The U.S. Supreme Court announced this week that it would hear a lawsuit challenging an executive action on immigration taken by President Barack Obama.
At question is if Obama can act without congressional approval to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Baptist leaders joined others in reflecting on the issue, which could impact up to 4 million undocumented immigrants.
Juan Aragon, Hispanic ministries’ strategist for the West Virginia Baptist Convention of the American Baptist Churches, USA, told EthicsDaily.com he prays “the Supreme Court will affirm the president’s action.”
“Obama’s executive action on immigration is a bright light at the end of a long, dark, mazy tunnel for millions of immigrants,” Aragon explained. “It is the light that will bring them out of the shadows of fear, oppression and exploitation. In the midst of the hate, racism and violence that seem to govern across the globe, Obama’s executive action is a compassionate initiative that affirms the U.S. is indeed a land of freedom and equality.”
“No one will contend against the fact that the immigration issue is politically loaded and polarizing,” he added. “But beyond politics what’s at stake here are the lives of millions of people with dreams and hope for a better and dignified future. Obama’s executive action paves the way for that.”
Throughout his presidency, many immigrant advocates and Hispanic leaders have criticized Obama for drastically increasing the number of deportations. Some have derisively called him “deporter-in-chief.”
In November 2014, Obama won the praise of many of his immigration critics by announcing the “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” initiative.
That effort, which the Supreme Court will consider, would protect long-term undocumented immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents.
Republican governors of 26 states sued, and the program has yet to be implemented due to preliminary injunctions by judges.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the legal dispute in April and issue an opinion before the end of June.
The timing of the decision will drop the topic right into the middle of the presidential election, with both Republicans and Democrats holding their nominating conventions in July.
Gus Reyes, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission, also spoke to the need for immigration change, but called for even greater reform.
He told EthicsDaily.com that Obama took executive action because the system – especially Congress – was not working.
“The president used the executive action to bring relief to thousands of immigrants,” he explained. “The executive action didn’t fix immigration laws. It is a Band-Aid and leaves room for improvement.”
“I believe the Supreme Court is aware that this is a divisive issue for our country,” he added. “Believers need to pray for them as they make decisions impacting the presidency as well as the lives of thousands of undocumented immigrants.”
Reyes hopes Christians can be part of the solution by being “full of truth and full of grace.”
He noted that churches are ministering to undocumented immigrants and bringing many people to salvation.
These new believers “recognize a right relationship with God and want to have a right relationship with the USA,” but “the current immigration system makes their efforts almost impossible.”
“Evangelical pastors, leaders and lay people are praying for immigration reform to help not just those identified as undocumented, but their new brothers and sisters in Christ,” he added. “This new identity in Christ calls for the family in faith to pray for resolution and unity.”
Aragon also noted the need for churches to act.
“Our roots as Baptists are those of an immigrant, persecuted, refugee church which strove for freedom,” Aragon noted. “Therefore, we should continue to support initiatives that foster freedom.”
“Undocumented brothers and sisters need not only our prayers but also our actions,” he added. “The Baptist genius has always been to minister to and reach out with the good news to forgotten, marginalized, rejected and unloved people. May God give us the grace to never forget our roots and the courage to minister to and support undocumented immigrants.”
“Let’s not be passive on the immigration issue while waiting on the Supreme Court decision,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “I hope Baptists and other Christians will continue to engage in moral education about the plight of the undocumented. Abundant false narratives need correction, and hateful rhetoric needs moral critique.”
Editor’s Note: Numerous EthicsDaily.com resources are available to assist congregations in understanding and discussing the issue of immigration. Our documentary, “Gospel Without Borders,” brings more light and less heat to the issue, while our free PDF on immigration provides information about and links to our various resources.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.