President Bush's take on the immigration debate has most of the members of the conservative base of the Republican Party scratching their heads. Why Mr. President would you use the language and tactics of the left to attack the thirty percent or so of the population who are still firmly in your corner? We have disagreed with you before on policy issues and still remained in your corner. When you decided to join Ted Kennedy in pushing the behemoth No Child Left Behind fiasco we decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, you said in your campaign you were coming to Washington to reach across the aisle as one who would unite rather than divide the parties. You said you wanted to change the nature of the rhetoric in Washington from one of hardened antagonism to one of conciliatory cooperation. So at the end of the day, most of us looked the other way.
Then came the Medicare Reform Act and another conservative principle of smaller government died in the shadow of bipartisanship. The reach of government (and the financial burden) expanded exponentially at the stroke of a pen. The Medicare Drug policy has become an entitlement that will hang heavily around the necks of generations to come. Granted, something needed to be done about the burgeoning price of prescription drugs for seniors but saddling future generations with a tax that will greatly reduce their standard of living merely shifts the burden of solving the entitlement crisis to a future generation of leaders. As conservatives, we scratched our heads but we stayed the course.
There have been other moments of wavering for the base…the presentation and then withdrawal of Harriet Myers for the Supreme Court; the flirtation with the Dubai Ports deal which demonstrated a combination of poor judgment and incredibly bad timing; and of course the strong defense and then ultimate firing of Sec. Rumsfeld. Yet, each time the conservative base reflected, recovered, and then rallied to your defense. But this time, the reflection is leaving us more in the dark than enlightened. The recovery will be long in coming if it comes at all because those who have always been willing to rally to your defense have been stunned by your attitude in our current disagreement.
Peggy Noonan, former speech writer and confident of President Reagan said it best. In a somber yet insightful Wall Street Journal guest editorial Noonan writes, "For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome." It is easy to see why she was such an effective speech writer. When I read that line I felt it deep down where my core beliefs are kept. She goes on to say, "You don't like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don't like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad! You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad! But on immigration it has changed from 'too bad' to 'You're bad.'"
What the president said is that conservatives are trying to "frighten people" into opposing the bill. With all due respect, when the Heritage Foundation analysis of this bill conservatively estimates its passage into law will mean at least sixty-six million legal immigrants coming to America in the next 20 years there is good reason to be afraid. No culture, no matter how open to diversity, can absorb that kind of population and societal shift in such is a short period of time. And this is a conservative estimate which doesn't take into consideration those who will continue to come into the country illegally.
The president also said those who "want to kill the bill" are not concerned about "what's right for America." How can simply opposing a bill that will slowly relegate the Republican Party to minority political status for years be considered unpatriotic? If wasn't for the sustained outcry of conservatives about a porous southern border there wouldn't even be any debate taking place over immigration. It was the gradually crescendo of raised conservative voices that finally began to reach the ears of congressional leaders and the White House. Conservatives who care about and want to protect the things that are right and good about American culture (including the constitution) are not bigots, xenophobes, nativists, or isolationists. We are people who respect the rule of law and who seek to defend the cultural cohesiveness of our country. We believe the long term consequences of this bill will be the financial destruction of our way of life. The backs of hard working Americans cannot possibly carry the load of an influx of immigrants into our already overloaded welfare and social security system.
God's Word calls for a balance between care for the "foreigner" or "stranger" in the land and the foreigner or strangers responsibility to abide by the law of the land. Deuteronomy 10:18 says God, "executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreign resident, given him food and clothing." Exodus 22:21 commands God's people not to "exploit a foreign resident or oppress him, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt." But the Bible also commands the foreigner in the land to be obedient to the same laws as the native. The question of how Christians should treat immigrants is not hard to answer. We should love them and welcome them as long as they obey the laws of the land, which include laws that regulate their entrance into the country.
I pray that the immigration debate, because it is such an important issue for our time, will be resolved according to the Word of God, the rule of law, and the compassion of the Christian faith. And I pray it can be accomplished without the kind of name calling and finger pointing that will leave the Republican Party fractured and powerless for years to come.
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.