This is certainly a polarizing issue. My own opinions are based on a desire for biblical values of compassion and justice (the kind of justice that calls for all people to be treated with dignity). I am not moved by arguments that say we should be concerned first and foremost for those who are already here, or that we should protect America for the "Americans". That kind of thinking, the kind of thinking that categorizes people into national identities and draws lines between "us" and "them", doesn't seem to reflect a biblical understanding that we are all children of God, and that national loyalties are subject to a more primary allegiance to the kingdom of God which transcends these national labels. If my neighbor is poor and without the means to care for his family, I don't care whether that neighbor is American or Mexican, my first obligation is to do whatever I can to help that neighbor in need.
However, that doesn't mean that I think the best solution is simply to throw open the border and let anyone come across that wants to. One of the key injustices of illegal immigration is the way that it allows unscrupulous employers to exploit workers who will work for unlivable wages, in horrible conditions for no benefits without complaint. Unless we can get a handle on who comes into our country, and unless we can find some way to legitimize the millions of illegals already here, there will continue to be an underclass of people able to be exploited by the rich and powerful.
So with those ideas of compassion and justice in mind here is my short list of proposed solutions to help ensure that immigrants are treated with compassion and justice:
1. Drastically raise the number of legal immigrants the US will allow in (like doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling), and make it much, much easier to come here as a legal immigrant (i.e. reduce requirements for necessary skills or education, reduce waiting periods and red tape, etc.). The fact is we need immigrants. Employers wouldn't be hiring so many illegal immigrants if there wasn't a need for them. And by allowing far more legal immigration, we will reduce the motivation for people to try to come here illegally. And by making the process simpler and more open to all types of people, we remove any obstacles that might encourage people to bypass the system.
2. Set up a means for the 11 million current illegals to eventually become legal, or at least gain some sort of guest worker status. The most important thing about this is that by becoming legal these immigrants will gain rights in the workplace and will no longer be able to be exploited by their employers. In addition these workers will begin to pay taxes on their income, which will help pay for the public services that they currently utilize "for free". Anti-immigrant groups are always complaining about the drain on our public resources from illegal immigrants, but they don't seem to realize that the best way to stop this drain is to make these immigrants legal so they can then contribute to the costs through their taxes.
3. Enforce tighter border controls to curtail the flow of illegal immigrants. I know this idea is not very popular among immigrant supporters, but I think it is necessary, not to "protect America" but to protect legal and newly-legal immigrants from losing their jobs to a new wave of illegals willing to let themselves be exploited by cost cutting employers. If we legalize 11 million immigrants and tell their current employers that now they have to start paying minimum wages and offering benefits, many of those employers will simply start recruiting even more illegals. The only way to eliminate this exploitation is to dry up the source of cheap labor.
But of course, the real solution to exploitation is not to punish the victims but to punish the oppressors, that's why I think we should...
4. Crack down on worker exploitation. I don't mean cracking down on hiring illegals. I mean cracking down on any employer who treats any employee, legal or not, unfairly. We need stiff penalties for companies who exploit workers. Force these companies to treat immigrant laborers like any other employees. But of course the only way to enforce this is to give these immigrant workers protection under the law so that they can speak up about unjust practices without fear of deporation. Which of course ties back into my first two suggestions.
Bottom line, as a Christian I believe that our priorities should be to share our wealth and blessings in this country with those less fortunate by allowing more people to come here, while at the same time protecting those who come and who are already here from explotation. This, in my mind, reflects the Kingdom values of generosity, compassion, love and justice.
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