- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A four-part series featured this week in The Washington Times highlights the emergence of the “new sanctuary movement.” This is a crusade organized by 12 churches of various denominations in California, Washington, Illinois and New York. Organizers seek to provide shelter for illegal immigrants. Churches are subject to U.S. laws and can be raided. However, immigration officials are reluctant to step onto church property despite the fact that these “sanctuary” churches exploit legal loopholes. Immigrants who qualify for shelter must meet specific criteria. They must have a deportation order issued against them and a record of working and paying taxes. They must also agree to conduct media interviews, and have no criminal record and have American-born children. In other words, those who are eligible for sanctuary must be both desperate and likeable enough to warrant public sympathy.

The objective of the movement is to present a “human face” for the plight of illegal immigrants. Organizers believe that their actions are grounded in biblical injunctions to protect the weak, the persecuted and the victims of injustice. Furthermore, supporters of the movement prefer not to focus on the fact that illegal immigrants violate U.S. law: Instead, advocates maintain that “the system is broken” and therefore illegal immigrants require compassion. Finally, “the new sanctuary” movement is adopting a family values strategy. Proponents insist that deporting an illegal immigrant is callous, for it entails separating parents from their children. Hence, champions of the movement ultimately hope to pressure Congress to provide illegal immigrants with a path to legalization or citizenship. (The last installment of the series will be published May 30.)

The “new sanctuary movement” is based on good intentions but nefarious principles. Sanctuary organizers are on thin ice when they attempt to present Christian justifications for the deeds of illegal immigrants. Also, the “human face” strategy will result in highlighting how illegal immigrants use fraudulent documents and false Social Security numbers - which are felonies. In some cases this is a form of identity theft which affects law-abiding American citizens. Americans will not simply overlook the gravity of these offenses just because the individual who commits them comes from a poor country. Are there to be two legal standards: one for the poor and one for the rest of the population?

It is unwise for churches to be helping lawbreakers. This will undermine their moral authority. Churches that seek to play a role in the immigration debate can do so through public advocacy - but not by sheltering those who flout American law and American citizenship.

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