With the significant exception of Native Americans, most of us can trace our ancestry to another country or continent. We are indeed a nation of immigrants and their descendants. It is a checkered history, as evidenced by congressional apologies for injustices committed against both Native and African Americans. But there can be little doubt that our nation has achieved its current prosperity in large part due to our embrace--fitfully at times--of immigrants.
To be sure, each succeeding wave of immigrants--whether German, Italian, Irish, Chinese or Mexican, to name just a few--has had its critics. Those already here imagined that the newcomers would threaten their jobs or dilute their culture. In fact, just the opposite has been true. Immigrants have always brought energy, hope, and vision, which have fed the continual renewal of both our economy and our culture.
President Obama is right to join those in both parties, in the faith community and in civil society who have long been calling for reform of our broken immigration system. Our system has failed to keep up with the demand for both work and family reunification. Decade-long waiting periods and absurdly inadequate quotas have resulted in a de facto immigration system in which large numbers of employers and workers bypass the formal immigration regime altogether. This has eroded respect for our laws, compromised security on our borders, and created a large body of second class citizens. We want and need their labor, but we fail to provide a workable system to admit an adequate number of immigrants legally. We consequently fail to offer them the rights and protections enjoyed by other Americans.
Our current system contradicts our nation's deepest values. The teachings of almost every religious tradition uphold the virtue of corporate as well as individual hospitality. The Hebrew Scriptures command not only hospitality, but love--because God himself loves the sojourner. Jesus went out of his way to honor the despised Samaritans and fully identified himself with the foreigner. Those who welcome strangers are said to be entertaining angels.
Evangelicals support immigration reform because we treat the biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger not merely as good advice but as divine instruction for our good. Further, we recognize that human beings are unique and precious individuals created in the image of God, with great dignity and potential to bless their neighbors. We see the hand of God in the movement of peoples throughout history.
As immigrants have joined our churches and communities, they have become our friends, our co-workers, and indeed, our brothers and sisters. We grieve when families remain separated for decades, when workers are treated unfairly, and when our neighbors lack the basic protection of the law. For these reasons and many others the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 denominations with more than 45,000 congregations, has joined other faith communities in asserting the moral imperative of enacting meaningful immigration reform now.
Republicans and Democrats have recently demonstrated a poor track record of working together. We can think of no greater opportunity for them to put aside partisanship and enact immigration reform this session that will strengthen our recovering economy, restore the rule of law and reinforce our nation's best values. In the end, our nation's greatness will be marked by how we treat the most vulnerable, including the stranger, among us.
Along with partner organizations, we sponsored a meeting in Phoenix, Arizona this week to study the Scriptures, pray and call our leaders to action on immigration reform. Evangelical leaders also led similar events in Denver, Miami, Santa Ana, Chicago and Memphis. We heard noted civil rights leader John Perkins and civil rights historian Troy Jackson challenge evangelicals to stand with immigrants in the struggle for justice. Evangelicals may have largely missed the civil rights battles of the 1960s, but we do not intend to repeat our mistake in 2010.
Galen Carey is the Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.
Cross-posted from the Washington Post's On Faith.