Right now, in the United States Senate serious debate over U.S. immigration is taking place. A massive overhaul in our immigration policy is being considered. This debate and the bills by various Congressmen have vital consequences both for our nation and churches.

The debate is focusing on four major issues:

–How do we strengthen our borders?
–How do we enforce our laws internally?
–What do we do about the 12 million illegal workers already here?
–What do we do about immigration in the future?

How do we strengthen our borders?
The provisions concerning strengthening our borders include proposals that range from increasing the number of border patrolmen, to adding motion sensors and surveillance cameras to our border’s arsenal, to building a fence along our border with Mexico. All bills have elements of enforcement to reduce the possibility of terrorism.

How do we enforce our laws internally?
Enforcing the standing laws internally include proposals that create an Electronic Employment Verification System that would be implemented in all businesses within the next five years. Another proposal, which has been confusing, makes any aid to illegal immigrants a felony. The language concerning this proposal in the bill is so broad that “aid” could include anything from sneaking immigrants across the border to ministry and simple acts of compassion to those already in this country. Because of the outcry of churches and other compassionate organizations, the new versions of the immigration bills seem to be addressing this concern and clarifying that illegal smuggling is what is intended in the law.

What do we do about the 12 million illegal workers already here?
The struggle to compromise on how to deal with the current 12 million illegal immigrants already living and working in the country has sparked heated debate. Part of this discussion includes a proposal that would make undocumented workers criminals, punishable by a 6 month prison term.

The proposal presently being debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee could qualify current undocumented workers for six years of temporary lawful status in the United States if they pay a $1,000 fine and application fees, have complied with tax requirements, have not committed certain crimes, and understand or are studying English, U.S. civics, and history.

After the six-year period they could qualify to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident if they have worked or studied continuously, met other requirements and paid a second payment of $1000. Opponents criticize this as another amnesty while supporters characterize it as earned legalization.

What do we do about immigration in the future?
A final concern of how to deal with future immigration issues has also raised a stir throughout the nation. The proposal currently on the table is a guest worker program that would permit a set number of persons per year to come to the U.S. for up to two years as temporary workers, after which they would be required (with some exceptions) to return to their countries of origin for at least a year. Those who come back to the U.S. after the one-year absence would be able to remain for up to two three-year terms, and would also eventually be eligible to adjust to lawful permanent resident status.

What are the political ramifications?
These important immigration issues are going to be debated over the coming weeks, and the landscape is likely to change as bills evolve. As President Bush, who supports the guest-worker program, is finishing his final term, and the 2008 Republican nominee is still unsure, immigration can potentially shape the debate of the upcoming presidential race. Interestingly, two of the Republican frontrunners, Sen. Bill Frist and Sen. John McCain, have differing and vocal approaches to this issue.

Samuel Gunter is an intern with the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

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