Christian Group Calls for 'Compassionate Immigration Reform'

Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:23pm EDT
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( - A coalition of religious groups seeking a "compassionate" approach to immigration policies is targeting lawmakers with a new ad campaign scheduled for May 9.

Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform will run the newspaper and radio ads in Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania for the next six months.

"Immigration is for us a religious issue," said Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners Magazine, during a Capitol Hill press conference Monday. "It's what God wants and expects.

"Immigration policy is clearly broken and must be fixed," he said. "So let's fix it, but with compassion. The Bible tells us again and again about the need to care for the stranger in our midst."

"Our current system is unhealthy for our immigrants, for our economy and for our values," said Rev. Dan Soliday, CEO of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.

"Despite differing theological and doctrinal perspectives, groups sharing a common Judeo-Christian heritage are uniting to challenge our lawmakers to create an immigration policy characteristic of a faithful people - compassionate, just, respectful of human dignity and valuing family bonds," he said.

The coalition is asking Congress to reduce waiting times for people seeking legal residency, help families containing illegal immigrants to reunify, create a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants as well as a guest worker program. The group also wants Congress to address the root causes of illegal immigration.

"We believe that Congress can pass legislation that treats the immigrant in a humane manner and applies the rule of law," said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

"How we deal with the immigrant is not just a matter of political will, or legislative acumen. At the end of the day, how we deal with the immigrant is a diagnostic of the spiritual health of our nation," Rodriguez added.

"I am sure that they are guided by sincere charitable impulses," Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Cybercast News Service.

"The problem is that they overlook one very important concept of charity: You can't be charitable with other people's resources," he said.

"Their compassion for the illegal immigrants unfortunately entails sacrificing other people's jobs and economic opportunities, other people's children's educational opportunities, other people's resources and tax dollars to provide a host of social services," Mehlman added.

"If one looks at immigration solely from the perspective of immigrants, it is always wonderful," said Mehlman. "What many of these religious groups lose sight of is the fact that mass immigration, especially illegal immigration, has a profound impact on others."

Rodriguez said the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition will begin partnering with the New Sanctuary Movement and ask churches to provide support to families threatened with deportation.

"Churches across this country are preparing to provide sanctuary for those seeking protection from egregious actions against their welfare and families," he said.

But Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said "That's the kind of thing that leaves most Christians and most Americans scratching their head[s]."

"You can't advocate for a change in the law if you think the law - the general construct - is meaningless," he told Cybercast News Service. "If you're going to say the courts themselves have no authority, that the rule of law doesn't matter, I think they really do risk alienating large segments of their parishioners."

Camarota added that the members of the coalition might not be speaking for their parishioners.

"What all the research on immigration generally shows is that elites - whether it's the leaders of unions, churches, businesses, political parties ... what you may call opinion leaders or elites in the United States - want illegal immigration legalized," he said.

"Generally speaking, members of those groups don't. They tend to come down more on the enforcement side of the debate," Camarota added.

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