there may be a net cost to taxpayers for a few years, in the long run these individuals actually contribute more in taxes than they receive: A study by economists at the University of Notre Dame finds that, 20 years after arrival, the average refugee adult has contributed about $21,000 more in taxes than the combined costs of public benefits they have qualified for and initial resettlement assistance. 

Many presume that undocumented immigrants — those living and usually working in the U.S. unlawfully — are not paying taxes, but this turns out not to be true. Like anyone else in our economy, they pay sales tax when they go shopping or buy a car. Those state and local taxes add up to about $7 billion annually for all states. Undocumented immigrants also pay property tax, whether directly as homeowners or indirectly as renters, and those taxes from all states add up to roughly $3.6 billion annually.

However, the fact remains that some undocumented immigrants have not fully paid their taxes, which is unfair to the rest of American taxpayers who have worked hard and paid their fair share. This is another reason why amnesty is the wrong approach. Any path to legal status or citizenship should make sure that American taxpayers are treated fairly in the process by requiring undocumented immigrants to make things right through a process of restitution. 

Immigrants are an important part of the U.S. economy. While Christians should value immigrants as human persons made in God’s image regardless of any economic contribution, it is fair that the government consider economic opportunities and impacts as it develops immigration policy, pursuing flourishing for all Americans and being fair to taxpayers.

Making things right through a restitution-based path to legal status

Unauthorized immigrants, including many within evangelical churches, are often desperate to get right with the law, and many yearn to be citizens of the United States, a land they have come to love. Many Americans rightly wonder why undocumented immigrants don’t simply begin the process to become citizens. But the fact is, for most undocumented immigrants, there simply is no process for them to actually come out of the shadows and make things right. With very limited exceptions, it’s not a question of them being unwilling to wait their turn in line: There is no line in which they qualify to wait.

Our country needs a better way forward — one that honors the law, is fair to American taxpayers and keeps families together. That way is an earned legalization process, including some form of restitution. And for the subset of these immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, commonly known as “Dreamers,” an earned legalization process should not include a requirement of restitution, given the biblical and legal principle that we do not hold children accountable for their parents’ decisions (Ezekiel 18:20).

This sort of a restitution-based, earned legalization process, paired with improvements to border security, is supported by more than two-thirds of American evangelical Christians, according to a poll from LifeWay Research.

Indeed, while the Bible guides us to reject public policy proposals that undermine the rule of law, it also compels us to believe in restoration. Were elected officials to pursue a restitution-based legalization process for qualifying immigrants, it would give these immigrants the chance to earn their way back into right standing with the U.S. government, which would be a tremendous relief to them and a reaffirmation of the importance of the rule of law. 

There would be great community celebrations as neighbors, family members, fellow church members and employees welcome immigrants with open arms out of the shadows and into lawful and permanent status. This process would invite the formerly undocumented to participate fully and completely in American society, finally being able to add their strands of colorful fabric to the great and beautiful tapestry that is the United States of America. 

The invitation: Take the next step

Reforming the U.S. immigration system is not a simple task, nor is it easy politically. But nearly all Americans agree that our current system isn’t working, that people are harmed along the way, and that Washington needs to come together for a solution.

What's one step you can take? You can learn more about these issues by reading the extended articles for each area of engagement and policy reform.

This is an excerpt from Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform, an e-book recently published by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).

By / Oct 9

If we as Christians truly stand as defenders of the sanctity and dignity of all human life, our nation’s current response to the global refugee crisis ought to be of significant concern.  

God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner is a consistent biblical theme, and he calls his people to do the same. Jesus Christ himself, the greatest example of love, implores us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, regardless of race, nationality, religion, or status.  

The UNHCR estimates more than 71 million people are forcibly displaced around the world. This is the largest humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. If no one intervenes on their behalf, the vast majority will remain displaced in or around their countries for 10 years or more.  

