By Bart Gingerich
Southern Baptist leader Richard Land joined other members of a national immigration task force to discuss the need for compassionate policy reform. The December 5th panel was held in downtown Washington, DC as part of the Human Rights Summit, which was organized by the nonpartisan advocacy organization Human Rights First.
U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren opened by asserting that “We have an immigration system that is fundamentally broken.” She cited the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants as evidence for her claim. “The free market filled the gap” formed by current faulty policies. “It’s a mess top-to-bottom, and it needs top-to-bottom reform,” she urged, “I think we have a real opportunity to make top-to-bottom reform.” Lofgren clarified, “The last election was kind of a wake-up call…Republicans realize that they won’t win a presidential election if they don’t get on this issue.”
Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations moderated the ensuing commentary. He laid out the concerns for American leadership: “Openness to immigration has been a key to American vitality and security,…but America also has an important tradition of the rule of law and the large number of illegal immigrants is concerning.” Former Clinton White House Chief-of-Staff Thomas McLarty explained that border states “feel overrun.” He believed “more thoughtful border protection” has led to improved security on the southern U.S. border. He also remarked that emerging manufacture and energy sectors have improved economic conditions in Mexico, leading to more Mexican citizens (not necessarily other Central Americans) staying within their country’s borders.
President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Coalition Richard Land posited, “First and foremost, the American people don’t trust their government to protect the border.” “There have been people who have been exploiting the issue,” he warned, “unscrupulous employers who want to exploit the labor below market value.” He advised, “If you want to secure the border, then you need to secure the workplace.” Interacting with Representative Lofgren’s comments, he contested, “I do think we are in a fairly narrow window of time [before the primaries start].” “The American people are ahead of their leaders on this issue,” Land thought.
Fellow Southern Baptist James Ziglar, representing the Migration Policy Institute, proclaimed, “Those of us who take our faith seriously are called to protect the weak and the vulnerable.” Similarly, McLarty piped up that his own Methodist faith informed him to look out for the alien and to “show hospitality.” He thought that “nearly all values of faith teach that we have a responsibility to reach out to [immigrants] and welcome them.” Land echoed these sentiments of religious compassion. He complained that most holding facilities for those seeking asylum (and thus lack the most documentation) resemble prisons rather than homes or hotels. Then, refugees only have one year to get all their documentation in line. Such immigrants often flee religious persecution. Lofgren remarked, “The idea that you escape with your life to the United States…to practice your religious faith and are instead imprisoned is jarring.”
All in all, the tone of the conference was level-headed and filled with data, but also somewhat one-sided. The Republican Ziglar confessed, “My party took a drubbing, and it was because of the immigration issue…The Republicans need to give other people what they want if Republicans want to get what Republicans want.” However, all the participants, regardless of ideological and party loyalties, insisted on pursuing a bipartisan solution to the problem. Lofgren counseled, “If we pass a system, then we really have to enforce that system,” better than the way the state enforces current policies.
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