Solving the Immigration Problem
We believe this proposal reconciles the rule of law with compassion, conviction with courage, and policy with pragmatism.
For four years, we’ve worked on the immigration problem together. Here is what we propose. We don’t offer this as the perfect solution. But we do seek diligently to encourage the President, his Administration and Congress to come together at the table of reason and hammer out a good solution to this challenge. We have presented this to the President, Vice President and others in the administration.
Illegal immigration has been festering for decades. Much of the blame rests on our politicians who won’t enforce the law. But we now have a chance to fix it. Millions of employers of immigrants, as well as the Hispanic community and Christians, will rally around a plan that combines rule of law, decency, and common sense.
To speak in biblical language, the immigration cause no longer resides in the Egypt of political apathy or the desert of expediency. Today, this just cause stands before the Jordan called reform. With prophetic courage, spiritual fortitude, and political will, we can cross into the promise land of “Just Integration.” This will protect our values, our borders, and the American dream for future generations.
As Christians, we believe it’s time to reconcile border security with the security of our values — values that include faith and family.
Secure Borders and Enforce the Law
First, we must secure our national borders. To do that, we must stop illegal immigration. This should include the construction of a wall that incorporates both physical elements and technology, as well as a firewall against tunnels and other intrusions. This will win the trust of the American people and prevent more illegals from arriving.
Many countries, such as Mexico, treat illegal immigrants as foreign enemies. The least we can do is secure our borders. But it hasn’t been a priority.
We should deport all undocumented individuals engaged in crimes, while making sure God-fearing, hard-working, undocumented families stay intact.
Many illegals didn’t sneak across the border. They overstayed their visas. This is a problem with law enforcement and record-keeping rather than border control. If the government can keep track of Social Security checks and income tax returns, surely it can keep track of these immigrants.
We should secure the unity of the immediate family by deporting all undocumented individuals who have or are now engaged in crimes such as murder, sex related, drug related, gang activities and so forth, while making sure God-fearing, hard-working, undocumented families stay intact.
What do we do with the thousands who have just crossed the border? If we do nothing, we will inspire many more to make the same costly journey across Mexico. A better option is to give recent arrivals food, water, a change of clothes, emergency health care when needed, and transportation back home. This should be part of a message to our neighbors to the south: No one can hope to become an American in this way.
Legal Status, Not Amnesty: Guest Worker Program
Second, establish a non-amnesty path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify. Those who wish to become guest workers can apply to become permanent residents. This guest worker program would apply only to those who are now employed or contributing to our economy.
Adults who came into this nation illegally and who are not dependent on government subsidies can apply for permanent residency status. But they can only apply for citizenship if they return to their country of origin, go to the back of the line, and proceed with the application process without special accommodation. The children of these individuals, however, would not have to return to their countries of origin to become citizens.
Employers Must Take Responsibility
Third, employers must accept their responsibilities. They should be required going forward to use e-Verify to document that every employee they hire is legally entitled to work.
Employers can be incentivized to sponsor only workers with proven track records and good character who contribute to our country.
Those who have current employees who are not legal to work, but whom they consider crucial to their operations, should have the option of sponsoring those immigrants. Many employers would jump at a chance to fix the problem without losing reliable employees. The provision for this already exists in law. It allows friends or family members to file an Affidavit of Support, promising that prospective legal immigrants will not become a “public charge.” [Immigration and Nationality Act sections 212 (a)(4) and 213A.]
As another part of this reform, that sponsorship should become more robust. Congress should revise laws to make it easier for state and local governments to refuse benefits to “sponsored” immigrants. Instead, states should be able to refer them to their sponsors — who have agreed to help them in times of need.
This balanced proposal will help employers keep key employees, provided they will assume the responsibilities of sponsors. That requirement will prevent employer involvement from being a meaningless exercise in “box-checking.” It will incentivize them to sponsor only workers with proven track records and good character who contribute to our country.
Fourth, we must assimilate immigrants and guest workers. This should include training in civics and English. There’s nothing magical about English. But it’s the primary language in the U.S. A common language unites people. Immigrants are much more likely to succeed if they learn English. The other option is what Mark Steyn calls “reverse assimilation” where the immigrant culture displaces the native culture. This is already happening in Muslim immigration to Europe.
We must roll back anti-Americanism in our public institutions, or create other institutions to help immigrants assimilate.
Many of our schools now attack rather than build up our culture. If people come here from Vietnam or Venezuela and enroll in an American history class at a nearby college, they are likely to learn about the faults but not the virtues of our country. This is not the way to make new citizens.
We must roll back anti-Americanism in our public institutions, or create other institutions to help immigrants assimilate. Anti-Americanism harms immigrants. It keeps them from embracing our culture. There are many ministries that work with immigrants and refugees, and they should play a role in this effort. This is an area in which ministries and the government could work together.
Work, not Welfare
Fifth, we should reform programs that discourage work. As Milton Friedman once said, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.” Some come to the U.S. as political refugees with help from Christian ministries. Rather than seek gainful employment, though, they get sucked into Supplemental Security Income and other benefits. This prevents them from contributing to society. It also breeds resentment. People of faith should take the lead in helping immigrants find jobs, and help them fight the temptation to become wards of the state.
In the last few decades, the US government has failed to secure its borders and enforce immigration laws. It’s also become a vast welfare state. Even immigrants who want to work can end up on the public dole. Many of our schools and government agencies now reject American ideals and prevent immigrants from assimilating. These policies often have turned immigration into a burden rather than an asset.
No solution to this challenge will be perfect. Some twelve million people live in the U.S. illegally. Many of them have been here for years, have jobs, and have children in public schools. That makes the problem different from a crime like shoplifting. What we do with illegal immigrants who have been here for years is one thing. How we handle future illegal immigration is another.
We can’t deport twelve million people. But blanket amnesty would discourage the law abiding and encourage even more illegal immigration. It would also be unfair to the millions who have entered, live and work here legally and millions of others still waiting in line.
We believe this proposal reconciles the rule of law with compassion, conviction with courage, and policy with pragmatism. It can help make America great again.
Samuel Rodriguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Hispanic Evangelical Association. James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International and the co-host of the LIFE Today Television program. He also is the publisher of The Stream (stream.org), a web site that presents breaking news, editorial commentary, inspiration and cultural analysis from a biblical perspective.