When the current administration’s travel ban was announced in 2017, promises were made that we would continue resettlement with a shift in focus toward persecuted Christians and others in the most desperate situations. Instead, we have dismantled many parts of the program and reduced the total number of refugees resettled each year from 85,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2016 to less than 30,000 in FY 2019. Now the White House has announced the ceiling planned for FY 2020 will be 18,000, with stipulations put in place that could reduce that number even further depending on decisions made at the state level. This means our resettlement numbers will be even less than 2002, the year after 9/11.   

If this decision stands, many people in the most desperate situations who would add great benefit to our nation will continue to languish in dreadful conditions. Furthermore, threats to national and global security will increase because of prolonged exposure to extremism. As the rest of the world watches us, other developed countries will follow our lead, and global refugee admissions will drop, as occurred after our reductions in 2017.  

It is entirely possible to articulate a generous position toward the world’s most vulnerable people while also being committed to national security and upholding our laws. 

We all know immigration-related topics are just as contentious in our churches as anywhere else in our current sociopolitical climate, but it is entirely possible to articulate a generous position toward the world’s most vulnerable people while also being committed to national security and upholding our laws.   

According to a report published by USCIS in 2018, our refugee resettlement program is continually improving its already stringent screening and vetting processes. These include biometric and biographic checks at multiple points, in-person interviews, and multiple security and medical clearances before a person or family is admitted into the U.S. The highest priority is given to people facing the gravest dangers, including women and children, and to family reunification of spouses, children, and parents. Many people are surprised to learn that the top four countries from which the U.S. government currently resettles refugees are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Ukraine, and Bhutan.  

Our church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was blessed to receive a young refugee family from one of these countries in 2017. They were accepted for refugee resettlement because they were experiencing persecution for their Christian faith. The parents and children immediately became involved in our church and remain an active part of our ministries. The wife often reads Scripture in worship in English and in her heart language. Both parents have secured jobs and are contributing to our city. To us they are living proof that refugee resettlement is of great value to both the refugees themselves and the communities who receive them. If the changes at hand do take place in the U.S., no Christian refugee families from their country will be considered for resettlement.  

In July, evangelical leaders, including Russell Moore and several pastors connected to the ERLC, sent a letter to the White House which began with the words, “Recognizing God’s love for the vulnerable and the persecuted, we are concerned for all who have fled persecution and who urgently need protection. And we are particularly concerned about the potential impact of your decision on fellow believers who are being persecuted for their faith.”  

In August, a group of 18 U.S. senators representing more than a third of U.S. states crossed the political aisle by sending a bi-partisan letter to the executive branch, imploring them “to increase the refugee resettlement cap and to admit as many refugees as possible within that cap.” The letter goes on to state:  

“At a time when global leadership is needed more than ever to solve the complex refugee problem — both at home and abroad — the United States is well-positioned to continue its long legacy as a protector of human rights. Refugee resettlement combines the compassion of America with an important tool necessary to pursue foreign policy objectives.”  

After the White House made its announcement on Sept. 26, 2019, Sen. James Lankford, who was a co-author on the letter mentioned above, released a statement which said, in part:    

“I’m disappointed to see that the Administration has once again decided to decrease the number of refugees we allow into our country . . . Just this week, the President spoke at the United Nations to implore the rest of the world to end religious persecution. Doing so means we should continue to share our values throughout the world, and we can also be an example of being a safe haven for those legitimately fleeing persecution. The Administration should consult Congress and finalize an FY2020 cap that is consistent with our nation’s values and foreign policy goals.”  

Several military leaders have also recently added their voices in support of increased refugee resettlement. A group of more than two dozen retired U.S. generals and admirals sent a letter to the White House stressing that our refugee resettlement program has “provided life-saving assistance, demonstrated our humanitarian leadership and values, supported allies hosting the vast majority of refugees, and served critical national security interests.”  

If senators from both parties and commanding officers from multiple branches of the military can come to an agreement on continuing to resettle refugees generously and responsibly, certainly Christians and churches can work toward the same. We should be the most willing to overcome differences of opinion and partisanship for the dignity of hurting people. There are still important decisions to be made on behalf of displaced people all over the world. Let’s continue to implore the leaders of our incredibly blessed and prosperous nation to maximize our commitment to the vulnerable in a way that reflects how gracious and generous we are.  

