Christians Beware: A 10-Point Plan On Immigration Reform

Anson Burlingame responded to my last post, saying he was “frankly confused” about my position on “illegal immigration.” He asked if we should “just open the border and let’m all come in” or “try hard to stop the flow of such people across our southern border?” He also wrote:

You spent considerable time in this blog suggesting what Christ would do in this situation. Do you have a solid answer to that quest, Christ’s intentions regarding American policy toward immigration, or any other country, Christian or not in that regard? Or instead would you leave Christ and his teachings out of political discussions regarding immigration law in America?

Here is my reply:

First, let me be clear about one thing. I don’t believe any public policy ought to be fashioned based on the words of an ancient religious text, Christian or otherwise. We are, of course, partly a product of our past, and in our particular history Christianity played a very large part in shaping who we are culturally and nationally. Thus, in some important ways, we are still, as G. K. Chesterton put it, living in “the shadow of the faith” and I don’t doubt that many of the good things in our public policy sprang from some notion of Christian charity or morality.

That being said, our Constitution is a secular not a Christian document and, over time, we have (almost fully but not quite) embraced the idea that, when it comes to making our laws, religious sects should not be given any more deference than other groups of people. In fact, that idea is enshrined in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”) for those with eyes to see it, with eyes not scaled over by religious dogma.

Second, my criticism is clearly directed toward those on the right who make certain claims about how this is a Christian nation, when, as I have said, it is obvious that this present humanitarian crisis demonstrates that we are not, never was, and were never meant to be. murrieta protestersKeep that in mind. I am not advocating that our immigration policy should be based on this or that interpretation of the New Testament or of the words of Jesus himself. What I have been doing is pointing out the hypocrisy of folks who claim they believe in the Bible, wave it in our faces and demand our government follow it, but ignore it when it says uncomfortable things like the following from the Old Testament:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Do you see anything in that scripture about treating those “foreigners” merely as lawbreakers? As illegals? “Love them as yourself,” the Bible says.

In the New Testament we have the claim that Jesus himself spent his early years in Egypt as what some Tea Party-ish Egyptians might have called an “illegal immigrant.” His parents brought him there, it is alleged, to escape a dangerous political regime in Palestine. Yet today we see countless people, many of them undoubtedly church-going Jesus-followers, ignoring Jesus when he says, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” and concluding,

…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

If any of those Central American children are not “one of the least of these,” then I don’t know who would be.

On this point I will add that I have been told all of my life that we are made in the “image of God,” as the Bible says. Such is supposedly why we are special creatures. I find it odd that the same people who believe the Bible is God’s Word, who presumably believe we are all created in God’s likeness, somehow see those seeking asylum here—even if they do so by crossing our border without documentation—as less than special creatures. More than odd, I find the hypocrisy appalling. According to the Apostle Paul, at one time Christians were “foreigners to the covenants of the promise” but now their “citizenship is in heaven,” so I don’t see how so many Christians today conclude that kids trying to find hope in the United States are simply lawbreakers who need to be sent home no matter the danger involved.

Third, you asked me, a local liberal, a fair question:

(W)hat do you suggest American policy should be in terms of controlling immigration across our Mexican border, specifically and should it be any different from how we control other immigration into America for anywhere else?

I’ll start by stating the obvious: We won’t all agree on what is a good immigration policy, one that satisfies our notions of law and order and justice while demonstrating a certain amount of compassion towards those desperately (and perhaps illegally) seeking work or asylum here. Good and honest people can disagree about the emphasis we place on law and order as opposed to compassion. Enforcing the laws and treating people compassionately are both components of any notion of the common good.

I will also tell you that based on my idea of the common good—how I derive such an idea is too long to go into—I begin with the proposition that borders ought not matter, when it comes to people starving to death or escaping some form of persecution. What I mean is that it is only natural for people, who cannot find work enough in one place to support themselves or their family, to seek work elsewhere. Just as it is natural for people to flee from things like forced gang membership by the threat of death or from oppressive regimes that threaten their liberty and well-being. Often there isn’t time to get in a orderly immigration line and wait.

With that in mind, I will give you my thoughts on the matter, with the understanding that I am responding provisionally and generally:

1. Those undocumented young people who are here because their parents brought them here (illegally) should be granted citizenship, without any strings attached, today. Right now. Not another minute should pass before that is done. These kids are American citizens in every way, except for the paperwork. Shame on the Republican Party for standing in the way of getting that accomplished. It is unconscionable.

2. The millions of other people here for years without proper documentation should be given a clear path to citizenship, along the lines adopted by the Obama administration. If you can pass a background check and you arrived here before, say, December 31, 2011 (as in the Senate version of immigration reform), then you can stay and partake of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, so long as you pay some taxes and a penalty and get in line behind those who sought citizenship legally. I would jettison Obama’s requirement that you have to learn English, since there are several palefaces here in Southwest Missouri who find the language challenging. Heck, one of them is a regular columnist for the Joplin Globe.

