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The (Invisible) Immigration Issue--Skeel

“So, whatever happened to immigration as a presidential campaign issue?,” Wall Street Journal editor Jason Riley asked in an interesting op-ed last week. He speculates that the candidates have been avoiding it because Americans are “basically pro-immigrant but conflicted about it,” and goes on to suggest that one reason many social conservatives want to seal the border is in reaction to multiculturalists who have attacked the traditional American ideal of assimilation.

The conventional wisdom about immigration is that it doesn’t decide elections, and I think the conventional wisdom will hold true this year, in part because Americans are conflicted generally, and in part because of the sharply opposed views of several of the particular constituencies McCain and Obama will be fighting over.

Although most Hispanics typically vote Democratic, they are a weak link in Obama’s coalition, which might tempt McCain to emphasize his previous efforts to push accommodationist immigration reform. But many Republicans, and many of the Reagan Democrats who are likely to be a major focus in the fall, are restrictionist on immigration, which will pull him in the opposite direction. Obama seems likely to face the same set of pressures.

I suspect that the most dynamic factor in the immigration debate in the coming years (this will be no surprise to anyone who has previously stumbled onto this blog) will be the relationship between religion and immigration. Evangelicalism is exploding in Latin America, which suggests that an increasing percentage of immigrants (both legal and illegal) are likely to be Protestant evangelicals, especially Pentacostals. Although American evangelicals are conflicted about immigration like everyone else, they tend to be somewhat more restrictionist than other groups, whereas secularists are more accommodationist. (In this 2006 Pew study, for instance, 64% of white evangelicals said immigrants are a burden, as compared with 52% of white mainline Protestants and 46% of secularists).

Immigration is an almost impossibly complicated issue, and there’s no way to predict what the future will bring. But the increasing percentage of Prostestant evangelical immigrants may cause evangelicals to become at least slightly more accommodationist over time. Who knows, multicultural secularists and social conservatives like evangelicals may meet somewhere in the middle, with some new approach to the immigration dilemma or some new compromise that none of us is thinking of now.


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Comments ( 7 )

But the increasing percentage of Prostestant evangelical immigrants may cause evangelicals to become at least slightly more accommodationist over time

I'd like to believe that this might be true but I doubt it. After all, the large number of African-American Evangelicals hasn't made White Evangelicals, which is almost always what is meant by "Evangelical" in popular usage, appreciably more "accomodationist" with regards to issues of importance to African-American.

My suspicion (word chosen on purpose) is that Latino Evangelicals will remain just as invisible to their mainstream brethren as African-Americans are, except for those moments when you have to (a) count them to make your political claims and/or threats seem more credible and (b) when you need a brown face to make the photo op seem more "inclusive."

Amnesty for illegal immigrants has once again reared it's ugly head with Senator Feinstein (D-CA) slipping in her amnesty for agricultural workers into the Iraq Supplemental Spending bill being voted on this week in the Senate. This would amount to amnesty for over 3 million illegal aliens. Her amendment is not only not germane to the bill's intent, polls indicate 80% of Americans are opposed to amnesty on principle.

Unless Americans immediately, once again, pepper the Senate with complaints, amnesty could come to pass. Want to fight against sellout politicians, illegal immigration and amnesty? Here's how:

An important component of my evangelical upbringing was a reminder of the importance of Romans 13 for Christian ethics. If the Government isn't commanding something immoral, then I have to follow the laws.

1. No draft resistance
2. No tax resistance
3. No bombing abortion clinics
4. No driving 80 MPH

Is there anything wrong with citizen evanglicals telling their evangelical migrant cohorts that they are duty-bound to follow Romans 13 and submit themselves to the ordinances of man?

I must confess that I am completely mystified by evangelical opposition to illegal immigration. I certainly appreciate the Christian obligation to obey earthly authorities (see pduggie's post below), but, in this context, the obligation in question falls squarely upon someone else's shoulders. The duty of the American Christian is to care for the disenfranchised and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God has given us (I write as an American Christian) a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ and to spread the gospel to all the nations (all without leaving our own neighborhoods) and yet we are preoccupied with the speck in our brother's eye.

