A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the National Immigration Forum’s Midwest conference, Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America. The goal of the conference was to promote the importance of immigration and the need for immigration reform. What made this conference unique was that there were speakers and panels from the legal, political, religious, and business communities. As these voices came together, there was power in their message.
Going into the conference I had mostly heard arguments for immigration reform from the perspective of my evangelical faith. The reasons in favor of this policy, which includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented in our country, are evident throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament there are many commands from God to welcome and care for the stranger/alien (i.e. Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 27:19, Exodus 23:9, etc.). Not only that, but there were many Godly men and women who were immigrants in the Bible, including Jesus. This message to welcome the immigrant is relevant to the Christian community, and at the conference this message was given.
As I said, though, this was a message that I had heard before. What was interesting and encouraging to me was to hear the arguments from the other represented communities.
Within the United States there is the common belief that immigrants destroy our economy. However, this is a big misconception. Immigrants have an important role to play in our economy. Angela Smith, the Director of Public Policy for Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, argued that, “Immigrants create jobs, they boost American productivity and they help businesses stay competitive.” As immigrants come to America, they bring with them new ideas, a working attitude, and sometimes even an entrepreneurial spirit.
Not only do immigrants create jobs, but they also fill the jobs that most Americans don’t want to do. Those from the dairy, restaurant, and agricultural sectors talked about how immigrants are the “backbone” of their businesses. Without these workers, their businesses would fail, leaving a major gap in the supply of necessary goods and services.
From the legal community, the law enforcement officers and attorney generals in attendance stressed their belief that immigration reform was necessary for public safety. At the state level, the legal officials are tired of fulfilling the federal government’s responsibilities with regards to immigration law. Local police officers do not want to have to act as ICE agents, a responsibility that takes away from their already busy jobs. This added responsibility led Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shrutleff to argue, “Punitive immigration laws are actually harmful to public safety” as police officers don’t have time for their regular duties. Sheriff Mark C. Curran, Jr. of Lake County, Illinois went so far as to say, “We don’t need higher deportation levels; we need to fix the system as it exists.”
Perhaps the most surprising supporter of immigration reform at the conference was Grover Norquist, a powerful figure in the Republican Party. He argued that not only is immigration reform good policy, but it is also good politics. In order to perform well in elections, candidates must realize that supporting immigration reform is crucial. Tuesday’s election seems to support this argument as 71% of Latino voters voted for President Obama. As Hispanics continue to make up a significant part of the country’s population, the Republican Party, the party that has often opposed immigration reform, must realize that good politics would be to support this new policy.
Individually these communities have strong arguments for immigration reform. When citizens, congresswomen, and congressmen hear that the Bible commands the Church to care for the immigrant, they will be more compelled to support immigration reform. When they hear that businesses in the dairy and farming sectors thrive because of immigrant labor and that the current immigration system decreases the security of our communities, they will be more compelled to support immigration reform. And when they hear that the demographics of the country are changing and that supporting immigration reform is necessary to win elections, they will be more compelled to support it.
As strong as these voices are individually, though, it is when they come together that they will have their greatest impact. When these diverse communities speak out together, they will ensure that everyone who hears is affected in one way or another. Those who hear will be able to realize that the call for immigration reform goes beyond one sector of our country and that reform is necessary to benefit every aspect of the United States.
As I look back on this conference, I see a fuller picture of the immigration debate than I did before I went. It demonstrated to me that the faith community was not alone in supporting the “strangers” and “aliens” in our country, and that the faith community needs the help and support of these other sectors because there is strength when all of these communities cooperate. Together, they are the voices announcing immigration reform.
Brandon Julian is a senior at Wheaton College where he is studying International Relations. He currently is interning with World Relief, working with the issue of immigration.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92, or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
We’re always looking for new guest bloggers; please check out our Guest Blog Submission Guidelines if you’re interested.