Post-election, Conservatives Change Course

November 08, 2012

Mitt Romney’s defeat on Tuesday has led prominent conservatives to consider immigration policy in a new light.

Check out our collection of quotes from conservative leaders.

Conservative Leaders Call an Audible on Immigration at Midwest Summit

October 18, 2012

by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons

A pastor, a rabbi, a sheriff, a dairy farmer and Grover Norquist walk into the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium.

No joke: The Midwest Summit: Forging a New Consensus on Immigration and America, held Oct. 12, brought together more than 80 faith, business and law enforcement leaders from ten states.

What stood out? A true consensus across state, political and sector lines calling for common-sense immigration solutions. The sense of urgency in the room was palpable. These leaders traveled from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin and within Indiana not just to talk — they gathered because the failings of existing immigration policy necessitate federal action now.

From different angles, speakers consistently underscored the value of immigrants to the Midwest and the need for Congress to enact better immigration laws. The same message shone through the lenses of politics, economics, morality and public safety.

The Political and Economic Case

Few people rival Grover Norquist in conservative credibility. The message of his keynote speech in Indianapolis was clear: Conservatives can and should support immigrants and immigration reform.

“It’s not only good policy to have more immigrants in the United States — dramatically more immigrants than we do today, to having a path forward for those people who are here,” he said. “It’s not only a good idea, but it’s good politics.”

He even choked up a little. Talking about how the GOP looked down on Catholics for much of recent history, Norquist lamented that the GOP seemingly is doing the same with immigrants now.

Earlier, the day kicked off with panels on “Business and Immigration” and “Economic and Workforce Development.” Kicking things off, Richard Longworth, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, highlighted the “new ideas, new blood, new money that immigrants bring” that will help turn around the struggling Midwest economy.

He called on the audience and all Midwesterners to begin “working and talking together to see how can get a piece of the industries of the future,” and for towns and counties to reach across regional lines.
“In a globalizing world, we have no choice,” he declared.

Business leaders reported that immigrants are crucial to the economy across the region.

“There is a huge gap in our workforce, and it’s not even an immigrant issue. It’s an American issue,” said Angela Smith Jones, director of public policy at the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

“The cows on our farm have to milked,” Wisconsin dairy farmer John Rosenow added. “They have to be milked today, they have to be milked tomorrow. They can’t wait until you [in Congress] figure out the right decision … It has to be done now, and I have to have employees.”

A second group of business leaders highlighted that their companies benefit when their immigrant employees integrate into Midwestern society. Moderator Josh Hoyt of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights stressed the need to “work to build, in concrete way, a sense of connectedness” for new immigrant communities.

“This population is here and they’re moving us forward and letting us be globally competitive,” added Shannon Kiely Heider, state government relations director at Cummins Inc. in Columbus, Ind.

Steve Tobocman, Director of the Global Detroit economic revitalization effort, gave a rousing call to action: “If we’re going to be the most prosperous country in the 21st century, we need to take advantage of our immigrants and their integration.”

Faith and Law Enforcement Leaders Speak Out

A broad range of faith leaders made the case that theology, constituency and history all point to welcoming immigrants.

Rabbi Brett Krichiver of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation discussed the “biblical call to welcome the stranger” that runs through Judaism and Christianity.

Evangelical leaders came out in force for the panel, with Cedarville University Vice President for Student Life Carl Ruby joining National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and Christian Community Development Association CEO Noel Castellanos.

Ruby spoke about the silence of evangelicals during the civil rights movement. “I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history on reform; immigration is the civil rights issue of this day,” he said.

”Immigrants are the lifeblood of the Catholic Church,” and most growth in American Christianity can be attributed to immigrants, added Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

Meanwhile, local and state law enforcement officials spoke of the importance of good relations with immigrant communities as they fulfill their duty to keep their communities safe.

“These punitive, run–them-out laws are actually detrimental to public safety,” said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who moderated a panel that included Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Lake County, Ill., Sheriff Mark C. Curran Jr. and Garden City, Kan., Police Chief James Hawkins.

“You have to establish a positive relationship with your community or you will not be able to solve your community’s issues,” Hawkins said. “To undo that now, after thirty years, would be disastrous.”

A Call to Action

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, concluded the summit by pointing to the powerful voices in the room and the opportunity for participants to send a message to political leaders in Washington.

“We’ve got to fix [immigration]; 2013 is the chance for that,” Noorani said.

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is the Assistant for Constituencies at the National Immigration Forum.

GOP Convention’s Religious Leaders Agree on Immigration Reform

August 28, 2012

by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons

If you blink, you might miss the fact that the religious luminaries offering prayers at the Republican National Convention (RNC) agree on a surprising topic: the need to welcome immigrants and pass immigration reform.

The views of these religious leaders differ sharply from the Republicans’ own platform. Guided by the likes of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the brains behind state-level anti-immigrant laws, the GOP draft platform takes a hardline stance on immigration.

But the Episcopal, evangelical Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Catholic leaders chosen to lead the RNC in prayer beg to differ.

Although Tropical Storm Isaac canceled Monday’s official schedule, Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson did offer an invocation.

Dr. Levenson, an Episcopal priest from Houston, called on God to “guide and direct with your wisdom our president, Congress and the courts.” And what kind of direction might they receive regarding immigrants?

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, to which Levenson belongs, joined Methodists and other faith groups in Texas in opposition to H.B. 12, an Arizona-inspired immigration bill that passed the Texas House of Representatives last year. The groups also called for comprehensive immigration reform.

What about the other handpicked preachers speaking at the convention?

