At one point in my early life, I was undocumented. Because I lacked a legal document, I lacked the protection of the rule of law. If I was deemed to be inconvenient or potentially dangerous, I could have been eliminated. I was vulnerable.
And then, I was born. I was issued a birth certificate that declared me a U.S. citizen, which meant that I had value and was entitled to protection.
Though I understand why it is a nuanced and complicated issue, and I have many friends whom I respect even though I know they disagree with me, I believe very strongly that we should protect unborn lives from abortion. I believe that being pro-life means more than only protecting pre-born life: it means a concern for the health and wellbeing of all human life, born and unborn, which requires me to care about the environment, war, education, public health, and a number of other complex political issues. I think that being pro-life must mean more than simply passing laws prohibiting abortions: it also means educating people to minimize the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place, addressing the conditions of poverty that make abortion seem like the “lesser evil” choice for women facing unexpected pregnancies, and doing everything possible to encourage and de-stigmatize adoption. But, though it is much more than just that, being pro-life also means legally protecting the rights of fetuses in the womb from termination.
My commitment to life stems from my belief, informed by my Christian faith, that I and other human beings have value because we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Human life begins to have value and deserve protection not once it is recognized with a document from a government, but at the moment God conceives of it (Psalm 139:16).
For the same reason, I believe very strongly that our society—and especially our local churches—should acknowledge the dignity of undocumented immigrants, whose value is also defined by the God who made them in his image, not by a green card or visa that a government may or may not bestow. That’s one reason I find it so frustratingly inconsistent that defenders of unborn babies and defenders of undocumented immigrants have recently tended to be on opposing sides of our nation’s partisan divide. Those who stand with the unborn and those who stand with undocumented immigrants should logically be on the same team because both are driven by a respect for the imago dei in each person.
There’s a second reason the pro-life and pro-immigrant movements should naturally be allied: we share a common opponent in the population control movement. Since at least the time of Thomas Malthus, there have been people worried that there are simply too many people on earth; some are driven by a zero-sum economic theory that presumes that more people will imply a smaller share of resources for each person. Others are focused on controlling particular populations of people, believing the eugenicist theory that certain ethnicities are biologically superior to others.
There are two basic ways to limit population growth within a given country: you can minimize the number of births or minimize the number of immigrants. Many population control enthusiasts are thus both strong proponents of abortion rights and strongly anti-immigration. For example, Margaret Sanger—best known as the founder of Planned Parenthood, which is now responsible for about 300,000 abortions in the U.S. each year—was also a strong proponent of restricting immigration. A more contemporary example is John Tanton, who helped to found the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies, all prominent groups arguing for dramatically lower levels of lawful migration. He also opened the first Planned Parenthood chapter in northern Michigan and speaks positively of China’s one-child forced abortion policy, calling it “unfortunate” that India has not adapted similar policies. While he is certainly entitled to his views, I am always troubled when a pro-life legislator gives me a factsheet produced by one of these organizations (especially because the “facts” are so often false, skewed to fit the population control agenda).
There’s a third reason that I think those who are pro-life should also advocate for immigrants, which was starkly illustrated by last week’s elections: if the party that stands for life is viewed as the anti-immigrant party, its electoral viability is increasingly limited. Though Mitt Romney’s record on the issue of abortion was somewhat mixed and his statements on the topic—even in the final weeks of the election—were somewhat ambiguous, he certainly seems to have been more likely to seek to limit abortions than Barack Obama. But President Obama received the vast majority (71%) of the votes of Latinos, most of whom are Catholic or evangelical Christians, and most of whom (unlike the American population overall) believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. Latino voters tend to feel strongly about unborn life, but the issue of immigration—which is very personal for most Latino voters, because most know someone who is undocumented—determined their vote. As pro-life commentator Ben Domenech tweeted, “Politically active Hispanics who marched in the March for Life voted for Obama because Mitt Romney doesn’t care about them.” For many, Governor Romney and the Republican Party platform’s endorsement of “self-deportation” sounded like starving out a parent or grandparent by making their existence within the U.S. as miserable as possible.
Last week, the party that most consistently has stood for protecting unborn lives suffered a dramatic defeat at the polls—an Electoral College defeat that might have been avoided had it embraced immigration reform earlier. In Colorado, for example, a swing state where Latino voters formed a significantly larger share of voters than the 10% they made up nationally, President Obama received 87% of Latino votes. Had Governor Romney supported the sort of compassionate conservative immigration reform policies as did George W. Bush (instead of endorsing “self-deportation” and promising to veto the DREAM Act), he might conceivably have matched the 44% of the Hispanic vote that helped re-elect President Bush in 2004. Had he done so, says researcher Gary Segura, he would very likely be President-Elect Romney today.
As the number of Latino voters grows, it will only become more and more challenging for a pro-life president to win the Electoral College if he or she attracts only about one in four Latino voters. Eventually, the solidly red state of Texas—where a majority of students in schools (who will be voters in a generation) are Latino already—will shift into the swing category if Republicans do not revert to an immigration policy that can earn the trust of Latino voters.
I’m not necessarily tied to the Republican Party—I’ve personally supported pro-life Democrats as well as pro-immigrant Republicans in the past—but so long as the GOP sets itself up as the pro-life party, its self-destructive embrace of anti-immigrant policies troubles me deeply. Given last week’s electoral results, others are troubled as well: conservative talk show host Sean Hannity said last week that his views had “evolved,” and he now supports a “pathway to citizenship” for most undocumented immigrants, joining many other prominent Republican voices whose views on immigration seemed to be shifting after the election.
As Focus on the Family president Jim Daly bravely acknowledged recently, evangelicals have been slow to support immigration reform because “we were led more by political-think than church-think.” To the extent that evangelicals have not stood up for the undocumented, we need to repent of an inconsistency that was driven by partisan politics, not by biblical teaching. We could learn from our Catholic brothers and sisters, who have steadfastly stood for both the unborn and the undocumented for decades: Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke up for both, specifically, when he spoke in front of both President Obama and Governor Romney.
It is not too late, though: my hope and prayer is that Christ followers will be united as we engage a new Congress in 2013, heeding the biblical mandate to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8), for all those whose voices are not heard in our democracy, whether because they are unborn or because, as non-citizens, they cannot vote. Now is the time to make your voice heard: you could start by figuring out who your Senators and Representatives are in Washington and writing a letter or making a phone call to let them know that, as a Christian, you would like them to act on immigration reform that would permit the undocumented to earn the right and the ability to get on a pathway to citizenship.
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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