Migration, biblical and modernBy Tammy Alexander
For the first time in six years, immigration reform is being considered in the U.S. Congress. In May a bipartisan bill proceeded smoothly through the Senate Judiciary Committee, then was passed by the full Senate on June 27.
The Senate bill contains a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. (though some will be excluded due to income and work requirements, as well as past criminal convictions). The path would take at least 13 years and require $2,000 in fines, in addition to fees. It would also allow some immigrants who have already been deported to return to the U.S. (if they have close family connections), and would provide better protections for temporary workers, including the ability to change jobs, bring family members and eventually apply for citizenship.
In the waning hours of the Senate debate, a “border surge” amendment was added which increased border security funding in the bill from $8 billion to $46 billion, including hundreds of miles of new fencing and a doubling of the current border patrol force to nearly 40,000.
This amendment so radically increased border security spending that even one of its supporters, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, called it “a Christmas wish list for Halliburton” and other military contractors.
Debate has now shifted to the House where the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, has taken up several smaller immigration bills. Thus far, those bills have focused on security and worker visas. Goodlatte, whose district includes the Harrisonburg region, has said he does not favor a special path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants except, perhaps, for those who were brought to the U.S. as children.
In contrast to the Senate, the House bills have not been bipartisan. A bipartisan “Gang of 7” in the House continues to work on a comprehensive bill but has struggled with disagreements and delays. Reportedly, this bill would include a path to legalization (not citizenship), but would require applicants to plead guilty to a crime and serve probation for 10 years.
It remains to be seen whether the House will find a way forward or if immigration legislation will languish until the approaching 2014 midterm elections make passing a bill virtually impossible. The momentum coming out of the presidential election and Senate debate could be lost.
As we think about what immigration policy in the U.S. should look like, let us reflect on stories of migration in the Bible — Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, Ruth — and remember God’s admonition that we treat the stranger among us with compassion and fairness. As God instructed the Israelites to love the stranger (Lev. 19:33-34), so, too, should we remember our own family stories of migration.
Throughout history people have been pushed from their homes by poverty and conflict and risked everything to find safety and opportunity in a new land. The stories of migrants today are no different. Will we welcome them as the people of Judah did with Ruth? Or will we show fear and hostility as the Egyptians did to the Israelites?
Pray for solutions that will bring us all closer to being faithful citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Tammy Alexander is senior legislative associate in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.
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