STAVER: Is there a moral approach to immigration reform?

A nation of immigrants has an obligation to those yearning to breathe free

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I am an evangelical Christian and I am politically conservative. For some time, I have supported immigration reform.

I work with a broad coalition to fix our broken immigration laws, including the Evangelical Immigration Table. I believe that immigration reform represents an opportunity for me to live out my values and an opportunity for a victory of conservative values in public life. The importance of immigration reform is a quickly growing consensus among my peers, but I am on a mission to persuade the remaining skeptics.

Consistent with orthodox Christian teaching that finds its roots in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, evangelicals believe that men and women are created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect. We believe the Bible is clear in its call for us to treat all people with respect and to care for our neighbors, including those who are the “strangers” in our midst.

The Bible admonishes the Israelite people to treat the stranger (alien or foreigner) with kindness because they were once strangers in a foreign land. Jesus says that we should treat the stranger as we would treat Jesus Himself.

Immigration is about how we treat the stranger. Advocating for immigration reform that secures our borders, enforces our laws and respects family unity and human dignity is consistent with the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus. These are the three legs of immigration reform.

While some may disagree with scriptural mandate to care for those around us, including our immigrant neighbors, there is no disputing our history as a nation of immigrants. The first people to come to the New World sought religious freedom and economic opportunity in places such as Plymouth, Mass., and Jamestown, Va.

These men and women were not unlike those who come to our shores today, a majority of whom are fleeing religious persecution or simply looking for a better life and economic opportunity. As Americans, we want our immigration laws to be just, fair, workable and compassionate for all.

The American economy benefits greatly from immigrants on all levels — from lower-skilled agriculture work to the high-skilled technology sectors. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the proposed fixes to our immigration laws not only would grow the economy and labor pool, creating new wealth, but also would decrease the federal deficit. Many bipartisan policy studies and think tanks point to immigrants as a vital part to our economy, not only as laborers and workers, but as consumers and taxpayers.

Economic and moral arguments aside, one thing we can all agree upon is that our immigration laws are broken. We need to secure the border. This is a matter of national security. We need to enforce our laws. For too long, the laws have been ignored. We must streamline the process of legal immigration and reduce the bureaucracy. We must also deal justly with the undocumented immigrants who are living in our midst.

We should deport those who have committed violent crimes. We should give the rest a choice to obtain some form of legal status. This choice should include a penalty. There should be no special treatment. They should go to the back of the line and begin the process to become legal. They should learn English and learn about America like anyone who goes through the immigration process.

Detractors within the conservative evangelical community are few, but vocal. Their arguments and positions fail to deal with the reality of our 21st-century economy and the needs of a growing and changing nation.

Ultimately, these groups’ lack of vision has helped contribute to the current political stalemate, which only perpetuates the status quo: a broken system that does not address the needs of the marketplace, does not value secure borders and is hurting the hardworking families in our communities.

The immigration issue is about more than immigration. It is about the soul of America.

It is about the American dream that grew out of our roots as people seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. It is about the reason America was founded. It is about the conservative principles of market-driven economic opportunities, secure workable borders and a place for the persecuted and downtrodden to come to.

I still believe in that dream, and I believe we should welcome those who share it.

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

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