- - Monday, July 22, 2013

House Republicans deserve praise for agreeing that they must take action on immigration. Our system is broken and must be fixed.

Reform must ensure that the borders are secure and the law is enforced. It must also provide an opportunity for millions of aspiring Americans to come out of the shadows.

As a constituent of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, I believe his comments last week about citizenship, are a good first step.

“I and other members are open-minded to the idea that [undocumented immigrants] should have a way to come out of the shadows, to be able to work, to have their own businesses, to pay their taxes, to travel back and forth to their home country and elsewhere,” Mr. Goodlatte said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

In other words, Mr. Goodlatte recognizes that no matter how immigration reform moves forward, our enforcement-only approach tears families apart and turns a blind eye to human dignity.

We need to look no further than the Bible for guidance on balancing respect for the rule of law with respect and compassion for the strangers in our midst. Leviticus 19 and Romans 13, among others, illustrate our duty regarding both.

That’s why border security and strong enforcement of our laws are absolutely essential parts of immigration reform, but not the only parts. Reform also must provide a just and compassionate resolution for undocumented immigrants.

Mr. Goodlatte emphasized that people here illegally should not be provided special treatment to obtain citizenship that is not afforded to others. Nor should they be forced to live in the shadows, a situation that keeps both them and our country from realizing our full potential.

The broken system amounts to de facto amnesty, and we must reform these dysfunctional immigration laws. There are only three ways to deal with undocumented immigrants: Deport all of them, give them all amnesty or pursue a middle ground.

Mass deportation is not possible, nor is it just or humane. Amnesty disregards the rule of law. To be clear: I oppose amnesty.

The best approach is a middle ground that provides those here illegally a choice to come out of the shadows. People who have committed violent or repetitive crimes should be deported. Others should be given an opportunity to pursue some form of legal status, either temporary or permanent.

For those who seek permanent status, this would be nothing resembling amnesty. They should pay a fine or back taxes, get in the back of the line, and over a period of time complete a series of requirements in order to become eligible for citizenship.

In this way, reform can bring honor and respect to both the rule of law and human dignity. It must.

Like Mr. Goodlatte, I’m not talking about any sort of fast track or special path. However, as people who value freedom, hard work and family unity, we must create a way to earn a shot at fully realizing the American dream — not a permanent secondary class of people for whom that dream stays out of reach.

The opportunity for immigrants to swear an oath to our shared country — to abide by and even fight for the laws, responsibilities and rights that make us great — is part of who we are. Everyone who loves this country enough to traverse long and difficult roads, both literally and figuratively, to build lives here deserves a way to come out of the shadows.

Immigration reform will revitalize us as a nation, economically but also morally. That’s why evangelicals across the country have been praying for reform this year — nearly 30,000 have signed up as prayer partners in the Evangelical Immigration Table’s “Pray for Reform” effort. Hundreds will be speaking directly with lawmakers this week in Washington during a July 24 Day of Prayer and Action.

With the strong support of their constituents, Mr. Goodlatte and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle must transcend politics as usual and move forward with immigration reform that celebrates biblical values and American values alike.

This means respect for the rule of law, secure borders and for those who seek it, the opportunity to right past wrongs and contribute to our country in the only full way possible: as citizens.

Mathew Staver is founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and chief counsel for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.