I have spent more than five years as a student of immigration law as a paralegal and a student of theology and ethics in my calling as a minister of the gospel.
Both have made me keenly aware that in our culture of divisive politics, we are missing the mark on being both Christians and citizens when it comes to the issue of immigration.
In my work with the former head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (and a good private attorney and Christian man), I have learned that we are dealing with a very real human rights issue and an extremely complex legal issue.
We have a civic duty to do our homework and a Christian duty to love and be in solidarity with immigrants.
The recently proposed bipartisan framework for immigration reform issued in late January gave us a basic blueprint of a possible new immigration law:
â— Creating a pathway to U.S. citizenship for the 11-million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, contingent upon a vague call for increased border security
â— Reforming the legal immigration system and attracting the “best and the brightest”
â— Strong employment verifications
â— Admitting new workers and protecting workers’ rights
Both sides must understand that none of this change will come easily – or cheaply. Reform will cost millions (maybe billions) of dollars, and require at least the following:
â— Hundreds of new government jobs to clean up the current backlog (getting status through family ties can take upward of 20 years for some immigrants)
â— Implementing complex computer systems for verification (the current systems are often flawed and often only hurt those with typos in their information)
â— Dealing with the security of our people while providing options for those who do not break any laws other than civil immigration laws
How much and what kind of security is yet to be determined in the basic blueprint. Though both sides agree that security is important, they disagree as to how important it is in the overall reform.
Opening opportunities for residence and citizenship also relaxes the need for “more border agents” or fences.
Increased security may instead look more like increased computer verification software, background checks and the same amount of physical border agents.
A new law like this would force our country to embrace those we have so long ignored, and it will come at an initial monetary cost to us.
Though as many note, the costs should be outweighed over time through immigrant contributions to our economy.
I agree with Robert Parham in his recent article that the ethos must also change about immigrants.
I have met hundreds of immigrants and short-term workers in my job, all of whom have a specific story, and a very small fraction of whom are criminals or do not pay taxes.
Yes, some use false Social Security numbers (to get a job and to pay their taxes on that job).
Yes, some snuck into this country, violating the civil immigration law that currently governs our borders (a law that is outdated and keeps people inside the border waiting instead of leaving room for fluid, seasonal immigration for work).
Yes, some overstayed their legal visas and need to regularize their status now through family or work sponsorship – though the numbers for such sponsorship are capped and often too low to accommodate the demand.
Nevertheless, the majority of these are good people, seeking work and contributing to our society – with no legal recourse to remain here. For them, this is always an urgent need, and for those who work with them daily, we issue a similar cry for justice.
As Christians, we have a duty to examine the stories of immigrants, to befriend someone who is not like us, and to strive to understand the complexities that will inevitably come with legal change.
We must recognize that our faith of hospitality calls us to be above the rhetoric of some on Capitol Hill.
For example, some lawmakers have recently called the immigration reform proposal described above “toxic” and “extreme”. What is so extreme about immigration options for our neighbors already living among us?
Imitating Christ starts with our hearts.
Do we love the outcast and stranger in our midst? Can we accept them with open arms as Christ did? Can we give them options to live among us, to stay united with their families?
Or will we isolate ourselves from anyone unlike us? Will we avoid reform in the name of money or power or the color of our skin?
I have spent years exploring the immigration debate through a social, political, ecclesial and biblical lens. I have searched diligently for the “right” answers to immigration reform.
I do not pretend to fully grasp the enormity of that kind of legal change. What I do understand, as do many of our faith leaders (and increasingly our lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle), is that immigrants are with us.
They are the strangers to whom we are called to be hospitable, the imago dei we are called to love, and they are the people at the center of a battle for recognition who need our solidarity right now.
Libby Mae Grammer is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology, where she wrote a thesis titled The Baptist Response to Undocumented Immigration and is currently an immigration paralegal in Chattanooga, Tenn. She blogs at LibbyGrammer.com.
Libby Grammer is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Martinsville, Virginia, and the author of “Privilege, Risk, and Solidarity: Understanding Undocumented Immigration through Feminist Christian Ethics.”