A form of this article originally appeared here

By / Sep 30

Perhaps the most sensitive question for Christians wrestling with U.S. immigration policy is that of what to offer immigrants who are here in the country illegally. Many Christians are torn between the desire to respect and enforce the law and the desire to love, welcome and share the gospel with immigrants. How should believers respond in cases when they suspect immigrants are here illegally? 

For churches, ministries and ordinary American Christians, U.S. law does not restrict the clear biblical mandate to show compassion. There’s no requirement that a citizen report someone they suspect may be in the country unlawfully. Christians can teach English classes, run food pantries, teach Sunday school, baptize and serve Communion — the law. In general, the only area where there’s a likely legal risk is in employing someone who is not authorized to work. 

Of course, that could change: There have been proposals in the past that could have made some elements of ministry to undocumented immigrants illegal; it’s important, as a matter of religious liberty, to push back against any policy proposals that would imply the government is limiting those whom the church can serve. As Rick Warren has said, “A good Samaritan doesn’t stop and ask the injured person, ‘Are you legal or illegal?’” and Christians should be able to minister to people freely. 

Unauthorized immigrants, including many within evangelical churches, are often desperate to get right with the law, and many yearn to be citizens of the United States, a land they have come to love. Many Americans rightly wonder why undocumented immigrants don’t simply begin the process to become citizens. But the fact is, for most undocumented immigrants, there simply is no process for them to actually come out of the shadows and make things right. Most do not fit into any of the limited categories of people who qualify to request immigrant status (a legal prerequisite to citizenship) under existing law — just as most did not qualify for immigrant visas when they were still in their countries of origin. With very limited exceptions, it’s not a question of them being unwilling to wait their turn in line: There is no line in which they qualify to wait. It’s also not a question of them not having enough money to pay filing fees or to hire an attorney: In most cases, the best attorney in the country could do nothing to help them, because they simply do not qualify under current law. 

So what could lawmakers do to address this situation? To simply offer an amnesty policy, pretending that these undocumented immigrants had not broken the law and extending citizenship, would not honor the law, which Christians are called to do. 

On the other hand, a mass deportation policy would be problematic as well. Just on an economic level, it would be disastrous. The conservative American Action Forum estimates that it would cost somewhere between $400 billion and $600 billion to forcibly identify and deport all immigrants in the country unlawfully and then to keep them from simply coming back illegally, which many would likely try to do if taken from their family members who are U.S. citizens. And the economic consequences of removing these individuals who are workers, taxpayers and consumers from the U.S. economy would be even more severe, removing $1.6 trillion from the U.S. economy over the next 20 years. Furthermore, on a humanitarian level, the country would have to figure out what to do with millions of U.S.-born children born to undocumented parents, who would in many cases grow up without one or both of their parents, potentially adding additional burden on the foster care system. Churches, many of which include undocumented members, would be hard hit as well. 

Another option is the status quo — to deport undocumented immigrants only selectively, a few hundred thousand per year over the past decade, which is enough to keep these immigrants living in fear but not ever to remove all of those who are unlawfully present. Sen. Marco Rubio and the late Sen. John McCain, among others, have called this a “de facto amnesty,” as it mostly ignores the reality that millions of immigrants are living in the country unlawfully (and that many employers are knowingly violating the law by hiring them). 

Our country needs a better way forward — one that honors the law, is fair to American taxpayers and keeps families together. That way is an earned legalization process, including some form of restitution. Immigrants in the country unlawfully would be able to come forward and admit to having violated U.S. immigration law by sneaking across the border or by overstaying a temporary visa, and would pay a fine as a result, potentially payable in installments over time. From there, they could undergo a criminal background check; while a small minority of immigrants have committed serious crimes and ought to be deported, the vast majority have not: They would be allowed a temporary legal status for a period of time while they can pay their fine and prove that they’re working or part of a household where others are working; paying taxes; and staying out of criminal trouble. If they meet all appropriate requirements, they’d eventually be able to apply to be lawful permanent residents of the United States. Once they reach that status, they could choose to pursue the existing process for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen, which includes passing a test in English focused on the Constitution and U.S. history. 

