(Photo: REUTERS/Alonso Castillo)
Focus on the Family President Jim Daly on Monday joined over 100 other evangelical leaders who signed a statement calling for immigration reform, saying that most of the country's illegal immigrants should be granted U.S. citizenship.
Daly said the reason he added his name to the star-studded evangelical list is because the issue of immigration is not simply a legal issue, but a family one as well.
"I just felt – along with the board of directors here a Focus, who just met this week so the timing was perfect – that fundamentally all of us were concerned about the family issues related to this issue now," Daly told Christianity Today on Tuesday.
In addition to Daly, others engaged in the issue include Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Max Lucado, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear and Timothy George. Organizations associated with the effort include the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and World Relief.
The issue of immigration has been a contentious issue for many years. Advocates on both sides of the issue have become so grounded in their beliefs that hardly any opportunity exists for either side to find common ground.
For example, most Republican elected officials and party leaders have taken the stance that the nation's borders should be closed and anyone currently living in the U.S. illegally should be deported immediately. While it's difficult to determine precisely what that figure is, estimates are in the 12 to 15 million range.
On the other side of the issue are many Democrats who advocate that those already here should be allowed to legally remain, and that they should be eligible for government benefits such as welfare, food stamps and unemployment benefits.
According to employers who find illegal immigrants their only source of labor, it has created an atmosphere whereby they are often themselves breaking the law when they employ manual laborers.
Business and agricultural leaders from several Southern states are meeting in Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesday to discuss how tough immigration laws, like those recently seen in Arizona and Alabama, are impacting the labor force. "Farmers across the nation want – and need – an adequate, legal work force," noted North Carolina Farm Bureau president Larry Wooten. "Our immigration system is broken; it can only be fixed at the federal level. We urge Congress to immediately address this issue that is so important for jobs and for our business community."
Daly's decision to involve Focus on the Family in the issue was not unexpected.
When he took over day-to-day responsibilities from Dr. James Dobson in 2010, he told The Wall Street Journal that he wanted the organization to reach beyond the hot-button social issues of same-sex marriage and abortion and weigh in on the fact that families are being "torn apart" under existing immigration enforcement laws.
"I signed on to this statement because immigration reform is more than an 'issue' to families – it profoundly affects their stability, structure and quality of life," Daly said in a statement. "We call on Republicans and Democrats alike to set aside their party agendas and work together for the public agenda and the common good."
One example Daly cites is when an immigrant does obtain a legal work permit, also known as a "green card," sometimes it still takes several years to be able to bring immediate family members to the U.S.
"And I put that in the context of my two boys, Trent and Troy, 11 and 9, and I think, if I were in their shoes, stood in line, got the card, worked here in the United States and it would take me seven years to get my kids with me?" Daly said in the CT interview. "They would be going off to college and I would have missed their entire teen years. It just seems immoral that we don't come up with a better system to fast-track immediate family members who have gone through the process properly."
Yet what has kept many – especially elected leaders – from publicly advocating for more realistic immigration reform is the backlash that conservative voters, including many evangelicals, may show if more liberal immigration policies are proposed.
Daly said he recognized the issue could elicit some negative comments, but that comes with leadership and the need to stand firm on biblical principles.
"The Christian community has got to find the right footing to be able to express truth and express those things that are lawful, and at the same time express the heart of God," said Daly.
"I just don't think the heart of God is against somebody trying to do better. People need to abide by laws. But we don't want to dehumanize people or stigmatize people simply because they're trying to better their lives and help their own families. We've got to be careful that we do not do that as a Christian community."