Evangelical Christians Have an Approach to the Border and Immigration that Candidates Should Consider
Authored by Larry Floyd and Shon Young and originally published on elpasomatters.org
In just the past couple weeks, we’ve seen multiple lawsuits relating to the ever-changing situation along the border. The federal government is suing the state of Texas over Gov. Greg Abbott’s multi-billion dollar “Operation Lone Star.”
Meanwhile, a court in California has ruled against new restrictions on asylum enacted by the Biden administration. And yet, with all the legal and political wrangling, people in border communities like our cities of El Paso and Del Rio desperately want real solutions, which will ultimately require congressional action.
Our churches can help provide a constructive way forward. In June, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, thousands of representatives of the nation’s largest evangelical denomination voted nearly unanimously in favor of a resolution on immigration.
Some might presume that this resolution would be controversial, but for Baptists whose primary authority is the Bible, immigration can actually be remarkably unifying – if framed in a nuanced, balanced way, both respecting the law and demonstrating compassion for immigrants.
The Southern Baptist resolution “on wisely engaging immigration” affirms the biblically mandated role of the church to compassionately care for and share the gospel with immigrants. It also affirms the government’s God-ordained role to maintain order, “including strong borders and clear immigration policies as well as care for migrants—not sacrificing one for the other.”
It urges the U.S. government to prioritize the unity of families, ensure “robust avenues” for those seeking refuge from persecution and create a “pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures” for immigrants in the country unlawfully.
Local churches along the border have long been involved in ministering to immigrants. We oversee ministries in El Paso and Del Rio, respectively, that provide physical and spiritual support to migrants passing through our communities, largely individuals released by the federal government to travel to different points across the United States to await immigration court hearings. Most hope to win asylum.
We’re not in a position to know whether any particular individual will (or should) ultimately be granted asylum, but we do know that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors. And when pressed to define a “neighbor,” he gave the example of a Good Samaritan who cared sacrificially for a traveler in need – he instructs his followers to “go and do likewise,” which Southern Baptists are doing our best to do as migrants arrive in our country.
As we minister, we consistently confront the dysfunctionality of governmental processes, which have failed to ensure secure borders, denied due process to some asylum seekers who need refuge and made legal immigration impossible for many, despite a profound labor shortage. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., loving our neighbors requires us not just to care for those beaten along the road, but also to ask why so many people are being beat upon the road, and to do what we can to change it.
That’s why we’re grateful for a new bipartisan bill – cosponsored by El Paso’s U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar and Florida’s Rep. Maria Salazar – that seeks to dramatically reform our immigration laws.
The Dignity Act is largely consistent with the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution and with past statements from other evangelical leaders, including an investment of $35 billion in border security and processing improvements, reforms to ensure more efficient asylum processing, a reduction in wait times for family reunification visas, a path to citizenship for “Dreamers” and a more rigorous path to legal status for other undocumented immigrants, who could eventually earn U.S. citizenship if they pay a significant fine.
The Dignity Act is bipartisan, meaning it could conceivably pass through both the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate (where legalization for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants are the priority) and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives (where border security is the professed top immigration concern).
Eighty-three percent of Texan evangelical Christians support both these policy goals, according to a recent study by Lifeway Research. Only by pairing them together are we likely to get either through a divided Congress.
If both evangelicals and a bipartisan group of lawmakers can coalesce around these priorities, I hope other Members of Congress – including Rep. Tony Gonzales, Shon’s representative in Del Rio, who has rightly critiqued border proposals he describes as un-Christian – and Texas’ U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will embrace this approach as well.
And we’d invite each member of Congress as well as each presidential candidate to visit our border ministries, to read their Bibles and to wisely engage immigration in ways that evangelicals are begging them to do.
Larry Floyd is the executive director of the El Paso Baptist Association, which includes more than 80 Baptist congregations in and around El Paso. Shon Young is a Southern Baptist pastor in Del Rio and the president of the Val Verde Humanitarian Border Coalition.