For the subset of these immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, it does not make sense to require the payment of a fine as restitution: They did not make the decision to come to the United States unlawfully or to overstay a visa, as they had no choice in the matter. For these young people, commonly known as “Dreamers,” an earned legalization process should not include a requirement of restitution, given the biblical and legal principle that we do not hold children accountable for their parents’ decisions (Ezekiel 18:20). 

This sort of an earned legalization process, paired with improvements to border security, is supported by more than two-thirds of American evangelical Christians, according to a poll from LifeWay Research. In fact, only 16 percent of evangelicals disagree with this proposal. It’s a common-sense way forward that both honors the law and keeps families together, both values found in Scripture. 

“For immigrants in the country illegally, there are no real options for redemption,” notes LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell, reflecting on a recent poll that found an increased level of support for such a path to citizenship among evangelical pastors. “That [lack of redemption] doesn’t sit well with pastors — the majority of whom were ready for lawmakers to offer a means of making restitution and gaining legal status years ago.” 

Indeed, while the Bible guides us to reject public policy proposals that undermine the rule of law, it also compels us to believe in restoration. Were elected officials to pursue a restitution-based legalization process for qualifying immigrants, it would give these immigrants the chance to earn their way back into right standing with the U.S. government, which would be a tremendous relief to them and a reaffirmation of the importance of the rule of law. 

An earned pathway to legal status would legitimize the long-term presence of these immigrants in their communities. There would be great community celebrations as neighbors, family members, fellow church members and employees welcome immigrants with open arms out of the shadows and into lawful and permanent status. This process would invite the formerly undocumented to participate fully and completely in American society, finally being able to add their strands of colorful fabric to the great and beautiful tapestry that is the United States of America.

This is an excerpt from Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform, an e-book recently published by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).

By / Sep 30

A significant concern for many Americans when it comes to immigration is: Can we afford this? Many taxpaying American citizens want to be generous, but with significant economic need among those already within the U.S. , they wonder: Can the country afford to receive additional immigrants from other countries? 

It’s important that immigration policies are fair to taxpayers. While a just society will protect uniquely vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and those who have a disability that prevents them from working, in general, everyone should be expected to work to provide for their own basic needs. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers that those who were unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10), and likewise it’s right to expect immigrants to work, not to depend upon social programs funded by the taxes paid by others. 

Overall, immigrants actually have a higher labor participation rate than native-born U.S. citizens, and they tend to be concentrated in key industries, complementing rather 31 than replacing the work that most American citizens want and have the skills to do. That’s true both in sectors of our economy requiring a great deal of education, such as technology and medicine, and in those that don’t usually require advanced education, such as working on farms, in restaurants or in hotels, where the jobs immigrants accept often create other jobs that are usually held by U.S. citizens up and down the supply chain. For example, if an immigrant isn’t willing to take a hard-to-fill job picking strawberries, a truck driver to transport those strawberries — who is much more likely to be a U.S. citizen — is also likely to be out of a job. Were it not for immigrants who are willing to work washing dishes, the waitress at the front of a restaurant might not have a job, either. 

It’s true that some categories of immigrants receive some governmental assistance, which involves some costs to taxpayers. While most family- or employer-sponsored immigrants, as well as anyone who is undocumented, are ineligible for most federal means-tested public benefits, those who come to the U.S. as refugees do qualify for benefits such as food stamps, as well as some initial resettlement assistance. But, while there may be a net cost to taxpayers for a few years, in the long run these individuals actually contribute more in taxes than they receive: A study by economists at the University of Notre Dame finds that, 20 years after arrival, the average refugee adult has contributed about $21,000 more in taxes than the combined costs of public benefits they have qualified for and initial resettlement assistance. A recent government study found that, between 2005 and 2014, government spent $206 billion on refugees, but during the same time period received $269 billion in taxes at all levels, a net contribution of about $63 billion.  

