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God's Politics

Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger and the outcast is a prominent theme in the New Testament. Based on our shared Christian values, Sojourners/Call to Renewal has been working with Christian leaders and organizations from across the ecumenical spectrum to address the crisis of immigration.
We are now facing the eleventh hour for passing legislation to help fix what everyone from the left to right agrees is a broken system. With a political reality as complicated and perilous as this one, and an issue as divisive and polarizing as immigration reform, we must ask ourselves, “What should be our faithful response? How can we best apply our biblical principles to the present debate around immigration reform?”
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. The breakdown of recent negotiations has made compromise all the more necessary, yet both extreme ends of the debate resist compromise in any form. The current bill, making its ever-tenuous way through the U.S. Senate, reflects the difficulty of striking a balance between strict enforcement measures and a path out of the shadows toward earned citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants. Any bill must reform our broken immigration system in the context of providing greater economic security and opportunity to Americans who are already living at the edges of our economy.
This legislation has suffered many setbacks, but will likely be revived this weekend in a deal that allows each party to introduce a limited number of amendments before a final vote is taken toward the end of next week. No one can say for sure whether or not the “grand bargain,” as it has been dubbed, will pass. But a number of prominent bipartisan leaders, in addition to the president, have worked tirelessly behind the scenes on this pact. The stakes are very high.
What, exactly, does the proposed legislation include? While it’s long and complex, here are three key components of the current Senate bill:
1) A broad legalization program that would allow most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows to come forward. In order to apply for citizenship, immigrants in this program would pay steep penalties and heads of households would be required to return to their countries of origin to apply for citizenship.
2) Reduction of most of the decades-long backlog, through which U.S. citizens and permanent residents petition to bring family members to join them in the U.S. However, the proposed bill would dramatically change the way future green cards are distributed, replacing our current system based on family reunification with a point system that prioritizes immigrants with advanced job skills, education, and English proficiency.
3) A temporary worker program to allow future immigrants a legal path to find employment in the U.S. Workers would stay for two-year periods, renewable for a total of six years, with the requirement of returning home for a year after each term. Unfortunately, this program would provide virtually no avenue for residency or citizenship for such workers.
This Senate bill contains many causes for concern, yet the alternative—the status quo—is equally frightening. If legislation does not pass this summer, allies on Capitol Hill say that the presidential election cycle could push the possibility of passage off until at least 2009. With increased workplace raids, and the tearing apart of immigrant families, the situation becomes more urgent everyday.
Where does this leave us, and our Christian principles? It leaves us with a tremendous job ahead. Even if we cannot lend our full support to the legislation that the Senate may pass this coming week, we can fight to make our voices heard in the critical next steps of this debate. There are still two key stages ahead, in which our lawmakers have the opportunity to show their leadership in creating legislation that reflects our values: First, the legislative process will move to the House of Representatives, and then on to the House/Senate conference that will seek to justify the two bills.
We must demand that our leaders in the House of Representatives shift the starting place of this legislation. They must defend the sanctity of families: their right to be together and their contributions to our society. They must resist efforts to criminalize immigrants, many of whom are our neighbors, our fellow congregants, our friends, and our family members. We believe that a compassionate but prudent solution can be reached if we draw out the best of Christian and civic values.
In our coalition efforts as Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, we must step up our work to demand that Congress pass a more just, sensible, and truly comprehensive immigration package. Between now and the congressional recess in early August, we will make our voices heard in the media, and reach out to Christian leaders in key districts around the country. The time for Christians to weigh in on this moral debate is now. We hope you will join us: Raise your voice to unite families and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Patty Kupfer is the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign coordinator at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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