WASHINGTON — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi offered kind words about evangelicals during her speech before an annual gathering of Christian college presidents Wednesday.
The Democrat from California spoke during the opening session of the 2019 Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Presidents Conference on Capitol Hill less than an hour after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos detailed for attendees the Trump administration’s vision for “rethinking” higher education.
The CCCU is an association of over 180 Protestant Christian colleges worldwide with a mission to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education through public advocacy, professional development and experiential education.
“Because people have faith, they believe. They believe in God and believe in themselves. They believe in the goodness of others, the charity of others. It gives them hope,” the 78-year-old representative said. “Faith is the strength and has always been the strength, of our country. It is also a country full of love.”
The House Speaker specifically addressed the issue of immigration, a hot button topic as the threat of yet another government shutdown stemming from President Donald Trump’s request for additional funding to boost border security still exists.
The CCCU is one of several evangelical organizations that form the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that recently called for a compromise that would see both additional border security funding and a path to legal status for some who have lived in the country unlawfully.
“I have worked with some of you in this room over time on the immigration issue and the evangelical community has been in the lead on it for a long, long time — being there for so many strong initiatives for comprehensive immigration reform, respecting the dignity and worth of every person,” Pelosi told the audience.
She continued by thanking Galen Carey, the vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, for his advocacy on the immigration issue. Pelosi recalled the time that Carey testified before Congress in 2017 when the Trump administration instituted a travel and refugee ban on a number of Muslim-majority countries.
“Galen came and he said to us … ‘The refugee resettlement program of the United States is the crown jewel of America’s humanitarianism,’” Pelosi recalled. “Is that right, Galen? I quote you all the time because this is really true.”
Pelosi argued that it is the country’s “obligation” to be responsive to immigrants and refugees seeking asylum and refugee status after fleeing from their home countries due to a well-founded fear of persecution.
But her speech comes at a time in which the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. has hit a historic low, despite the fact that there are over 25 million refugees looking for safety in the world today.
“Other countries are [doing their part] and we do a minimum and it is just not right,” Pelosi said.
She insisted even that asylum seekers have a right to cross the border in order to seek asylum in the U.S.
“In the current challenge that we have, one of the things that we have had to convey to the administration is that these people do have a right under international law in any sense of decency to seek refuge in our country,” she contended.
“We have a responsibility to question whether it is a well-founded fear of persecution. But, it isn’t against the law for them to come into America to have that test made. The large number of the people come through the ports of entry, overwhelmingly. But if they were to cross the border in another place because they are fleeing danger, that is OK too. Then, they are subjected to the test of whether they meet that standard.”
As many immigrants from Central America are fleeing gang violence and coming up through the porous U.S. southern border, the Trump administration late last year tried to institute a policy to temporarily disqualify illegal border crossers from being able to seek asylum in the U.S. But, a federal judge blocked the order.
As the negotiations between Congress and the administration continue over the border issue, Pelosi explained that she and her colleagues are hoping to find some common ground with the White House “as soon as possible.”
“Some of the things that we have in there, I think will be very acceptable,” she said. “It goes on both sides of the ledger. We all care on both sides of the wall question about treating people who come. So there will be sizable funding for food, clothing, medical care for immigrants coming across the border so we don’t have people dying in our custody.”
Pelosi said there would be “sizable funding” to hire more judges to allow for immigration cases to be more quickly adjudicated as there is currently a backlog of immigration cases. She added that there would be funding to send to the countries many of these immigrants are fleeing from to help “alleviate some of the conditions that exacerbated the situation.”
“We will have to see how that money is spent but a recognition that if we can solve some of the problems at home, then people can stay home,” she reasoned. “They come here because they have no choice and it is just a matter of life or death or danger for their families.”
Pelosi, a Catholic despite her pro-choice stance on abortion, cited Matthew 25 to stress that Americans should take up the responsibility to help immigrants and refugees fearing for their life.
“When people talk about the Gospel of Matthew as being an inspiration to so many of us — ‘When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was homeless, you sheltered me. When I was imprisoned, you visited me’ — I always want to remind them that the rest of that Gospel is the [inverse]. When I was hungry, you didn’t feed me. … That second part of it, I think, is very important for us all to remember because the responsibility, the challenge is there both to respond positively but not to respond negatively,”
Pelosi also argued that the Trump administration stance on immigration issues is a “departure from the bipartisanship” that has existed in previous administrations around the “recognition that we are, by and large, a nation of immigrants.”
Earlier in the morning session, CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra sat down with Education Secretary DeVos (a graduate of CCCU member Calvin College) to talk about issues such as accreditation, her plan for “rethinking higher education” and the administration's proposed Title IX sexual assault rules.
The administration has claimed that the proposed Title IX rules will be historic in the sense that it would create formal regulations for how colleges and universities should respond to sexual assault and harassment claims.
The two-month public comment period on the proposed rules ends Wednesday. Amassing over 100,000 comments, the rules have been praised by some and heavily criticized by others who say the regulations would be a “step backward.”
In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance that instructed colleges receiving federal grants that campus officials should respond more promptly to sexual assault claims from students. The guidance told officials to use a less rigorous standard of “preponderance of the evidence” to determine if a sexual assault had actually occurred. Critics claimed that such a policy violated due process rights of those accused.
“When I came into this job, I became aware very quickly of what had been promulgated in the previous administration simply wasn’t working for too many students and institutions,” DeVos said.
“So we began a process very early on, almost two years ago, of listening sessions. Speaking with those who had survived sexual assault about their experiences. We spoke with those who had been falsely accused and we also spoke with a number of folks from higher-ed institutions who have to adjudicate these things. It was very clear. The bottom line was that it simply was not working. So we set about to go through a proper regulatory process.”
After receiving input from the public, she said the department will move forward with a process to issue a final rule.
“The fundamental focus from my perspective is ensuring that we will be fair and balanced for all students,” she explained. “I said it often and I will say it again. One sexual assault is one too many. We need to move from a place where we are educating and ensuring that those horrible situations don’t occur but when they do we need to have a process and framework that is fair for everyone.”