Duke: immigration decisions show D.C. must act

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Recent decisions by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the White House demonstrate anew the need for Congress to provide immigration reform, a Southern Baptist public policy specialist says.

The reiteration of a call for Congress to act on the controversial issue came from Barrett Duke of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) after:

 
-- The Supreme Court struck down sections of an Arizona immigration law in its June 25 opinion but upheld a provision that requires a police officer to check the legal status in some cases of a person whom he detains or arrests before he is released.

-- The Obama administration announced June 15 an executive action that will immediately permit illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to apply to be free from the threat of deportation and to seek authorization to work.

In its ruling, the high court voted 5-3 in favor of the federal government's position by striking down sections of the 2010 Arizona law that: (1) outlaw the failure to carry proper immigration documents; (2) criminalize applying for or holding a job as an illegal immigrant, and (3) authorize a police officer to arrest without a warrant a person whom he believes has committed a crime that would cause him to be deported.

The June 15 White House order postpones action for two years against illegal immigrants who meet the requirements and provides the opportunity for them to renew that status. Among the criteria for eligibility, individuals must have been under the age of 16 when they came to the United States and not be older than 30 now. The order largely acts as a temporary fulfillment of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, legislation Congress has not passed.

The Supreme Court's decision on the Arizona law "reaffirmed that immigration is a federal issue," said Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research. "By doing so, it has emphasized the need for Congress and the White House to fix our nation's broken immigration system with reforms that are workable and constitutional."

The ERLC has called for comprehensive immigration reform for several years, but Congress has yet to approve such legislation.

The White House's flawed action regarding young illegal immigrants again points to the need for a legislative remedy, Duke said.

"It's astonishing that President Obama believes that he has the authority to tell our nation's law enforcement arm which laws it should enforce and which ones it should not," Duke said. "While I appreciate the president's sentiment toward these young people, I am aghast at his lack of respect for the rule of law.

"We do not believe the children should be punished for the crimes of the parents," he said. "Our nation should find a way for undocumented young adults who were brought here when they were children to obtain the education they desire and the legal status they need to fully contribute to our nation's well-being and realize their full potential as well. This is a matter that Congress must resolve, not the White House through executive orders, and I hope it will do so soon."

The ERLC has withheld support for the DREAM Act, but it has expressed a willingness to back a version of the proposal that meets certain criteria.

Last July, ERLC President Richard Land wrote two U.S. senators to say requirements for the entity's support of such a bill would include:

-- A program to make legal status possible should be available only to those who were brought into the country, likely by their parents, and did not enter as a result of their own decisions.

-- The legal status gained by those in the program would not be transferred to family members or utilized to bring family members into the country.

-- It would require those in the program to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces or attend college.

The program announced by the Department of Homeland Security June 15 includes the following conditions for individuals to qualify for the program:

-- They must have graduated from high school, be attending school or be honorably discharged veterans of the military or Coast Guard.

-- They must have been residents of the United States for at least five years.

-- They cannot have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors, or be a threat to the public's safety or national security.

The order will enable such individuals to apply for driver's licenses and other privileges.

The executive action is a "temporary stopgap measure," Obama said the day it was announced. He denied it is amnesty, immunity, a way to citizenship or a "permanent fix."

As many as 1.4 million people may qualify for the new program, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization based in Washington, The New York Times reported.

The administration announced its order three days after a coalition of evangelical Christians released a statement calling for a "bipartisan solution" on immigration reform. The statement had 150 evangelical endorsers, including more than 20 Southern Baptists. Land and Bryant Wright, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, were among the signers.

Obama, as well as various evangelical leaders, also said the Supreme Court opinion on the Arizona law showed the need for Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.

"A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system -- it's part of the problem," Obama said.

Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials secure the borders, and with secure borders, establish "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

Land has consistently called for comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship that would consist of such requirements as paying fines, undergoing a criminal background check, learning English, pledging allegiance to the American government, accepting a probationary period and going to the back of the line behind those seeking to enter the country legally.


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).