Not Fit for Dinner: Evangelicals, Immigration, and Mitt Romney

Each Friday in Not Fit for Dinner, C. Ryan Knight explores political issues and the preconceptions guiding our understanding of and responses to them.

It’s heartening to see Evangelicals positively engaging in politics lately on the issue of immigration, though this engagement could lead to estrangement from the GOP.

A wide range of evangelical leaders made national headlines last week after launching their Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform and holding a press conference about the statement. In sum, the Statement is a call to treat immigrants fairly while still preserving America’s general well-being. The Statement also calls for politicians to lay aside partisan politics and to work together to address this pressing issue of immigration.

On the heels of the Statement’s release, Relevant magazine published “Who Would Jesus Deport?” by Carl Kozlowski. In it, he says that Christians must figure out how to address immigration “in terms of biblical and theological truth.” Kozlowski also notes that Christians have to “navigate the tricky waters of compassion and legality.” (Writing for Christ and Pop Culture, Brad Williams raised similar points in what was ranked one of the best features of 2011.)

It will be interesting to see how evangelicals interact with Mitt Romney, the official Republican candidate for this year’s presidential election, on immigration reform. It’s no revelation that evangelicals have traditionally aligned with the Republican party, largely due to the Republican party’s stance on certain moral issues. But it seems to me that a rift between Christians and the GOP over immigration could easily emerge.

Like much of his platform, Romney’s stance on immigration sounds nice in theory—probably because it’s unclear on the logistics of precisely how he plans to implement his policies. (This generally holds true for President Obama also.) In the Issues section of Romney’s website, it states that “Mitt Romney believes that legal immigration is a boon to America. He will strengthen our immigration system so that it benefits the U.S. economy, ensures our security, bolsters the rule of law, and carries on America’s tradition as a nation of legal immigrants.”

What Romney’s immigration policy seems to suggest is a reprioritizing of Act 203 (“Allocation of Immigrant Visas”) of the current immigration law (known as the Immigration and Nationality Act) that favors economics over family. Act 203 lists the how preference is to be given to application of immigrant visas. The first priority is uniting families. Followed behind that is preference given to “priority workers”: immigrants with “extraordinary ability” in their fields, leading “professors and researchers,” and select “multinational executives and managers.” By emphasizing economic and social issues and mostly ignoring the issue of family unity in his stated immigration policy, Romney appears to reverse Act 203′s current priority on families.

So when Romney says he will strengthen America’s immigration system, it seems that he will actually end up downshifting, if not eliminating, Act 203′s current primary goal of uniting families. This is rather odd, considering he also claims to value traditional marriage (and children, too).

The near-absence of anything pertaining to family in Romney’s immigration policy creates the unfortunate impression that his concern for marriage does not go beyond America’s borders. The opening statement on Romney’s immigration policy states his belief that greeting “newcomers who share our ideals and work hard to secure a better life for themselves and their families is part of our heritage.” Family, however, is not mentioned again after this, and Romney’s focus on business and enterprise takes center-stage from there on, leaving family behind.

Surely it is important, as Romney emphasizes, to attract and draw innovative entrepreneurs to America as its economy continues to stagger. A recent article in The Economist, a British weekly newspaper, stressed that all too often “America often leaves would-be [entrepreneurial] immigrants in limbo for years.” This of course creates serious economic problems. But most immigrants aren’t just looking for economic prosperity. They also want to be with and provide a decent life for their family.

Christians should ask why nothing substantive about family appears in Romney’s position on immigration. After all, many immigrants brave crossing the border without proper documentation for reasons tied to family: to earn money to send home for their families, to reunite with family members in America, etc. Christians would do well to remind Romney of this, and they should challenge him to reprioritize his immigration policy if he is to earn their votes.

About C. Ryan Knight

C. Ryan Knight teaches English at Randolph Community College in Asheboro, NC, and he lives with his wife outside Greensboro, NC.
Email: knight.cr@gmail.com


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