The rhetoric over illegal (and legal) immigration has heated up in recent years. The Trump ascendancy has raised the intensity of the debate. Donald Trump made clamping down on undocumented migrants a centerpiece of his campaign from the start, and many of his most ardent supporters have taken the hardest line on border security and deportation.
On the other side of the divide are those who favor completely open borders. They would allow anyone in, regardless of their willingness to follow the path to citizenship. The children of those who came to this country illegally have been left in the middle. Many of them were small children when their families crossed the border, and America is all they know of as home.
There must be another option, one that falls between the extremes of “send them all back” and “let everyone in.” A group of prominent evangelicals believes that compromise is possible, and they have signed an open letter expressing concerns with immigration policy.
The open letter appears in an ad that originated from World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. The list of signatories on the letter includes many Christian leaders who have shied away from political statements in the past.
“As Christian leaders, we have a commitment to caring for the vulnerable in our churches while also supporting just, compassionate and welcoming policies toward refugees and other immigrants,” the letter opens, going on to request legal protection for the Dreamers who entered the US as children, an increase in the admittance of refugees and persecuted Christians, and quicker priority for immigrants seeking to reunite with their families.
Over a hundred names appear at the bottom of the ad, and thousands more have signed an online petition containing the same language. The names include many leading lights in conservative Christian circles — names like Russell Moore, Matt Chandler, Bryant Wright, and Max Lucado. (Of course, some liberal Christians like Jen Hatmaker and Shane Claiborne have lent their names to the letter as well.)
The open letter comes at a time when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is under scrutiny with every continuing budget resolution that Congress debates. Additionally, Trump administration immigration policy has drastically lowered the number of refugees coming into the United States.
It’s worth noting that more Christians than Muslims find refuge in the United States, contrary to the fears of many who find themselves in favor of the most vigorous immigration policy. In October, Christianity Today reported that “from 2002 to 2017, Christian refugees were resettled more often than any other religion.”
The Trump administration has capped refugees for fiscal year 2018 at 45,000—the lowest since presidents were given the power to set limits back in 1980.
World Relief president Scott Arbeiter called the number “very troubling, especially as the persecution of many religious minorities, including Christians, is on the rise globally.
“The refugee program has been a lifeline of protection for persecuted individuals, in particular, persecuted Christians, around the world,” he stated.
The number of evangelical Christians who support relief from deportation for the beneficiaries of DACA, the so-called “Dreamers,” is surprising. A Politico/Morning Consult tracking poll from January found that almost 70 percent of evangelicals agree with allowing Dreamers to stay in the country, while nearly half of evangelicals surveyed supported a path to citizenship for them.
The second to last paragraph of the open letter highlights the importance of family to people of faith:
“God ordained the family as the cornerstone of society, and we believe that our country is stronger when our citizens can be quickly reunited with their close family members,” it said. “For some U.S. citizens, the waiting period can be years or even decades. We pray you will respect the unity of the family.”
These evangelical leaders, and many others who aren’t prominent enough to sign their names to a national advertisement, faithfully believe that there’s a way to protect those who consider the United States their home regardless of their parents’ actions and those who seek religious freedom in a land of freedom.
Certainly our leaders can put partisanship aside and create a policy that honors the dignity of those who seek a better life here and emphasizes the security of our borders at the same time. We can pray for that result for sure.