(Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
President Barack Obama met with several faith leaders at the Oval Office on Tuesday to discuss what he called a "broken" immigration system. They highlighted the pain it has caused families and called on Congress to come to a bipartisan agreement for change.
"I disagree with the President on some serious issues of human life, marriage, and religious liberty, but this is one issue where the country isn't divided up into red and blue. I don't know anyone who thinks the status quo immigration policy is working," said Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
"Our border isn't secure, we don't know who is and who isn't in the country, and we have families torn apart by an incoherent and capricious system. I encouraged the President to work with Republicans to get beyond partisan bickering and fix this broken system."
The U.S. immigration system has been a contentious issue throughout Obama's presidency. The White House, Christian groups, and bipartisan efforts have repeatedly called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, though House Speaker John Boehner has warned that Republican distrust of Obama's administration is making it difficult to move forward with legislation.
Obama thanked the faith leaders for their leadership on the issue and expressed his commitment to seeing through immigration reform.
"The President expressed deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system," a White House readout of the meeting said.
"He emphasized that while his Administration can take steps to better enforce and administer immigration laws, nothing can replace the certainty of legislative reform and this permanent solution can only be achieved by Congress."
The faith leaders present at Tuesday's meeting, including representatives from the Evangelical and Mormon faiths, emphasized the real human cost for families and communities waiting for reform.
Noel Castellanos, CEO of Christian Community Development Association, Chicago, said that the meeting was an opportunity to share the need to "end the suffering" of 11 million men, women and children caught in America's "broken" immigration system.
"We discussed the urgency for House members to take action before the August recess for the sake of immigrant families and our nation. Let us continue to pray and impress this need on our legislators to act now," Castellanos said.
Dr. Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Atlanta, said the U.S. needs to meet at the "intersection of moral conscience and common sense" to pass immigration reform.
"Congress has the tools to act and, as people of conviction, people of faith are in agreement that common sense measures can be taken," Paynter said.
"There is a place to honor the God-given dignity of persons, honor the rule of law, ensure fairness to taxpayers, and seek a path towards recognition for immigrants."
Earlier in April, former Florida governor Jeb Bush suggested that illegal immigrants are not committing a felony, but are breaking the law out of love and commitment to family.
"It's an act of love. It's an act of commitment to your family," Bush said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."
"I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families," he added.