The internet and news networks have been blowing up for the past 24 hours as news got out that on Thursday night, President Obama will announce an executive action that will shield up to 5 million immigrants from deportation. This decision has come after many noted attempts to pass immigration reform that have been blocked time and time again by Republicans in Congress. As Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention noted, “[The President has told me] that his patience was not endless on this.”
In response to the President’s proposed plan for executive action, many Republicans leaders have threatened to retaliate, suggesting everything from gridlock to impeachment to shutting down the federal government. Unfortunately, this ridiculous political infighting isn’t the least bit surprising. But what is surprising to me, as a faith-based political organizer, is just how many Christians seem to be placing their political allegiance above their Biblical conviction to defend the immigrant.
When the Evangelical Immigration Table launched just over two years ago, many leading conservative evangelicals joined with prominent moderates and progressives to support immigration reform. Everyone from the Southern Baptist Convention to the National Association of Evangelicals to World Vision stepped forward to promote comprehensive immigration reform as a fundamentally Christian cause. Today we are seeing an unfortunate crack in this coalition, as Dr. Moore of the ERLC speaks out against the President’s executive action as a damaging move to the political “consensus” in our country.
Others Evangelical leaders, such as Mark Tooley, President of the Institute of Religion and Democracy said “Church elites and other religious activists who back mass legalization as a Gospel imperative will be tempted to support executive amnesty…Even if mass legalization were a just cause, Christian teaching always warns of unintended consequences…Shouldn’t Christian — especially church — voices argue for lawful change and, where possible, some level of sustainable national consensus rather than political brinkmanship?”
While I understand that this situation is politically complex, I cannot help but sympathize with the President’s frustration and loss of patience. When it comes to defending the cause of the oppressed and immigrant, we no longer have time to sit around and debate. We no longer have time to “build consensus.” Thousands of immigrants to the United States are being deported every year, tearing apart families and destroying the hopes and dreams of those who have long waited the chance to make it to this great nation. Millions more live in fear of deportation every day, worrying that the lives they are working so hard to establish could be destroyed at any moment.And I am not alone in this conviction. Other Evangelical organizations, such as Bread for the World (a member of the Evangelical Immigration Table) have also voiced their strong support of the Presidents actions. This afternoon, Rev. David Beckmann, Bread’s president said:
“We applaud President Obama’s decision to craft improvements within his authority to our confused and unnecessarily harsh immigration system…Our support of the president’s action is not about partisan politics. It’s about millions of families who will have some respite from worry and new opportunities to work their way out of poverty. It is about our faith; the Bible is clear on how we should treat immigrants. It is one piece of our commitment to opportunity for all people…Immigration is a way that millions of people in our world are escaping hunger and poverty, and the flow of immigrants into this country is contributing to our nation’s economic health. Today’s executive order is a step in the right direction.”
We have been fighting this battle for far too long. As a Christian, I feel compelled by the Gospel of Christ to work for protection for immigrants as swiftly and directly as possible. While I understand and agree that it would be more ideal for the President and Congress to work out a plan together that would offer protection and citizenship to immigrants in a more permanent way, the fact is that we cannot wait any longer. We cannot continue to allow families to be destroyed. We are a nation of immigrants, founded by immigrants, for immigrants. We must, as a matter of principle, stand up to defend the cause of the immigrant.
The President’s announcement of executive action on immigration tonight is not only necessary but also praiseworthy. In the words of Senator Barbra Boxer, “If we don’t act, the dire situation of undocumented immigrants will only get worse, families will continue to be torn apart, people will continue to live in the shadows…I say to the president today, as I have said to him in writing, if you act, you will have my strong support, and you will have the support of so many people across the country.”
As a follower of Christ and as an American citizen, to that I say “Amen!”