Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Christian Principles for Immigration Reform

Michael J. Gerson


May 10, 2013
By Michael J. Gerson

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. 

Recently the U.S. Senate began serious consideration of what is perhaps the most important legislation of President Obama’s second term – a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  The bipartisan bill runs hundreds of pages, and hundreds of amendments have already been proposed. Precisely because it is a comprehensive approach, there is bound to be something in the bill that makes everyone uncomfortable.

Conservatives, so far, have focused mainly on border security.  They are pushing for early triggers, requiring effective control of the border before other provisions of the bill – particularly the granting of legal status to undocumented workers – kick in.  This is a valid concern. The current level of illegal border crossings is actually quite low – the lowest since the 1970s.  But nations have the right, even the duty, to know who is entering and leaving their territory.  

Other issues will arise, and members of Congress, on left and right, will be tested.  They will need to decide if their ultimate goal is to strengthen the bill with useful amendments, or to kill the bill with controversial amendments.

Immigration reform raises a series of very complex policy and economic issues, and people will naturally come down on various sides of them.  But American citizens should insist on a few ground rules.  It is not good enough to oppose immigration reform just to hand President Obama a defeat.  This would be simple obstructionism.  And it is not good enough to support more liberal approaches to immigration reform just to ensure that Republicans oppose it and hurt themselves with Latino voters.  This would be political cynicism. 

No one can claim that our current immigration system is orderly or humane.  Changes are clearly necessary.  And with the stakes so high, it will be hard enough to make those changes without acts of political sabotage from both sides. 

There is no single, religious view of immigration reform, just as there is no single, religious view of economics or the role of government.  But religious people in this debate should distinguish themselves for holding a few principles.

First, we are not dealing with “illegals.”  We are dealing with men, women and children, many of whom are desperate or vulnerable to exploitation.  Whatever our policy views, the dehumanization of undocumented workers is not an option.

Second, Christians respect the law, but they can’t be harsh legalists.  Chaos at the border can be dangerous to all involved.  Violations of law can’t be ignored.  But there is a moral difference between a common criminal and someone who crosses a border to feed their family. 

Third, religious people should not view anyone – including migrants and the poor – as mere burdens or permanent drains on society.  Under the right circumstances – in a free, orderly system – human beings are sources of creativity, productivity and values.  The universality of the image of God remains a revolutionary idea.  And we need to take it seriously. 

None of this dictates a single policy approach to immigration reform.  But our ultimate goal should be an orderly system in which human dignity, and human potential, are both honored.      

-  Michael J. Gerson is Visiting Fellow of the Center for Public Justice and a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post.  He is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”