The second-biggest news this morning—after the Tebow barnburner, of course—is that the United States is going to stop deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. The New York Times explains:
The policy, effective immediately, will apply to people who are currently under 30 years old, who arrived in the country before they turned 16 and have lived in the United States for five years. They must also have no criminal record, and have earned a high school diploma, remained in school or served in the military.
These qualifications resemble in some ways those of the so-called Dream Act, a measure blocked by Congress in 2010 that was geared to establish a path toward citizenship for certain young illegal immigrants. The administration’s action on Friday, which stops deportations but does not offer citizenship or even permanent legal status, is being undertaken by executive order and does not require legislation.
What the younger immigrants will obtain, officials said, is the ability to apply for a two-year “deferred action” that effectively removes the threat of deportation for up to two years, with repeated extensions. “This is not immunity, it is not amnesty,” said Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary. “It is an exercise of discretion.”
All joking aside, this is a major moment in U.S. immigration policy. And a recent push from evangelical leaders may have played a part. This week, about 150 major evangelical leaders released the “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform,” calling for a massive overhaul of U.S. immigration policy and a softening of anti-immigrant policies.
When you look at it, the immigration issue is not just a legal issue. We respect what needs to be done there and hopefully we can strengthen laws, enforce laws and do all the things that we need to do in that way, because it’s important for a country to establish its borders and maintain its borders. But when you look at the family impact now and the stories we’ve received over the past year or two, it’s pretty tragic what’s occurring.
I was aware of stories here in Colorado of people who have been waiting in line for green cards and once they get their green card they’re waiting seven, eight years for their immediate family members to be able to get into the country. And I put that in the context of my two boys, Trent and Troy, 11 and 9, and I think, if I were in their shoes, stood in line, got the card, worked here in the United States and it would take me seven years to get my kids with me? They would be going off to college and I would have missed their entire teen years. It just seems immoral that we don’t come up with a better system to fast-track immediate family members who have gone through the process properly.
As we looked at who joined the statement, we also noticed who isn’t on the list, people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council or maybe those from the American Family Association. Do you expect a coming discussion with these groups that are not on the list?
Do you want an on-the-record response? [Laughed] I don’t know. I haven’t really talked to those folks.
Do you expect more polarization to come?
Did you see the headline news [story] feature about the little boy singing in church about Romans 1:27, “Ain’t no homo gonna make it into heaven?” I think in some ways that’s a litmus test. I had two reactions: the heavy-hearted one. My heart broke for that little boy, for that congregation, to see that pastor smiling from ear to ear. And about that person’s soul, that grieved me. I think the other response is this competitive jubilation of we’re winning or we’re keeping them down. I think we’re at a fork in the road in the culture now where God’s heart for humanity needs to show through us. With the core sense of the culture—this 24/7 news cycle and the polarization—we cannot take the bait as the Christian community. We’ve got to be more mindful of God’s character and how he expresses himself through us.
Evangelicals weren’t exactly out in front on the immigration issue, but their shift shows a broadening opposition to strict anti-immigration policies. It also marks a major change within the community, much like we’ve started to see to a smaller degree with outlawing same-sex marriage.