Southern Baptist and other evangelical leaders are calling for restitution-based immigration reform that is “based on Christian teaching about the necessity of upholding the rule of law in a humane manner,” Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), wrote in a Fox News op-ed Nov. 17.
The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) released a statement Nov. 6 urging elected officials to consider a process that would require immigrants who illegally entered the United States or overstayed a visa as adults to pay fines in installments over a period of seven years, and then permit them to apply for permanent residency.
The EIT also called for a pathway to permanent residency for “Dreamers,” immigrants who were illegally brought into the country as children.
The statement was released days before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and President Donald Trump’s move to end it. DACA, implemented during former President Barack Obama’s administration, allows Dreamers to remain in the U.S.
“Although American authorities would be within their legal rights to deport Dreamers, they would also be within their legal rights to adjust the application of our laws so that they can show mercy to Dreamers,” Ashford wrote. “Our nation has done so many times before in its history and, in doing so, has held together two deeply Christian concepts – justice and mercy.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, signed the EIT’s statement and said the call for reform is important “because the security of our nation requires both a strong border and a society healthy enough to encourage those living in the shadows to come into the light.
“Millions of our undocumented neighbors in our communities and our churches want to do the right thing. They just don’t know what the right thing is, because our government can’t make up its mind about that. We would do well as a country to make a way for them to earn the chance to do so.”
Daniel Akin, SEBTS president, also signed the statement and explained the significance of the timing of its release in an interview with World Radio on Nov. 14.
“To get this out on the table now then allows persons, whether it be as representatives, senators or the president, to position themselves on what they would like to see us do in the future,” Akin said.
Alan Cross, lead pastor of Petaluma Valley Baptist Church in Petaluma, Calif., posted a series of tweets Nov. 19 describing the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) perspective on immigration over the past 13 years.
In 2006, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., passed a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to “address seriously and swiftly the question of how to deal realistically with the immigration crisis.”
The resolution called on government officials to “provide for the security of our nation by controlling and securing our borders,” and on churches to “reach out to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all immigrants … and to encourage them toward the path of legal status and/or citizenship.”
Again in 2011, messengers in Phoenix, Ariz., passed a resolution asking authorities to “implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures.”
Last year in Dallas, Texas, messengers passed another resolution “after seven years of continued policy gridlock” to “affirm the value and dignity of immigrants, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or legal status.”
The 2018 resolution again emphasized secure borders and “a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity.”
“This current call for restitution-based reforms directly derives from the work of Southern Baptists on this issue as we have sought to carve out a moral and ethical solution that is neither amnesty nor mass deportation, but honors the rule of law, creates a way to keep families together, and provides a way for people to get right with the law,” Cross said in a statement to the Biblical Recorder. “This evangelical call for restitution-based immigration reform is exactly what Southern Baptists have called for for years, and I’m glad to see it getting traction. I hope that many SBC pastors will sign on to it.”