The Christian must judge with the same measure with respect to which he wishes to be judged. Would we do any different if we were los mojados? If not, then how can we begrudge their actions?

To address at least one other concern typically raised re: illegals, I do not think the social service burden argument (overwhelmed hospitals along the Mexico border, etc.) carries much weight. It seems to me that the problem is not the presence of illegals, but a broken system that fails to acknowledge their presence and economic realities. I suspect that the vast majority of illegals would jump at the chance to pay taxes in exchange for the right to legal residence (even if only a guest worker visa).

Regarding Mr. Rivera's comments, I am less cynical. I believe that Latino Evangelicals are being integrated into the American Evangelical church, and I sense that Latinos more generally are following the traditional path into the American mainstream paved my, among others, the Irish, Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, etc. (All to say that the black-white issues Mr. Rivera observes are, I think, atypical (and that for obvious reasons).)

Regarding zeezil's comments below, Mr. Riley's article directly addressed the seemingly clear and overwhelming statistics zeezil cites, effectively demonstrating that, in fact, American are "basically pro-immigrant but conflicted about it."

Jeff: what exactly are Christians being asked to DO w.r.t illegal immigrants?

Take action for repeal of all immigration codes (As a one time libertarian, I supported such measures, but there is something to be said for the wisdom of restriction when the US offers generous welfare benefits)?

Do a Corrie Ten Boom and tell INS when they come to the door "Nope, no Guatemalans here"

"Would we do any different if we were los mojados? If not, then how can we begrudge their actions?"

That was actually my point. I've had it drilled into me that draft resistance is wrong. I wouldn't do it. I would rightly "judge" Christians who argued for it as wrong. Sure its cheap to hold that I wouldn't illegally immigrate if I had to, since I don't have to.

But I do have a close friend who has to return to her country of origin because there is no visa program that will allow her to continue to stay. She knows staying illegally is wrong against Romans 13, and she's going back, though it pains us all.


I certainly agree with you that if I am the illegal, I have an obligation to take Romans 13 seriously. My point is that I am not the illegal, I am the American citizen. As a Christian who is a citizen of the U.S., I believe it is my duty to support policies that are consistent with biblical morality. Put another way, I do not disagree with you that Christians ought to obey the law as it stands, I simply argue that the law is bad (in both a moral sense - it does not promote mercy to the working poor - and an economic sense - it is radically inconsistent with economic reality) and we have a duty to support (if not promote) a policy that is more consistent with Christian belief.

Personally, I think some form of guest worker proposal is most consistent with Christian ideals of justice and mercy. Such a proposal would put guest workers on the right side of the law (promoting justice) and would demonstrate true mercy to the disenfrachised.

In short, I do not disagree with the 64% of white evangelicals who say that immigrants are a burden, but I would also argue that, as Christians, they are a burden we should gladly bear.

People, please! If you insist on arguing that Pauline writings are clear and consistent re: obedience of "the law," which is a considerable stretch, still there is breaking the law and then there is breaking the law. How many people do you know who think speeding is fine are "restrictionist" when it comes to immigration policy? Rom 13 is purely ammunition for xenophobes. Remove all the passages from the Bible about care of the poor and vulnerable and you will have no Bible.

On the subject of guestworkers, I'm uneducated, but am reposting this post from a Buckner International blog:

I work for a farmworker advocacy organization in Washington DC. Personally, I don't think guestworker programs are a good idea at all because they hurt both guestworkers and U.S. workers. The current guestworker program for farmworkers (so many of whom are Latinos from rural parts of Central America) is really bad and many workers come here and find terrible living and working conditions.

They have no bargaining power with their employer and it's really difficult for them to complain. Now the Bush administration is proposing changes to this program make it even worse. Lower wages, reduce minimum housing standards and lower worker protections. It's outrageous and they should be stopped.

I doubt we can convince our government here in the U.S. to give up guestworker programs entirely but until we can, we can at least reform the current program to make it better not worse.

We have more info on our blog, www.harvestingjustice.org if you're interested.