This cost-benefit analysis underscores that, in our focus on fairness to taxpayers, it’s important to recognize that the base of those paying taxes in the U.S. includes many immigrants. Overall, immigrants — including those who are not yet naturalized and thus cannot vote — contributed an estimated $328 billion in local, state and federal taxes in 2014. And, of course, they are also paying for goods and services in our communities, 34 increasing the overall size of the economy and creating jobs for others. Many presume that undocumented immigrants — those living and usually working in the U.S. unlawfully — are not paying taxes, but this turns out not to be true. Like anyone else in our economy, they pay sales tax when they go shopping or buy a car. Those state and local taxes add up to about $7 billion annually for all states. Undocumented 35 immigrants also pay property tax, whether directly as homeowners or indirectly as renters, and those taxes from all states add up to roughly $3.6 billion annually. 

And while it’s true that many undocumented immigrants are being paid by unscrupulous employers in cash, off the books, and thus not having income taxes withheld, the Social Security Administration estimates that about half of these unauthorized workers are having payroll taxes taken from their paychecks. In fact, the Social Security Administration has said that individuals whom they believe to be unauthorized workers contribute as much as $12 billion per year that they will never be eligible to receive as a retirement benefit.  

However, the fact remains that some undocumented immigrants have not fully paid their taxes, which is unfair to the rest of American taxpayers who have worked hard and paid their fair share. This is another reason why amnesty is the wrong approach. Any path to legal status or citizenship should make sure that American taxpayers are treated fairly in the process by requiring undocumented immigrants to make things right through a process of restitution. 

Immigrants are an important part of the U.S. economy. While Christians should value immigrants as human persons made in God’s image regardless of any economic contribution, it is fair that the government consider economic opportunities and impacts as it develops immigration policy, pursuing flourishing for all Americans and being fair to taxpayers, whether they’re native-born American citizens or immigrants. 

This is an excerpt from Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform, an e-book recently published by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).

By / Sep 30

For many American Christians, the images that come to mind when we think about immigration are of fences and walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. Questions of border security have often been at the center of political debates in Washington, D.C. 

While immigration is a much broader topic than just the U.S.-Mexico border — after all, most immigrants come to the U.S. via airplanes, including many unauthorized immigrants who initially enter on temporary visas — the security of the United States’ borders with both Mexico and Canada is an important matter. Christians want to be part of a compassionate nation that welcomes immigrants, and we also want to be safe. 

We should expect our government to ensure secure national borders, to track everyone who comes into the U.S. and to ensure that no one who would seek to do harm is able to enter. That’s consistent with the God-ordained role of government described in the Bible (Romans 13:1) and with the Israelites’ establishment of fortified cities “for protection” (Numbers 32:17). 

The role of secure borders should be to protect the nation, however, not to keep out those fleeing persecution. It’s vital that as government invests in border security, it also respect U.S. laws that allow those with a credible fear of persecution to request asylum. These individuals should be screened and vetted — both to make sure they truly qualify under the terms of U.S. law and to ensure that they do not present a public safety or national security threat. 

For decades, the U.S. government has proved that it does carefully vet those seeking to enter the U.S. lawfully. The U.S. refugee resettlement program is a great example: Since 1980, when the Refugee Act was signed into law, roughly 3 million refugees have been identified overseas, vetted and then invited to rebuild their lives in the U.S. The vetting process currently in place for the refugee program is extremely thorough, including multiple layers of background checks, retina scans, fingerprints and in-person interviews with trained officers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It’s been remarkably effective: Of those 3 million refugees admitted since 1980, not a single one has taken an American life in a terrorist attack. Many of these refugees have been 30 persecuted Christians who faced the threat of violence because of their faith in Jesus in their countries of origin, who now have found safety and religious freedom in the U.S. , often planting new churches here in the process. Others have come from other religious traditions but encountered the hope of a relationship with Jesus in the U.S. when welcomed by American Christians.

There has been significant progress in the past decades toward securing the U.S.- Mexico border. Far fewer individuals are able to enter the country surreptitiously today than 10 or 15 years ago, in part because of significant investments in border security technology, strategic physical barriers and personnel. Still, most Americans feel more needs to be done. While we may have differences of opinion about what mix of structures and technologies is best to ensure that the government has control over the border, a significant investment is necessary. To stop drug and human smugglers, elected leaders need to take the challenge of border security seriously and be committed to doing what it takes to ensure that our government has control over the U.S.-Mexico border.

