Guest Blog by Natalie Burris American evangelical Christians are known for promoting family values. In fact, an entire evangelical organization, Focus on the Family, dedicates its multi-million-dollar yearly budget to supporting marriage and children, as well as sanctity-of-life issues, such as eliminating abortion. The current immigrant debate can play an important role in preserving families. Christians who wish to promote marriage, family, and pro-life issues will find common ground with supporters of a more compassionate immigration policy. In what ways do extending compassion and welcoming immigrants, documented and undocumented alike, help family values? A compassionate immigration policy promotes marriage. A recent study of immigrants in the northern suburbs of Chicago confirmed that immigrants are more likely to be married (69% versus 58%) than the native population. And the Washington Post recently attributed the prevalence of two-parent, intact families in the northern Virginia area to the influx of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. Nearly two million families in the United States include what is called a “mixed-status” relationship, which means one member of the couple is a citizen or otherwise authorized to live and work in the U.S., while the other is undocumented. Unfortunately, getting married does not automatically change the undocumented spouse’s immigration status. Current immigration law often results in separation of the mixed-status married couple if they take measures for the undocumented spouse to become a citizen. In many cases, an undocumented spouse must stay out of the U.S. for up to ten years. If mixed-status couples already have children, families are ripped apart when the undocumented spouse is forced to leave the country. Many mixed-status families who want to correct their situation, but do not wish to endure the pain of separation, live in fear that the undocumented spouse will be deported. A more compassionate immigration policy will support these couples who have committed to marriage. A compassionate immigration policy will promote the welfare of children. Allowing mixed-status married couples to remain in the U.S. during the immigration process will also ensure that more children are raised in stable homes, as 23% of all children in the U.S. are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, many of which are undocumented. Immigrants—like most American evangelicals—are also largely pro-life. 65% of Hispanic immigrants, for example, believe that abortion should be illegal in most cases, compared to less than half of the U.S. adult population as a whole. Evangelicals seeking to minimize the number of abortions already have strong allies in the Hispanic community; an immigration reform proposal that would eventually allow more of these immigrants to naturalize and vote would likely help to advance pro-life causes politically. A compassionate immigration policy strengthens our country’s social and moral fabric, while enriching the traditional definition of “family.” David Brooks, an opinion columnist for the New York Times, noted in 2006:
The facts show that the recent rise in immigration hasn’t been accompanied by social breakdown, but by social repair. As immigration has surged, violent crime has fallen by 57 percent. Teen pregnancies and abortion rates have declined by a third. […] The divorce rate for young people is on the way down.Brooks also describes immigrants as “a booster shot of traditional morality.” Many immigrant cultures’ focus on community and family can also be a much-needed booster shot for American Christians who are concerned about the decline of family values in our country. Immigrant families may offer an alternative way of thinking about family in the first place, which may be more robust than the typical Caucasian-American, isolated definition of family. The most common—or at least most idealized—type of housing for American families is the single-family home, designed for the nuclear family only. For many Caucasian-Americans, it is not common to have multiple generations under one roof. In fact, our country was founded on and celebrates the idea of rugged individualism. As more immigrants come to the U.S. and bring their own set of family values, American Christians can learn valuable lessons. Al Hsu, in his book The Suburban Christian, points out that immigrant families that look different to Caucasian-Americans “demonstrate family values and identity not often seen in typical (white) American families, where relatives beyond the nuclear family rarely live under one roof.” To Hsu, such families are similar to families in Scripture, with emphasis on community and an outward, rather than isolated, focus. A broader definition of family may challenge American Christians to consider what might be a more God-honoring way of living in our increasingly individualistic society. As a result, we may see stronger marriages, healthier children, and more intact families. To effectively promote family values, the sanctity of marriage, and the sanctity of life, Christians would be wise to support a more compassionate immigration policy.