3. As for those Central American children and others who have come here in the last two years, they should be allowed to stay and eventually become citizens, if they can substantiate a claim that going back might prove dangerous. I will add that the evidence needed for substantiating such a claim would be rather modest, as far as I’m concerned. Most of them will need lawyers, or perhaps paralegals, for this, but so be it. Needless to say, we should provide the adequate funding to pay for legal assistance and basic humanitarian needs, like food, housing, and medical care, including immunizations. We should also establish more (and hopefully temporary) immigration courts to handle the current backlog (estimated to be around 367,000 cases, with 3200 of them in Missouri). Or else we could tell them to go to hell, which is essentially what some Americans, many of them Christians, are endorsing

4. If you have arrived here in the last two years but can’t prove a claim of asylum, then you should be able to prove you have some other reason that merits some type of forgiveness for entering the country illegally, like, for instance, reuniting with family members who are citizens (and immigration law should be changed to expedite the unification of families; that’s the least that so-called family values conservatives should do, don’t you think?). Again, such people would have to go to the back of the line and wait their turn to become citizens.

5. In order to clear up any misunderstandings and to discourage the dangerous trip through Mexico to the U.S. that thousands of children have taken, Congress should change the law so that Central American immigrants entering the country illegally can be deported faster than they can be under current law. Then an advertising campaign in the relevant countries should follow.

6. As for the border issue, for reasons other than keeping desperate people out, I support secure borders. In this age of portable terrorism, it makes no sense to have gaping holes in our border security. I will leave it to the expertise of others to figure out the best way to accomplish this, but I doubt putting up millions of pictures of Dick Cheney along the border would be an effective measure (it would, though, work for me; I wouldn’t come within a mile of the border), nor would building thousands of miles of foreboding fence be a viable option. I do think, however, that if folks like the two pictured below were positioned at the border, it might keep the foreigners, dangerous or otherwise, away:

7. We should open up the legal process and expand opportunities for foreign workers to come here and do what they do best. This would help discourage illegal immigration and perhaps prevent the deaths of hundreds of migrant deaths each year. Such a process should also provide help for U.S. workers adversely affected, help such as financial assistance and job training or re-training.

8. As President Obama has said countless times, we should also make it easier for foreign students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to the nation’s well-being.

9. Step up law enforcement when it comes to employers hiring and financially abusing undocumented immigrants. Employers who knowingly hire folks without papers and who pay them sub-par wages should have to spend a year in Branson cleaning hotel rooms at the Baldknobbers Motor Inn. That should get their lawbreaking minds right.

10. We should also work more diligently with our nation-state neighbors closest to our southern border (about 80% of undocumented immigrants reportedly come from Mexico and other Latin American countries, which means we should focus our efforts there) in helping them better educate and better provide for their citizens, as well as fight people-traffickers who exploit horrific conditions and make a buck off fear and misery. Again, I will leave it to the experts to figure out how this could best be accomplished, but we should provide funding for a reasonable plan to help improve economic conditions.

4 Comments

  1. Troy

     /  July 6, 2014

    Great response ! Back to Fox News Anson!

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  2. ansonburlingame

     /  July 7, 2014

    Duane,

    I only have read, so far, the lead in to your response to me. First I appreciate any response as it was an honest question. Second, without going a step farther, I agree 100%, 1000% with your statement “I don’t believe any public policy ought to be fashioned based on the words of an ancient religious text, Christian or otherwise.”

    Just had to put that out there before reading farther. Now I will settle in, read your entire response and see where we still disagree. But if you stick to that foundation, a government policy based on current views of both moral values and pragmatic government programs (affordability being part of pragmatism), then I am all ears, for sure.

    Anson

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  3. ansonburlingame

     /  July 7, 2014

    Duane,

    First of all, I won’t “bite” on you comment about my use of English. Yes, I mangle it sometimes but you always get my gist I suspect. Enough on that point as English is my native tongue and I have no other language to fall back on.

    Now to substance. I started to rebutt, point by point but that would be too long. Rather I break your views down to three categories, what to do with people here already, of any age, what to do to better control the border and what to do in the future with people lining up to come across a more secure southern border.

    People already here illegally first. Let’m stay IF and only if they are law abidding citizens and working to find their own way in America, and have done that since they first came here. Your approach would be “amnesty” for many that were or still are criminals, gang members, etc. No way should they receive some form of amensty. And I for one would hold the line on what “breaking the law” really means. If they did or still are dealing in drugs, go back “home”, no questions asked as far as I am concerned. If they don’t hold jobs, pay being of little import, and rely on others to keep them fed, clothed and housed, then “go back home” is another criteria. In other words, keep here only the ones that really work and live law abiding lives in America. All others go “home”.

