Immigration Reform: Substance Above Rhetoric, Doing What is Right

There has been much discussion recently about the welcome prospect of pending immigration reform legislation. This is a propitious moment for our Nation to be having this important debate. Unfortunately, many people are narrowly framing this discussion through the lens of political expediency. Political pundits on both sides of the aisle are commenting about why the Republicans need immigration reform as a means to reach out to the Hispanic community. They do. But it is so much more than that. The truth is that most conservatives - and most progressives for that matter - actually do want to find a solution to our Nation's immigration crisis. Unfortunately, the traditional opponents of immigration reform and immigration in general, are doing their best to mitigate against the coming political winds that favor a bipartisan reform of our immigration laws. These anti-immigration advocates, who are in fact paid lobbyists, point to the extraordinarily poor showing for Republicans among the Hispanic voters in the recent election results as just an inevitable part of doing business, and they are encouraging Republicans to blindly follow them as they continue to bury their heads in the sand, and continue to spout their "anti-immigrant agenda" talking points.

We caution people involved in the ongoing discussion about immigration policy to put the rhetoric surrounding this issue into perspective. As people of faith, we and our Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform colleagues see the need for immigration reform as both a moral issue, and an economic issue, although we acknowledge the obvious political ramifications of this issue for both the Republicans and Democrats. We note that important political and policy leaders have suggested that the Republicans should change their tone on immigration and immigration reform. They should. However, while tone should be a part of this discussion, rhetoric alone will not solve either the political or policy problems inherent in this issue. We actually have to get the policy right. Tone alone will not solve the moral crisis engendered through having 11,000,000 undocumented people, their 5,000,000 citizen children, and the several million legal or citizen spouses of the undocumented that are living desperate lives in the shadow of the American Dream. Tone alone will not solve America's inevitable economic difficulties as we struggle to remain the most productive economy in human history. Tone alone will not protect our Nation's borders against drug and human smuggling, and tone will not remove the magnet of illegal immigration because tone alone will not insure that our Nation's businesses verify that all employees are eligible to work here legally.

However, tone is ethically relevant. It bestows on all people the dignity of humanity. For example, black people do not prefer to be called Negroes; they prefer to be called Black or African American. Therefore, it is ethical and bestows dignity upon all of us to define our African American brothers and sisters through terms that do not offend them. The same can be said of the undocumented. While they are technically illegally present, these 11,000,000 Human Beings prefer to be called undocumented. We are ethically and morally bound to treat them with the dignity that all people deserve, and should not demean them by using the pejorative slang term "illegal's." It just is not, for lack of a better term, polite. However, it actually goes much deeper than that. How we define the most vulnerable among us defines us as a nation.

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Conversely, a recent Op-Ed by Dan Stein, the President of F.A.I.R., that was published in The Hill, titled, "Immigration Reform is Not About Semantics," openly encourages Republicans to continue to employ the words, "amnesty," and "Illegal," openly and with abandon. He further makes the argument that Hispanics don't really care about immigration reform; they primarily care about the economy. Dan Stein and F.A.I.R. just don't get it. He and his organization are incorrect on both counts.

Not only is Mr. Stein's article tone deaf, his arguments are self-defeating, tired, and just plain wrong. Let us shed a little light on this subject through a specific example. Back in June of 2012, we met with one of the most senior campaign strategists for the Mitt Romney Presidential campaign. In that meeting, this gentleman argued strategy with us for reaching out to the Hispanic community. His argument was entirely consistent with Mr. Stein's message. He believed that Mitt Romney would win over the Hispanic vote with an economic argument, citing polling that suggested that the economy was the primary concern of Hispanic voters. We made a counter argument. While we agreed that the economy polled above immigration as an important issue among Hispanic voters, we cautioned that the issue of immigration was a gateway or threshold issue, and that if Mitt Romney didn't cross the proverbial "Jordan" on the immigration reform issue, then nobody in the Hispanic community was going to listen to his economic message, or anything else that he had to say to them. We cautioned that the economic argument alone would garner Governor Romney at most, just a few points in the polls, (he was polling in the low 20's at that time, and, in fact, ultimately received 27% of the Hispanic vote because he primarily only made an economic argument, and did not cross the Jordan or anything else on the immigration reform issue). There is no question but that Mr. Stein and F.A.I.R., (not to mention Mitt Romney), have lost this argument - through documentable proof - but the anti-immigration lobbyists are pressing forward with their anti-immigrant and anti-immigration message anyway, and are therefore doing a true disservice to conservatives all across the country.

We do not wish to demagogue anyone or their ideology. However, we should explain where Mr. Stein and F.A.I.R. are coming from. F.A.I.R. has a long and thoroughly documented history of population-control advocacy. The founder, and the board of F.A.I.R. have long associated themselves with Planned Parenthood and other "abortion on demand" organizations. Make no mistake, F.A.I.R. is a radical, ultra left-wing abortion and sterilization advocacy lobbying firm, and have long used the anti-immigration argument as a means to an end for their extreme population-control agenda. We believe that true conservatives would be well advised to stay well away from anything F.A.I.R. or their sister population-control organizations NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies say or do. Social conservatives shouldn't touch these pro-abortion organizations with a 10-foot pole.

We, as a Nation, are well past the time for the worn-out arguments perpetuated by the anti-immigration lobbyists. It is time for a serious discussion about immigration reform. It is time for a serious discussion about re-establishing the rule of law, even as we treat the large undocumented population strictly, yet fairly and humanely. As people of faith, we point to the Lamb's agenda. This is about doing what is right and just, not only under our Nation's laws - because we are a nation of laws - but especially under the law of God. Therefore, we are optimistic about the developing discussion about revising our broken immigration system. This discussion is long overdue.

In closing, we agree that tone is an important element of this ongoing conversation, but the policy discussions about immigration reform go way beyond rhetoric. We must get the policy right, once and for all. America is the land of opportunity, and the shining city on the hill. We are the exceptional nation. We are also a nation of immigrants. We must have an immigration policy that is as exceptional as our nation. We deserve and demand that our politicians come to this discussion with open minds and open hearts, with their eyes squarely on the determination to solve this dilemma as pragmatists, as patriots, and especially as Americans. Our Nation's political leaders must not listen to the population-control lobbyists and their tired and worn-out anti-immigration agenda. The revision of our broken and antiquated immigration system is about doing the right thing for our Nation.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Hispanic Evangelical Association. Robert Gittelson is co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and NHCLC Sr. Advisor on Immigration.

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