President Trump’s immigration policy has drawn renewed focus among Baptists, with reactions to his March 6 executive order emerging and criticism of two previous executive orders voiced by a coalition of Hispanic pastors.
Trump’s March 6 executive order revoked a Jan. 27 order on immigration that proved controversial and was blocked by federal courts. The new order, which would take effect March 16, imposes a 90-day “pause” on entry to the U.S. by nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – eliminating Iraq from a list of seven restricted Muslim-majority nations in the previous order.
The new order rescinds an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and enacts a 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. It lists a range of exceptions to the travel suspensions, such as permanent U.S. residents and visa holders.
The March 6 order eliminated a provision of the previous order offering preferential status to refugees from persecuted religious minority groups. Still, it countered claims the previous order discriminated against Muslims, stating the provision in question “did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion.”
Among provisions retained from the previous order were a cap of 50,000 refugee admissions annually and a review of vetting processes for foreign travelers to the U.S.
Immediate past Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd reacted to the new immigration order as guest host of the Family Research Council’s “Washington Watch” radio program March 6.
Floyd agreed with a guest’s assessment that the order addresses critics’ concerns adequately and is likely to withstand legal challenges. “It’s so encouraging to know that” the White House “deepened” its treatment of immigration in the revised order, he said.
“Pause was pushed … to make [the order] better to help the future of America,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. He claimed the new order “hints at the exclusion of people” from the U.S. “who embrace orthodox Islam’s violent extremism.”
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, tweeted that it is “time for Christian leaders to admit this factor: More than 300 refugees” are currently subjects of “terrorism investigations” – a claim made in the March 6 order.
In a separate tweet, Johnson referred to the order as “anti-jihad” and prescribing “extreme vetting.” He commended an analysis of Trump’s action by Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice.
Sekulow wrote that “significant changes” from the Jan. 27 order “not only ensure that America will be kept safe, but they also undercut the various legal challenges to the lawful order.”
Hispanic pastors concerned
Prior to Trump’s latest immigration executive order, the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance (HBPA) issued a press release expressing “sadness and concern” over immigration-related executive orders issued Jan. 25 and 27.
The HBPA website lists 57 churches that are represented among the alliance and notes a four-member leadership council of Felix Cabrera, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City; Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami; Raudel Hernandez, pastor of The Summit Church’s Spanish congregation in Durham, N.C.; and Julio Crespo, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Buenas Nuevas in Lilburn, Ga.
Most of the HBPA’s concerns appear to center on a Jan. 25 executive order calling for construction of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, the hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents and detention of “individuals apprehended on suspicion of violating Federal or State law, including Federal immigration law.”
The order and its enforcement represent a departure from “Obama-era rules that required” immigration officers to focus enforcement actions “only on serious criminals,” The New York Times reported.
In a March 2 release, the HBPA expressed support of immigration actions against “those convicted of serious violent crimes such as murder or rape.” But the Trump administration’s policy “puts a far greater share of the Hispanic population in our country and within our congregations at risk of deportation.”
“Due process” could be “bypassed” by the administration, the HBPA stated, “and many Hispanics are concerned that their ethnicity alone may lead agents to profile them.”
Trump’s immigration policies cause families to fear separation, the HBPA stated. The policies also yield “a decrease in attendance in our Sunday services because Hispanic brethren are afraid to be arrested on the way there, and/or, as we have seen happen already, receive a call that one of their family members has been arrested” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The issue of immigration is “too complicated” to solve through blanket calls to “remove undocumented people,” the HBPA stated.
The Jan. 25 order’s call to use state and local law enforcement officials to perform the functions of immigration officers could “lead to the breach of civil rights,” the HBPA stated.
Utilizing state and local officers for immigration enforcement likewise could create “fear and distrust among the immigrant community towards all law enforcement agencies, which means they will be less likely to come forward as witnesses to violent crimes, when they are victims of domestic abuse or to report cases of child abuse.”
The HBPA concluded, “We have taught our congregations that the reason why they came to this country was not what they initially believed it was. It wasn’t because they were chasing the American dream but because God was chasing them, drawing them to Jesus. It was here where many of them came to know Christ and no matter where they go from this place, their new objective in life is the proclamation of the gospel.”
A 2011 SBC resolution “on immigration and the gospel” asked “our governing authorities to prioritize efforts to secure the borders and to hold businesses accountable for hiring practices as they relate to immigration status.” The resolution also asked government leaders “to implement, with the borders secured, “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.”
The resolution stated it was “not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”
The resolution concluded, “While Southern Baptists, like other Americans, might disagree on how to achieve just and humane public policy objectives related to immigration, we agree that, when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to His church, the message, in every language and to every person, is ‘Whosoever will may come.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)