    Now how do you control those selected to remain in America that were illegal before your program came into effect. I for one would issue a different colored card to identify such people. And those with such cards would be carefully identified in a legitimate database, including fingerprints, DNA (like it or not), etc. for immediate access by law enforcement authorities all over America. If someone is arrested, that data base is tapped and they immediately go into detention for “illegals” not just jail under the full protection of American law for citizens or those here with “green cards”, etc. Such “purple card” holders could then be prosecuted under both the criminal statues that caused the arrest in the first place and immigration statues as well. Bottom line, make anyone here under “amensty” go the extra mile to stay here until they achieve a “green card” or actual citizenship.

    Remember, I have no qualms about letting honest and hardworking “strawberry pickers” (or rocket scientists) stay here, but under more intense legal scrutiny than normal American citizens or immigrants that are here “legally”. That extra scrutiny would remain in place until they moved to the “head of the line” and became truly legal immigrants or American citizens, age not withstanding, or family ties for that matter.

    Control of the border is simple. Control it to stop the flow of illegal immigrants. Do what is necessary to achieve that goal and anyone coming across that border, age not withstanding goes back “home”, basically. OK, asylum issues. We dealt with such during the “boat people crisis” of some time back. I support asylum obviously. But it must be handled legally and quickly, and fairly. More courts to deal with it, maybe. More lawyers to help, maybe. Just show me where you will find the money to do that without raising more taxes. In other words learn to prioritize such financial matters by taking money out of programs not working and putting that money where it will work in a new program.

    You liberals don’t like being forced to prioritize federal money but we will never achieve your dreams of “The Kingdom of God” in America (that is sarcasm for those quoting scriptures back to me) without such prioritizing of limited (even in America) resources.

    We KNOW full well how to “funnel” immigrants that arrive by air and (usually) sea as well. Why can’t and don’t we humanly learn to “funnel” such immigrants coming only by land?

    Israel learned long ago how to handle immigration for the poor and downtrodden coming into a new country from horrible conditions world wide. But theirs was primarily a litmus test of religion, Jews seeking asylum. We certainly can’t and should not do that. Our own criteria should be “what can you do for America” as a basic test, beyond a test of will you be killed or persecuted by legal authorities if you go “home”. In other words how would we deal with say a Ukrainian refugee today, fleeing Russian rath. Why should we not treat a Mexican any differently?

    But remember, to make that assessment, legally and quickly, we MUST have secure land borders and find the money to beef up our immingration courts systems to accomodate the influx. That also means federally funded detention facilities as well and not rely on the sherrifs in Arizona to do that for the federal government. Let the sherrif catch’em to help border security and immediately hand them over to federal authority that will scrupiously follow whatever laws are in place, legally through good courts without political influence on how those courts operate under the law.

    In other words, Duane, such courts should follow the law regardless of the political party in the White House, period and follow all the laws in that regard, politics be damned.

    If you think about it, we are not all that far apart, in my view. As well, I have not quoted any scripture to make my points, either. I can be as humane as you can be but put pragmatism on the table, doability if you will, as well. I submit today we in America are not “fair” at all, but that is the manner in which we enforce laws primarily. Immigrants today have to worry about the party in power in America and that changes all the time.

    I also believe even my suggestions will be hard to pass in Congress today. But they have a better chance of passing the radical right IF we show a path to really control “illegals” (under amnesty clauses) already here and have a really secure land border. Lax border controls or lax court systems will never pass muster from the right and should not pass muster with the left as well. Someday a GOPer will return to the White House and what we put in place today must contain them as well the future “little Obamas” that might come our way.

    Finally, if you are willing to wait until Dems have both Houses of Congress and the White House securely in hand for a long time, then stick with your program, that will not pass until that happens and stays happening for a long time. God help America for sure if that day comes.

    Anson

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  July 7, 2014

    Just because there seems to me to be a glimmer of compromise, between at least Duane and me, on the issue of illegal immigration, I add the following question related to extra-judicial treatment of “illegals” under some form of amesty, “tomorrow”.

    Say a 14 year old kid is selling drugs on a street corner. There is ironclad evidence, from reasonable and law abidding cops that such took place. An American kid would get his wrists slapped and go free back to his American home, probably a single parent home with other terrible conditions therein. Should the “illegal” kid here only under amesty of a sort be allowed to follow the same path, a wrist slap and back within a day to “business as usual”?

    I think not, particularly if his “home” contains other “illegals” as well, adults under the law. Why did they allow their kid to do such criminal things and should they, simply because they are here “illegally” be afforded the same protections as an “American kid”. As well consider that illegal kid that in fact is an American citizen because he was born here, under illegal conditions of his parents. Should those “illegal parents” that failed to control their kid be allowed the full protection of American law as well?

    But don’t get all wrapped up in this particular example. My point of extra-legal scrutiny of “illegals” but here under “amesty” is my key point and one that I have not heard discussed very much if at all in this debate.

    Anson

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