By Stephen Reeves
In recent weeks, many Americans have been shocked by the practice of separating children from their parents as part of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
The tactic was implemented and then rescinded in part to deter other migrants from making the trip north. Many believe it was enacted also to strengthen the negotiation position in favor of a more hardline immigration bill. It has also been reported that the children have been used as bait to entice their parents to drop asylum claims and self-deport in exchange for reunification. Inflicting such trauma on families generated widespread outrage and the eventual recending of the practice.
The response from the faith community was loud and unified as a broad spectrum of voices from progressive to fundamentalist condemned the practice and called for it to end. When Franklin Graham and Jim Wallis agree on an issue, something beyond ‘politics-as-usual’ is happening. A list of faith-based groups releasing statements in opposition includes 49 denominations and organizations. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson called it a case study in the proper role of Christians in politics.
Our broken immigration system has been separating children from their parents for decades. President Obama presided over more deportations than any other president—a fact that earned him the title of “Deporter in Chief” from many immigrant advocates. Now, we see the move to quickly deport any undocumented person—without the focus on those previously convicted of a crime. Unfortunately, it is not only deportation priorities or agency practices that led to family separations, but the state of our current law.
For years, people of faith have been calling for reform of the system in a way that upholds the value of family unification.
The level of agreement among Christian advocates is nearly unprecedented. This is largely due to the consistent witness of scripture in favor of hospitality towards the alien and stranger among us. The life of Jesus Christ and his teachings make clear the call for compassion. Verses in Scripture that speak to the treatment of immigrants are commands that serious Christians cannot chose to ignore; they must be considered and thoughtfully and then prayerfully applied to today’s complicated political and global landscape.
While the Bible is clear, the application is less so. The separation of church and state requires that our laws have a secular purpose and not primarily that of advancing one religion’s views. Christians must make arguments in the public square in ways that people of other faiths, or those of no faith, can understand and choose to accept or reject on their merits.
Policy makers must balance hospitality with security and generosity with economic realities, hopefully while considering the best interest and ideals of their constituents. Immigration law is extremely complex. Christians have a right to work for policies that reflect our values and benefit the common good. Demanding that the government respect human rights and the God-given dignity of every person, regardless of their citizenship, should be a point of agreement for Christians. While people of faith will disagree on immigration policy details, thankfully there has been widespread consensus that children should not be stripped from their parents as a deterrent to others or as a political tactic.
Many leaders in CBF life have spoken out for change. Partnership is essential to the life of our denomi-network and advocacy is no different. In recent weeks, our partner organizations, including Fellowship Southwest, the Baptist Center for Ethics, Buckner International, Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and others, have spoken up and called for justice.
When CBF began a new emphasis on advocacy and public witness in 2013, we knew that immigration reform would be part of this work. Since that time, we have worked to connect our advocates and represent CBF in ecumenical settings, including the Evangelical Immigration Table, the National Immigration Forum’s Bibles, Badges & Business coalition and Bread for the World. It was our hope that there would soon be an opportunity to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
Hearing the level of concern and fear in immigrant communities from several Latino leaders in the Fellowship following the 2016 election, CBF Advocacy increased our activity in this area. In April of 2017, we formed our first ever Advocacy Action Team. This team, made up of individuals from across CBF life, would direct our advocacy work on behalf of and alongside immigrants and refugees. The initial focus has primarily been on the plight of “Dreamers” and DACA recipients. However, in this new moment of attention and energy, we are calling on CBF supporters to advocate for broad immigration reform.
Looking at the many ways our immigration system is failing, we need to generate the political will to find a permanent solution through legislation. In the coming weeks and months, CBF Advocacy and the Action Team will be working to equip advocates. We’ll help tell stories of immigrants and advocates among us, connect supporters to the efforts of other respected organizations, and find the best of the resources already available that not only speak to the policy, but also to the scriptural and biblical call for hospitality. We’ll reach out to those whose elected officials are critical voices and respond with advice and training for those wanting to engage.
Rooted in the scriptural call to love our neighbor and complementing the incredible mission work of our field personnel working in the context of global migration, advocates in CBF life can make a difference at this critical time. Join us.
Stephen K. Reeves is associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
- CBF Advocacy: Immigration Reform Values and Principles
- CBF Advocacy: Immigration Reform Values and Principles (Spanish)
- CBF Podcast: Responding to inhumane treatment of immigrant children, featuring Suzii Paynter
- CBF’s Paynter joins women faith leaders to ‘cry out for immigrant children’ at U.S.-Mexico border
- ‘Not on our watch,’ Cooperative Baptists say of immigrant family separation
- CBF leaders join chorus of voices against ‘outrageous,’ ‘heinous’ border policy