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When my family moved to Sioux Center fifteen years ago the neighborhood was very different from how it looks today. Back then my neighbors were white, most of Dutch heritage, and, if they went to church, protestant. Today, many of my neighbors are Guatemalan, and the fastest growing church in Sioux Center is the Roman Catholic Church. Getting to know and love my neighbors led to a side gig working for immigration reform. I started with the Office of Social Justice in the CRC, which led to my work with the National Immigration Forum. My job is to talk to people in the Christian community about immigration reform. Something has to change and everyone knows it. Even the staunchest of conservatives have told me, not only is it impossible to deport millions of people, we don’t really want to. Sure, there’s still rhetoric about crime, drugs, and violence, but statistically speaking, most undocumented immigrations are hard working people looking for a better life. The primary question facing this country is how we move forward with immigration reform that will provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

President Biden has a plan, but given the make-up of the Senate, there will be no immigration reform without a bi-partisan solution. In 2008 it was predicted that by the year 2042 whites would become a majority minority in this country. A 2018 NY Times article described how this reporting made some demographers nervous, fearful that some in the white community might use this to justify violence. The events of January 6 suggest their fears were well founded. I wonder, however, if there’s another way to approach our post-January 6 world. As we move out from under Stephen Miller’s influence on US immigration policy, conservatives have the opportunity to move the Republican party in a pro-immigrant direction, harkening back to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Many immigrants from Latin America are socially and religiously conservative, many align themselves with important aspects of a principled, conservative, politics. Let’s face it—whichever party can figure out how to get immigration reform done will be the dominant party of this century.

The last decade has been a divisive time in American politics. Right now, there’s an opportunity for Christians on both the right and the left to unite for the sake of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Conservative Christians who care about families, faith, and life, have an opportunity to move the political discussion in the direction of immigration reform. Christians on the left have the chance to pragmatically reach across the aisle and recognize this issue isn’t a democratic or liberal issue, it’s a human issue.

Let’s work together as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ to find a way forward for our immigrant neighbors. Contact your members of Congress and tell them we need to find a bi-partisan way forward on immigration reform.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

9 Comments

  • Keith Mannes says:

    This is hopeful and helpful, Jason. Thank-you.

  • Ria says:

    This is a problem that is finally being addressed. As Christians, we are called to show Christ-like love for our neighbors, including immigrants.
    Leviticus 19:34
    34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Thank you Jason. Balanced. Wanting to move the needle. Let’s move past the rampant xenophobia toward the goal of our Lord. “I was a stranger, and you took me in.”

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Jason,
    While I’m a little concerned with stereotypes for conservative and progressive Christians and what they care about and a little concerned with the notion of helping immigrants because many are Christian (though I’m confident you don’t look at it in a crash transactional nature), I’ll take it if it gets us to real immigration reform. The assumptions, laws and approach to immigration in our country are way past the need for reform and update. Thanks for raising the issue.

    • Jason Lief says:

      Thanks for your reply. Anytime a person speaks about anything there is the risk of over generalization. It is only a blog after all. Helping immigrants because they are Christian? I don’t recall actually saying that. (For example, I’ve worked with Somalis in Minneapolis. I very much enjoyed learning about Islam through these encounters.) I did say if we’re going to be pragmatic about it, (after all, that’s what actually gets things done. High minded abstractions on either side get us nowhere) we need to address the concerns and needs represented in politics. Helping conservative Christians understand that many immigrants share their social values (many are people of faith, but I’m certainly not suggesting that become a condition of our involvement) might just move the needle. In the end, isn’t that what matters? This isn’t just one more platform for virtue signaling—this is about real people.

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    The sticking point that has historically provided the biggest obstacle to comprehensive (and sensible) immigration reform is effective border control. The story there has rerun before. Back during the Reagan terms, there was a sufficient consensus in Washington to (1) stop unlawful entry, and (2) grant “amnesty” to those who had unlawfully gotten here. The problem was was execution: #2 got done but they never got around to doing #1. Some on the Republican side have never forgotten that, which is why their mantra has since been “we need to control the border first” (IOW, “fool me once shame on you but …”)

    More recently, we entered the era dominated by “catch and release.” Even Jeh Johnson (in charge under Obama) said “catch and release” had to stop, but of course he never made it stop (he didn’t have the legal tools, nor, probably, sufficient support from above).

    For all the nasty things that can be said of Trump, and for all that Trump can be legitimately criticized for, he made progress on #1 (using multiple tools, not just “the wall”) reducing unlawful border crossing overall and “catch and release.” But that progress is being or has been dismantled already by Biden because the progress was largely made through executive action only.

    So back to the original question: does comprehensive immigration reform only mean granting amnesty to those unlawfully here? Or does it mean that and effective border control? And if both, will border control come first, or will it come second, or will it come second but never materialize as in the 1980s?

    A fundamental problem of course is that both some on the left and some on the right actually want open borders. On the left, the incentive is creating a different political landscape that ensures dominance by their party; on the right, cheap labor that ensures maximum profit. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why labor union bosses are willing to give up their historic position that “cheap labor” ought not semi-freely flow into the country. I suspect the key to their willingness is found in noting that they are the union “bosses,” and not the “rank and file.” And of course, the “rank and file” were dissatisfied enough with their “bosses” that they helped elect Trump, who they thought would put border control first (and did).

    In fact, despite the OSJ mantra that “immigration is a blessing not a burden,” it is simply untrue when the law providing for effective control is not executed. That is, immigration can be a burden as well as blessing. An open border — even if supported by both some on the left and some on the right (some libertarians as well as big business) — would be severely unjust especially to those segments of the citizen population who are displaced because of the influx of those (from India or Mexico or elsewhere) who would happily take their jobs or job opportunities for less pay.

    When Obama was first elected, he had, in the final months of his campaign, promised to put a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform on the front steps of of Congress within 90 days of his inauguration. He never did of course, which suggests he didn’t want the problem solved. The time was right — the Dems had majorities in both houses and control of the executive branch. The opportunity to pass comprehensive reform couldn’t get any better it was those two years, right? Still, it didn’t just fail; it wasn’t even attempted.

    Rerun now again in 2021: The Dems are again in control of both houses and the executive branch. The ball is in their court. It would be nice to see OSJ heavily criticize Biden and the Democratic Party if they rerun of Obama’s first two years in office. OSJ offered not a peep of criticism back then. Will that change? Does OSJ really want effective border control or is their mantra as far as their position goes?

    • Jason Lief says:

      Thanks Doug. You should re-read what I wrote. I don’t think I ever used the word amnesty. Of course the issue needs to include border security. There’s more agreement then it seems, just a different emphasis on what should happen first. That’s why there needs to be a bi-partisan solution. There are options besides amnesty that many conservatives support.

      • Doug Vande Griend says:

        I didn’t suggest you did Jason (use the word amnesty). I was recalling the history of what got us here and at the end challenging OSJ to more constructive than it has in the past toward the goal of achieving meaningful and just immigration reform, which must go well beyond the simplistic mantra of “immigrants are a blessing and not a burden,” which has been and still is OSJ’s singular political lobbying and PR meme.

        I would happily join you, and OSJ, if the political pressure applied went beyond the mantra that focuses only on some of the ingredients necessary to create good COMPREHENSIVE reform. “Welcome the stranger” makes for a good bumper sticker or protest sign but woefully inadequate to promote meaningful COMPREHENSIVE immigration reform. OSJ should consider whether it in fact wants to lobby for a “special interest” (that is, just some of the parties involved) or all of the US citizenry with a view toward promoting good federal legislation, and if the latter, it needs to get rid of the PR campaigns that only lobby for the former.

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