Like tens of thousands of other Americans, I’ll be in Washington D.C. this Sunday in the March for America rally on behalf of undocumented immigrants. The Evangelical congregation which my wife and I have the privilege of pastoring is taking our worship on the road . At 6 a.m. we are getting on a chartered bus to Washington D.C. for the March for America gathering. Many of the faithful at the church, along with thousands of Evangelicals, believe that marching on behalf of some of the most vulnerable is a form of worship. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “the church is only the church when it exists for the other.” So we are going to wake-up early not to go to church but to “be church” at the National Mall with close to 100,000 people.
Many well-meaning Americans have some legitimate questions about comprehensive immigration reform and wonder why clergy and other people of faith are advocating for it. So let me respond to what I believe are some of the most pressing questions about immigration reform and its impact on the U.S.:
• The economic question: They are a burden on our tax and economic system; Why don’t they go home? Studies show that the close to 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom already pay taxes and Social Security, want to continue to contribute to the system. Comprehensive immigration reform should require these immigrants to pay back taxes, learn English, and wait in line behind the people who entered legally. The system as is does not allow for this integration nor does it address unscrupulous employers who exploit cheap labor. A new system that requires these immigrants to integrate and employers and employees to pay taxes will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. The status quo does not in any way address this challenge; reform does. Reform can help the economy.The U.S. can have the creative genius to make this a win-win for all.
• The culture question: This is going to fundamentally change U.S. culture. Will America be radically different?Studies show that most immigrants want to learn English and contribute to the larger mosaic of U.S. culture. In addition, the United States has always been a nation of immigrants that allows for diversity without balkanization. This is one of the great values of the U.S. “E pluribus Unum- out of many one.” Moreover, history shows that cultures are enriched and deepened through respectful mutual encounter.
• The moral question: How do we balance respect for the rule of law and compassion for all people? This is a fair question. I think we should respect the law and that’s why any reform should include requiring: Paying back-taxes, penalties to employers who may have circumvented the system, and borders being controlled and supervised in humane ways. Nevertheless, what do we do with the 12 million men, women, and children that are already here? Deportation is not reasonable and it remains beyond our economic capacities. In short, reform must include both respect for the rule of law and a way that integrates all people in common sense ways.
• The faith question: What does the Church or my faith have to do with it? Simply stated, as a Christian I am mandated to love my neighbor as myself without prejudice to origin, color, or creed. Jesus himself reminds Christians to “welcome the stranger” in Matthew 25. In addition, the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures reminds us continually to be kind and merciful to the stranger, widow, and orphan. In the end a nation is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable among them. My faith compels me to speak with the immigrants and their families.
Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to the highest of our values. This is not an easy issue but I will march because I believe that our country has the moral capacity to welcome immigrants. If Christ welcomed me unconditionally should I do any less with others? So on Sunday in a peaceful manner I will repeat the words on Lady Liberty written by Emma Lazarus with tens of thousands of my fellow human beings : “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”