I applaud, for whatever motives, that I was invited a “National Strategy Session and Advocacy Day” convened this week in Washington by Mark Shurtleff, Republican Attorney General of Utah. I was interested in the meeting—any meeting that has both Jim Wallis and Grover Norquist on the list of participants would be a draw if only for sheer curiosity. Unfortunately, my schedule did not make going possible. So I sent on these thoughts to the organizers. I don’t know if they are a solution and I am sure I have not thought of so many things. But I have not only spoken with political leaders in my community, I have also spoken with undocumented persons, to hear and understand their stories. So, here I stand. I am praying for all of you today and tomorrow and hoping that out of all the mixed motives, genuinely different philosophies and opinions, that something humane, just and morally right might emerge.
Dear Mark and Fellow Leaders:
Thank you for your invitation to me to attend the meeting next week in Washington to consider immigration reform. It is an impressive group and agenda and I wish the best for it. Undertaking the task of finding a common sense solution to immigration reform is daunting indeed. While I will not be able to attend the meetings next week, I am very interested in the issue and would like to support the process. We have seen, with Alabama HB 56, that immigration on a state by state approach is difficult to enforce and ultimately a mistake. We need a sensible and comprehensive fix. I have attached a few ideas to send along to be my voice on the question, and copied it to my congressman and senators. I promise to be supportive and voice that support for good ideas built from consensus to resolve this knotty problem. I also recognize that no solution on a national basis is “easy.” With that recognition, I send this along to you and assure you of my continued interest.
The desire to protect our borders is a good idea, one that is absolutely something any government should do. A punitive nature and harsh spirit in the law, however, defeats its purpose. Obviously, making the rules clear and then abiding by them is important. We are not going to deport 10-12 million people, but we can surely face where we are without saying, “Laws don’t matter.” Terrifying children, overreacting with police force or brutalizing weak and vulnerable strangers is not what America is about. So here are the ideas I have thought about the past few years, given where we are at the moment.
- Why not have a temporary, renewable worker status that lets farmers and construction companies hire without fear or the creation of an overburdened bureaucratic responsibility? The e-verify, if changed from a punitive to a compliance tool, seems to be a key.
- If the temporary worker category were created to be annually renewable based on continuing employment and registration with some kind of administrative fee to help hire the people to run it (jobs!), then Homeland Security could spend more time doing its protective job. It is drug dealers, criminals and terrorists we want to find, not painters and tomato pickers and small business owners.
- Why not emphasize encouraging compliance before punishment, encourage people to come out of the shadows? People with felony criminal records—out you go. Others? Hard working, good people? Don’t award them citizenship, but it is unnecessary to ship people out while they try to earn a living. Just expand the pool and provide some kind of annually renewable, fee based temporary work status, requiring e-verify and a criminal background check. Then you can be here and still go to the back of the line for citizenship. Meanwhile, you pay taxes, SS, and carry your weight. This is a market-based solution in which competition for labor and jobs takes care of itself. Governments that spend all their resources on policing, punishing and deporting have little left for all else. If a man can do a job and the economy needs it done, if we create the legal path to do it, great. We’re better off.
- Those who won’t participate can then be deported or leave. But families do not live in fear of arrest, imprisonment with little recourse or rights. This would require a period of time, perhaps six months or a year, in which those not registered would have time to go to designated places to register and be verified. This is the trickiest bit. They will fear, and so the immigrant communities themselves must assist in making it work. Truthfully, I believe most who come here want only a fair shot. And on the other side, the word “amnesty” is political poison, but why not frankly admit, “We’re in a mess. It’s time to start the game over.” Here are the rules. Everyone has a year to come forward, declare your presence here, get verified, and begin the legal process in the right way.
- What you would do is to create the mechanism by which “illegal” would refer to everyone who refused to accept the new and clearer rules. We would say, in effect, “Are you in school here? Have a job? Lived here ten years or all your life? We have reformed the rules and here is what they are. Everyone is welcome to apply to stay, here are the conditions, and at the least you have to e-verify, pay a fee, renew it annually as long as you are here to continue here. It is not citizenship, although you must pay taxes like everyone else. Access to social services would have to be figured out, but is there not a way to do this, also? It seems that the problem is lost tax revenue and fear-based governance does not encourage it. Instead, we have an underground economy. Better to simply get people “in the open” and let them compete on a fair and impartial basis in a competitive economy.
- There are millions of valuable, hard-working human beings here undocumented (which I prefer to “illegals” which you could just as well apply to people with outstanding parking tickets—we don’t deport them) who could, with a sane system, help bring our economy back, as immigrants have always. At any rate, these are my thoughts after considerable reflection on this issue.
I surely know there are many things I have not thought of. But these are my best thoughts. I am hopeful that we are in a good moment for this issue. I am glad you are meeting and the breadth of the gathering, theologically as well as politically, is encouraging. Go for solutions, practicality and implementation. My prayers for your success together.