First Person: A moral and just response to the immigration crisis

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?The time has come for our nation to resolve its immigration crisis. It is imperative that we find an acceptable solution to the plight of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in our nation. Currently, the two extremes of deportation or amnesty are being played against each other, resulting in a stalemate in Congress and growing frustration and division in society.

The recent passage of the new law in Arizona is a cry for help from the citizens of a state made desperate by the federal government’s shameful and flagrant dereliction to its duty to control the nation’s borders and to enforce its laws. This is manifestly a federal responsibility and the U.S. government has failed in its responsibilities to its citizens under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The Arizona law is a symptom, not a solution. While I sympathize with the plight of the beleaguered citizens of Arizona, the law they have passed faces severe challenges. Attorneys I trust and respect tell me that if the law survives the manifold court challenges it faces and goes into effect, it will be abused by genuinely bad people (like drug dealers and human traffickers) whose unscrupulous lawyers will claim falsely that they were victims of racial profiling and prejudice when they were arrested legitimately.

Neither of the extreme solutions of deportation or amnesty are appropriate, workable solutions. To force those who are here illegally to leave is neither politically viable nor humanitarian. To offer “amnesty” to those who broke the immigration laws of our country is disrespectful of the rule of law. What is needed is a solution that respects the rule of law while at the same time treats undocumented immigrants compassionately.

As Christians, we must think through the question of illegal immigration not only as concerned citizens, but also as compassionate Christians. As citizens of the United States we have a right to expect the government to fulfill its divinely ordained mandate to punish those who break the law and to reward those who do not (Romans 13:1-7).

As citizens of the heavenly kingdom (the church), we also have a divine mandate to act redemptively and compassionately toward those in need. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12). Our Lord instructed his followers to meet the needs of those who are suffering (Matthew 25:31-36). The writer of the Book of Hebrews instructed his readers to “show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2).

As U.S. citizens we have a right to expect the federal government to enforce the laws regarding who may cross our borders. Border security is a question of national security, domestic safety and tranquility, and the federal government fulfilling its divinely mandated responsibilities to enforce the law.

As people of faith we must lead our churches to engage in multi-faceted human needs ministries on a massive scale to meet the physical and spiritual needs of millions of men, women and children living in the shadows of society where they are exploited by the unscrupulous and victimized by predators.

As citizens, we also have a responsibility to help our nation respond to the plight of these millions of people in a manner that respects their innate dignity and humanity. The millions of undocumented workers living among us suffer as outcasts without the full protections of the law or full access to the opportunities this nation offers to all to fulfill their God-given potential.

It is imperative that the U.S. Congress?consistent with national sovereignty and national security?expeditiously find a way to resolve this moral problem in ways that are consistent with our national ideals.

I favor a measure that includes controlling the borders and enforcing immigration laws inside the country first, while offering no amnesty for lawbreakers. This is my position and the position that emerges from any fair and objective reading of a resolution on immigration that Southern Baptists adopted at their annual convention in June 2006.

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