Over 80 evangelical leaders call for restitution-based immigration reform

Russell Moore (M) speaks during the National Immigration Forum's 'Leading the Way' summit in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 7, 2019. He is flanked by Cherie Harder of the Trinity Forum (R) and former Obama campaign faith adviser Michael Wear (L)
Russell Moore (M) speaks during the National Immigration Forum's "Leading the Way" summit in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 7, 2019. He is flanked by Cherie Harder of the Trinity Forum (R) and former Obama campaign faith adviser Michael Wear (L) | The Christian Post

Over 80 evangelicals signed onto a statement this week calling for a restitution-based pathway for immigrants unlawfully residing in the United States to be granted legal permanent residency.

On Wednesday evening, the “Evangelical Call for Restitution-Based Immigration Reform” was announced in Washington, D.C., by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations that support comprehensive immigration reform.

The statement was signed by not only the nine leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table’s principal organizations, but also by pastors and leaders from dozens of evangelical seminaries, churches, Christian colleges, parachurch organizations, and denominational bodies.

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The new statement proposes a way forward for people who are in the U.S. illegally without resorting to either mass deportation or amnesty.

“We support a process of restitution (not amnesty) where violation of law is admitted to and significant fines/penalties are paid by immigrants (in installments over a period of seven years) who came illegally (or overstayed a visa) as adults, leading to a pathway to Legal Permanent Residency if qualifications are met,” the statement reads. 

Under the plan, immigrants who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully or overstayed a visa as children would also go through a process to get onto a pathway to legal residency if qualifications are met. 

“We encourage fairness to taxpayers by requiring that all immigrants be self-sufficient, work, pay taxes and be productive, or be in families and households that are doing so,” the statement explains. “We encourage the government to establish a secure border and an efficient and orderly process of immigration.”

The statement contends that deporting the tens of millions of immigrants who are already in the country illegally is “neither feasible or morally just.”

“Many immigrant families have been here for decades, and many are members of local churches,” the evangelical leaders’ statement stresses. “We must develop a solution that fits the problem we have, solves it by upholding the rule of law, creates a process of restitution and gives the possibility of integration so immigrants can fully participate in American life.” 

Notable signatories include Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Leith Anderson, retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Danny Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; pastor James Merritt of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia; pastor Claude Alexander of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; and pastor Derwin Gray of the multiracial Transformation Church in South Carolina.

Other notable signatories include the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Douglas Birdsall, the honorary chair of the Lausanne Movement; Eugene Cho, author and founder of One Day’s Wages; radio host Carmen LaBerge; and Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. 

Along with Moore, the statement was signed by leaders affiliated with 10 denominational bodies. Those include the Reformed Church of America; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Assemblies of God USA; The Brethren Church; Church of the Nazarene; Evangelical Free Church of America; the Wesleyan Church; Christian Reformed Church of North America; and Evangelical Covenant Church. 

“This call for restitution-based reform is important. That's because the security of our nation requires both a strong border and a society healthy enough to encourage those living in the shadows to come into the light,” Moore said in a statement. 

“Millions of our undocumented neighbors in our communities and our churches want to do the right thing. They just don't know what the right thing is, because our government can't make it up its mind about that. We would do well as a country to make a way for them to earn the chance to do so. This could happen easily through financial and other civic requirements to stay lawfully.”

Since its launch in 2012, thousands of evangelical leaders have affirmed the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform, a statement calling for a bipartisan solution that keeps families together and respects the rule of law. 

The Evangelical Immigration Tables’ statement of principles calls for “a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”

In April, the Evangelical Immigration Table released an e-book titled Thinking Biblically about Immigrants & Immigration Reform. In the book, the coalition advocated for a provision that would offer immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally or overstayed a visa the ability to earn their way toward legal status. 

Under such a plan, immigrants would be granted temporary legal status while they prove they are working, paying taxes and not breaking the law. 

The release of the Evangelical Call for Restitution-Based Immigration Reform coincided with the National Immigration Forum’s “Leading the Way” summit in Washington, D.C., a two-day event held this week at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. 

On Thursday, Moore participated in a summit panel discussion on civil discourse. 

Although many evangelical leaders have gotten behind the Evangelical Immigration Tables’ calls for immigration reform, polling data from the last year suggests that most white evangelicals feel that immigrants are a “threat” to American values.

“An evangelical Christian who despises immigrants is an evangelical who is self-defeating and self-loathing. Most of the body of Christ on earth now, not to mention in Heaven, is not white, is not middle-class, is not American and doesn’t speak English,” Moore said during the panel. 

“Most of the places where God is the most at work in the United States of America right now is in the first and second-generation immigrant communities. Most of the most evangelistic campus ministries are being led by first and second-generation immigrant evangelical Christians. I think we need to be aware of what is actually happening around us in order to receive that gratitude and be able to stand together.”

Earlier Thursday morning, the immigration advocacy group honored two U.S. Senators — Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo. — for their work in advancing immigration reform bills on Capitol Hill.

Last year, Gardner teamed up with Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet to pitch an unsuccessful immigration compromise that would have included a pathway to citizenship but also appropriated $25 million in border wall funding. Meanwhile, Durbin has also worked with Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, in an attempt to find a way forward to reform the nation’s asylum laws. 

Durbin, however, was blunt in responding with a “no” when asked during a panel discussion whether he thought there could be a rebirth of bipartisanship on the issue of immigration in 2020. 

Decrying the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies, such as the president’s decision to abolish protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors in 2017, Durbin accused Trump of “poisoning the well.”

“I believe that when he calculates what it takes to appeal to his base, there is no room for accommodation on immigration,” Durbin said. 

However, Gardner was a bit more optimistic.

“I never give up hope. You can’t give up hope,” Gardner said. 

“This country was built on that hope and that is why people came to this nation. We got 54 votes on the floor of the Senate two years ago. So we were six votes shy. This wasn’t a massive comprehensive bill.

That was kind of four things that we could get done including the Dream Act and other provisions that we knew were a basis to broader solutions. It’s a majority in the U.S. Senate, six votes shy. I am going to fight each and every day to find those six votes and more for the rest of the reforms that we need.”

In July, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of Dreamers and other immigrants. The bill is not likely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate as conservatives view the bill as granting amnesty to people who have broken U.S. law. 

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