WASHINGTON – Evangelical leaders tout immigration reform as the answer to an "ungodly" system, arguing that illegal immigration depresses the job market, knocks low-skilled workers out of available jobs, and creates an environment where undocumented workers can be preyed upon.
James R. Edwards, Jr., of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Wednesday during a panel discussion that undocumented workers are dominating the low-skills market, taking jobs from high school graduates who "should be at the top of the list."
Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University professor, further noted that "African Americans, poor white families and legal Hispanics" were most affected by illegal workers.
The problem further depresses the job market and the economy, Edwards said, because employees are willing to hire undocumented immigrants since they can pay lower wages than required by the minimum wage laws. Those workers, he added, then drive down the wages for other low-skilled workers.
If this system were to continue, "only elites will be able to afford a decent quality of life," he commented. "This is not godly."
"It is disrespectful and ungodly to break into another person's home and then make demands of the host," she said.
While undocumented, low-skilled workers bring a host of negative effects to the labor market, Galen Carey, director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, contended that highly-skilled immigrant workers bring innovation to the United States and create jobs. Carey expressed concern over how immigrants are perceived in the political landscape.
"Their presence evokes fear and concern," he noted, but "people are assets."
The public policy expert reminded the public that immigration is part of the moral fabric of America and should be encouraged within legal parameters. This is all the more reason for comprehensive immigration reform, he and others have argued.
Evangelicals have recently taken an active stance on immigration reform, an issue more commonly championed by liberals and progressives. Today, the National Association of Evangelicals has come to be a frontrunner on the issue, working proactively with members of Congress.
Last year, the NAE released a comprehensive resolution on immigration urging the U.S. government to, among other recommendations, issue more work visas to minimize industry reliance on undocumented workers.
And this past May, the group published a full-page advertisement in Roll Call, a newspaper widely read by politicians and their staff, calling for an overhaul of America's broken immigration system to be fair to taxpayers. While calling on the government to secure the border, the NAE has also urged respect for personal dignity, the protection of the unity of the family unit, and a fair pathway to citizenship or legal status for immigrants already in the states. The ad was signed by NAE President Leith Anderson, NAE leaders, and several prominent conservatives.
Recently, the NAE has also been hosting a series of panel discussions in Washington, D.C., to underscore the issue. The second discussion on Wednesday highlighted the ill effects of immigration on the labor markets.
While immigrants are wrong for coming into the country illegally, Southern Baptist heavyweight Richard Land said America is to blame for not enforcing its own laws.
"It's immoral to break the law, but it's also immoral not to enforce the law," said Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Land, who is also among those who signed the NAE's Role Call ad in May, reiterated his call for a pathway to citizenship, not amnesty.
"Amnesty is what Jimmy Carter gave draft dodgers after the Vietnam War," the influential Southern Baptist noted. If it were him, Land too would have accepted dodgers back from Canada, but he would fine them and require them to work in a military hospital caring for "soldiers who took their place."
Land and others on Wednesday encouraged reform that allows for a grace period of sorts. During this period, illegal aliens would be encouraged to register themselves, applying for citizenship or legal resident status. Land also advocated for a tamper-proof verification card. Edwards and Swain, meanwhile, specifically advocated wide employer use of the eVerified program.
The NAE is expected to continue its immigration discussion through November. The third panel discussion on Nov. 3 will address immigration and security and will be moderated by Carey, who represents the NAE before Congress, the White House, and the courts. Panelists will include Jen Smyers, associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy at Church World Service; Kyle Longely, professor of History at Arizona State University; Mark Tooley, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy; and Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University's School of Law.
Established in 1942, the NAE today represents more than 45,000 local churches from over 40 different denominations and serves a constituency of millions.