Lastly, one of the best ways to reduce illegal immigration is by building a more functional, robust legal immigration system — not just for those fleeing persecution (who may qualify for asylum or refugee status) but also for those seeking to meet a labor need in the U.S. Most immigrants would much rather go through an application and vetting process closer to their homes and then come safely to the U.S. on an airplane with a visa than make a very dangerous journey across Mexico. However, current policies often make this impossible. Those facing credible fears of persecution may feel no choice but to reach the border to request asylum. Those seeking employment may see no possibility except to overstay a temporary visa. Some misuse the asylum system or may attempt to sneak into the U.S. A functional legal immigration system would go a long way toward reducing illegal immigration and allow the Department of Homeland Security to improve border security to keep Americans safe.  

This is an excerpt from Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform, an e-book recently published by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).

By / Sep 30

For many Christians, the general idea that churches and individual Christians should seek to love, welcome and share the gospel with immigrants is uncontroversial, but the issue becomes much more difficult when considering how to respond to immigrants who are in the country illegally. 

While most immigrants are in compliance with U.S. law, a significant minority — likely somewhere between 10.7 million and 12 million, based on nonpartisan and governmental estimates — are not present in the United States lawfully. Just over half of those individuals crossed a border illegally, while an estimated 4.5 million (including two-thirds of those who have arrived since 2014) entered lawfully on temporary visas, but overstayed their visas. Christians seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures want to show kindness and compassion to these individuals but are also are bound to respect the law. Is it possible to do both?

Undocumented immigrants often choose to come to the U.S. illegally under very difficult circumstances, fleeing serious economic hardship or even persecution. However, except for those brought as minors or trafficked to the U.S. against their will, they still did knowingly break U.S. law. This is why amnesty is wrong: Amnesty communicates that the law doesn’t matter. Even when laws don’t work well, they shouldn’t simply be ignored — participants in a democratic society should work to change them. 

The best way forward — both to respect the law and to keep families together — is to have an earned legalization process, which includes the payment of a monetary fine as restitution for adults who willfully violated U.S. immigration laws. Of course, a criminal background check should also be a part of that process, and anyone convicted of a serious crime should be excluded and potentially deported. On the other hand, someone brought as a child to the U.S. did not make the decision to enter the country or overstay a visa unlawfully, and should not be penalized. 

Most of the undocumented immigrants in U.S. churches are actually very eager to make things right, and they would be happy to pay a fine and meet other qualifications to eventually have the chance to be lawful permanent residents of the United States, a country most have come to love and see as their home. For many who have lived under both the fear and shame associated with their unlawful status for many years, the opportunity to earn legal status would feel akin to the biblical Year of Jubilee, a time of redemption, when debts were canceled (Leviticus 25:8-17). 

If the law is truly to be respected, we should ensure the integrity of the U.S. immigration system going forward: That means doing everything possible to deter illegal immigration, including pursuing secure borders, but also facilitating legal immigration: not without limit, but in ways that meet the needs of the U.S. labor market, that keep families together and that allow the country to continue to serve as a place of refuge for some of the most vulnerable persecuted people in the world, consistent with the best of the history and values of the United States. 

Another area where respecting the rule of law comes into play is honoring the nation’s laws that offer asylum to those who flee a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. Decades ago, the U.S. actually turned away Jewish people fleeing the Nazi government in Germany. Many of them were ultimately returned and killed in the Holocaust. In the years that followed, the U.S. joined many other nations in resolving that, when someone with a credible fear of being harmed reaches its shores or borders, that person should not be returned. That doesn’t mean that everyone who shows up should be admitted, but if we respect both the law and the dignity of each human person, it’s vital that everyone who professes a fear of persecution if returned is given a fair hearing and the chance to prove that qualification under the terms of U.S. law. 

U.S. immigration laws are complicated, dated and often only partially enforced. To restore the rule of law, we must pursue reforms that reaffirm the importance of the law while also reflecting our values.

This is an excerpt from Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform, an e-book recently published by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).