Electoral success in the American political system, dominated by two major parties, necessitates a coalition of individuals driven by different, often unrelated interests. In the contemporary Republican Party, many supporters are driven first and foremost by a commitment to the sanctity of life—including, in particular, preborn life—and they believe the Republicans are more likely than the Democrats to enact legislation that protects unborn children. That pro-life faction of the Republican Party includes many voters who are motivated by their faith, particularly evangelicals and Catholics, who share a belief that all human life, at any stage, is made in the image of God and thus of immeasurable worth.
For many Christian voters, pro-life beliefs become the trump issue in deciding for whom to vote: even if they like everything else about a candidate, many could not bring themselves to vote for a candidate who believes abortion should be a lawful choice.
Another bloc within the contemporary Republican Party, though, is composed of those opposed to immigration. Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush were all strong supporters of immigration, believing, consistent with their belief in the power of the free market to advance the common good, that a steady flow of immigrants to the United States would make the country stronger and more prosperous, just as it has throughout our nation’s history. While the party has traditionally included pro-immigration voices, though, it has also been the party of choice (in recent years, at least) to those most opposed to immigration.
This includes those who believe immigration is a cultural and economic threat to the country and thus advocate a drastic reduction in legal immigration and harsh treatment and/or mass deportation of those who have immigrated unlawfully. This element of the Republican Party, though a minority within the party, is particularly vocal, which probably explains why even though a majority of Republican voters support the principles of Comprehensive Immigration Reform as advocated by both Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Barack Obama—including an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria—none of the remaining candidates vying for the GOP presidential nomination support that plan. They seem to believe that to win a primary election a candidate must appeal to the extreme wings of the party, and within the GOP that includes a significant minority of voters for whom opposition to immigration is the issue that trumps all others.
Those two factions—the pro-life crowd, and the anti-immigration crowd—butted heads quite dramatically in Nebraska last week. At issue is the question of whether the state’s program to provide prenatal care to mothers and their unborn children should cover mothers who are undocumented immigrants. The pro-life crowd says yes: those unborn children will be born (under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution) as U.S. citizens, they note (following the logic of Mike Huckabee, who faced a similar question as governor of Arkansas a few years ago). Preventative prenatal care actually saves the state money in the long run, because treating and supporting children with preventable diseases or developmental problems ends up costing much more than inexpensive prenatal care that could avoid those problems in the first place. In any case, the pro-life camp believes that all human life—undocumented immigrants not excepted—is made in God’s image and should be protected. The anti-immigration camp says no: they insist that providing any sort of assistance to someone who has violated U.S. immigration laws is encouraging unlawful behavior, which they find more offensive than an unborn child dying or being born with a preventable illness because of lack of prenatal healthcare.
I’m happy—as someone who is strongly pro-life but also strongly pro-immigrant—to report that the pro-life bloc has won the argument in Nebraska, at least for now. After the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill to restore funding for prenatal care for undocumented mothers of preborn U.S. citizens, the state’s Republican governor vetoed the bill. As of last Wednesday, though, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto, ensuring that prenatal care will be available for mothers and their unborn children, regardless of the mother’s legal status.
The pro-life movement would do well, I believe, to recognize that it has much more in common with the pro-immigrant movement than with the anti-immigration movement. Much of the anti-immigration movement is driven by a population control agenda that sees people as a problem, a problem that should be “solved” both by stopping immigration and by stopping births: the founder of the three most prominent anti-immigration groups (NumbersUSA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and the Center for Immigration Studies) also founded a Planned Parenthood chapter to provide abortion “services,” and he speaks favorably of China’s one-child forced abortion policy, saying it is “unfortunate” that India has not adopted a similar policy. I find it ironic and disturbing when pro-life Christians cite “research” from these organizations (much of which reaches false conclusions by relying on dramatically flawed methodology) in order to defend an anti-immigration position.
Furthermore, the undocumented immigrants that the pro-immigrant movement would like to see on a pathway to citizenship would likely add strength to the pro-life movement. Approximately 78% of undocumented immigrants are of Hispanic origin, and surveys find that Hispanic immigrants are among the most pro-life demographic in the U.S. today. Were they given the opportunity to eventually become citizens—and thus voters—these millions of voters could have a dramatic impact on helping to pass pro-life legislation.
I understand the necessity of alliances in the political process, but the alliance within the GOP between pro-life voters and anti-immigration voters is both unholy and counter-productive. I don’t claim to be a partisan of either party at this point—I cannot fully support either in good conscience—but my hope is that all Christians will join me in challenging both Republican and Democratic elected officials to cherish and protect the God-given dignity of human life by being both pro-life and pro-immigrant.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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