Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and some other evangelical Christian leaders are urging the federal government to continue to work toward a long-term solution for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children in the wake of reported comments by President Donald Trump that have embroiled the effort.
Trump made critical comments – allegedly marked by obscene language – about African countries in a White House meeting Jan. 11 with legislators. The controversial remarks came two days after Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and the other evangelicals had called for Congress to prioritize a remedy for Dreamers, a label that stems from the name of a bill introduced to protect this category of immigrants.
Reports of the president’s negative reaction to a bipartisan legislative proposal have appeared to further jeopardize congressional attempts to act before an early March deadline to save a program that has given about 800,000 people relief from deportation. Congress also faces the threat of a federal government shutdown Jan. 20 that has become complicated by the furor.
In a Jan. 14 statement, Moore and other leaders of the organizations that make up the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) expressed the hope Trump would “join the good-faith efforts” by senators from both political parties to permit Dreamers “to continue to work lawfully and contribute in the United States while also improving border security.”
The president’s reported remarks are opposed to “core biblical and American values,” such as the doctrine each person “is made in the image of God” and the conviction “all people are created equal,” they said.
“Jesus emerged from the despised and disregarded town of Nazareth, a reminder that we ought never pre-judge any person based on his or her community of origin,” the EIT statement said.
Acknowledging Trump has denied some language attributed to him, the signers said, “We would hope that nothing approaching what was reported would ever be said by an American leader.”
In a Jan. 11 tweet, Moore said, “The church of Jesus Christ is led by, among others, our brothers and sisters from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. They are us.”
President Barack Obama established the program in question – known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – by executive order in 2012 to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. The order to protect Dreamers came after Congress failed for more than a decade to pass proposals to address the issue.
The Trump administration announced Sept. 5 it would end DACA but also instituted a six-month delay for Congress to act.
The Washington Post and other news media reported the president used the term “s***hole countries” in the Jan. 11 meeting to describe African nations. He also disparaged Haiti in criticizing the immigration proposal, according to reports.
Trump denied the use of the obscenity in a tweet the next day, and some participants denied he used the word or said they did not hear it. The Post reported Jan. 16 the president used the obscene word, saying its report was based on interviews with more than a dozen administration officials, congressional aides and legislators.
Ronnie Floyd, an evangelical adviser during the Trump campaign, criticized the alleged remarks in a Jan. 12 article of The Post. Floyd, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), said: “I would not agree with those comments at all. We need to see that every person is made in the image of God.”
Floyd said there’s a difficult balance between the primary responsibility of the government of securing the nation and the value of human life. “Anytime we devalue a person it’s not good,” Floyd said. “Regardless of their skin or ethnicity, we need to honor one another.”
Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia attended the Jan. 11 meeting and said in a joint statement the next day they did not recall Trump “saying these comments specifically but what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest.”
In a Jan. 11 tweet, the president said, “The Democrats seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern Border, risking thousands of lives in the process. It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans. We must build a Great Wall, think Merit and end Lottery & Chain. USA!”
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the lead Democrat on the bipartisan proposal, tweeted Jan. 12, “Our deal is a genuine compromise – it addresses all the areas outlined by the President and represents honest concessions on both sides. That is the nature of compromise.”
The effort to provide a solution for Dreamers is only one of many issues involved in reforming America’s immigration system. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are in the United States, but efforts to enact a comprehensive measure have failed.
In early October, Moore brought together 51 evangelical leaders – including four former SBC presidents – in a statement endorsing “the underlying policy aim” of DACA “because we believe this is a special category of immigrants who are not legally culpable, who in most cases have no home other than the United States, and who are a blessing to their communities and to their churches.”
Those who have taken part in DACA have pursued education, worked and paid taxes, served in the military and refused to become involved in crime, according to the statement. “A solution for Dreamers rightly excludes those convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanors,” the signers said.
Messengers to the 2011 SBC meeting in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
The resolution acknowledged immigration reform “has prompted often-rancorous debate in the American public square.” Southern Baptists also have various views on how to address the immigration problem. During consideration of the resolution, an amendment to remove the paragraph regarding establishment of a “path to legal status” failed in a ballot vote of 51-48 percent.
At least seven months could be required to implement long-term relief for Dreamers if and when Congress approves a measure, the National Immigration Forum and the Niskanen Center reported. Beginning March 5, about 1,000 people a day will lose their protection from deportation, according to their report.
In 2001, members of Congress proposed for the first time the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act – hence the name Dreamers for those in this category of undocumented immigrants. The measure gained reintroduction several times thereafter without passing before Obama acted.
In addition to the ERLC, the organizations in EIT’s leadership consist of the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, World Relief, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, The Wesleyan Church and Faith and Community Empowerment.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)