Tonight, Rev. Sam Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, will offer the benediction. Rodriguez has spoken forcefully about the need to welcome new Americans and create a new immigration process, and he joined 150 leading evangelicals to launch “Evangelical Principles for Immigration Reform” and the Evangelical Immigration Table.

Tomorrow night, His Eminence Methodios, the Metropolitan of Boston in the Greek Orthodox Church, takes to the podium in prayer. Through its membership in the National Council of Churches, the Greek Orthodox Church fights for just immigration policies every day.

On Thursday, Ken and Priscilla Hutchins, two Mormon leaders, will lead the RNC in the invocation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement of support for the Utah Compact, a statement of principles in support of federal action on immigration reform. The LDS statement calls on legislators to “balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.”

The final speaker at the RNC, directly following Mitt Romney, will be Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan. “America’s Pope” has taken a strong position in favor of immigration reform.

Immigration is not the only issue on which these conservative religious leaders agree but it is the only one for which it is impossible to reconcile their preaching with the party’s official position.

One might think the convention planners would trot out a tried-and-true conservative preacher who favors “self-deportation,” state anti-immigrant laws that encourage racial profiling, and other policies that stifle compassion to the stranger in our midst. But they’d have trouble finding one.

A true consensus, especially evident in the faith community, has emerged in support of a practical immigration process in America. With leaders aboard from Focus on the Family to the United Church of Christ, from the Southern Baptist Convention to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the religious right, left, and center in America support immigration reform.

On immigration, the GOP’s preachers get it right.

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is the Assistant for Alliances at the National Immigration Forum. Follow him on Twitter @guthriegf.

Christian Post Op-Ed on Deferred Action

August 21, 2012

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security began accepting applications under its new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allows certain young aspiring citizens to get a work permit and remain in the United States for at least two years. World Relief’s Matthew Soerens wrote an op-ed for the Christian Post highlighting a DACA-eligible youth he knows and renewing calls for a permanent roadmap to citizenship for new American immigrants:

Deferred Action Status for Young Immigrants Only a Band-Aid

This week, thousands of young immigrants will file paperwork to request “Deferred Action” status from the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services under a new Obama Administration policy applying to certain undocumented individuals who entered the U.S. as children.

The new policy will defer the deportation-and grant employment authorization to-individuals who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday, who have been present in the U.S. for at least 5 years, who are either in school, have graduated from high school, have earned their GED, or are an honorably discharged military veteran, and who have stayed out of serious criminal trouble.

Alberto La Rosa is one of these young people. He came to the U.S. from Peru as a small child with his parents. When their visas expired, Alberto’s family stayed, waiting more than a decade on a visa request filed by his uncle, and became undocumented. Alberto studied hard and became an active member of his church youth group. Eventually-though ineligible for federal financial aid because of his lack of legal status-he earned a scholarship to a private evangelical college. This past May, he graduated with honors.

Alberto’s next step is seminary, where he hopes to be trained to one day minister to others as a pastor. To support himself through graduate studies, Alberto felt pressure to acquire false work documents-something his conscience has always kept him from doing. Thanks to the Deferred Action policy, though, Alberto should now be eligible for Employment Authorization and a Social Security number, allowing him to work his way through seminary legally.

This new policy is merely a temporary, administrative measure. In the absence of legislative change, future Administrations will have to decide whether to renew Alberto’s work permit, which will expire every two years. That decision will determine whether or not, after completing seminary, Alberto will be allowed to lawfully accept employment by a church-and whether he is allowed to stay in the U.S. and minister here at all.

Alberto is grateful for this change, as are many youth pastors, teachers, and members of local churches who have supported young people like him. In my work with World Relief, which is the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals and has programs
providing legal assistance to immigrants across the United States, I have encountered dozens of young people with similar stories, many of them active members of local churches. The lack of a functional policy has led to an enormous waste of God-given talent and resources, and this Deferred Action program will be a huge blessing to local churches.

While a positive step, this new policy is simply a band-aid on the gaping wound of our immigration legal system. Young people like Alberto are among the most sympathetic individuals affected by a dysfunctional system that has many victims: our national economy, which is stifled by antiquated quotas that are out-of-touch with our labor market, families who are divided by deportation and by backlogged processes for family reunification, undocumented workers who are vulnerable to exploitative labor conditions and even human trafficking, and the rule of law, which both employers and immigrant workers risk for lack of a functional system.

The tides are changing when it comes to public opinion on immigration reform, especially among Christians. Evangelical leaders from across the theological and political spectrum-including leaders of many denominations, churches, seminaries, Christian colleges, and parachurch ministries-all signed a public statement agreeing to common ground principles in regard to immigration policies. This was the launch of the Evangelical Immigration Table and just the first step in a long term effort to educate Christians on what their own scripture says about how we treat immigrants and pressure policymakers to find common ground and common-sense solutions.

The new Deferred Action policy for individuals like Alberto is a praiseworthy first step, but my prayer is that it is a down-payment for the creation of a common-sense immigration process.

An Invitation to Help Us Forge a New Consensus

June 06, 2012

by Paul Bridges, Mayor, Uvalda, Georgia

As a Republican and mayor of a small Georgia town, I’m not your usual immigrant rights advocate. But these aren’t usual times. Our nation’s dysfunctional immigration system undermines our businesses, puts unfair pressure on law enforcement, and goes against our nation’s values.

It’s hard to find hope in today’s bleak immigration policy landscape. States including my own have passed harsh enforcement laws while leaders in Washington refuse to get past their partisanship to make real reform happen.  Our nominee, Mitt Romney, wants to make life so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that they choose to “self-deport,” while ignoring that many are members of intact, functional and loving families.  President Obama separates untold numbers of families through the highest level of deportations in American history; swelling the number of US children who will be reared without one or both parents.

Several states here in the Southeast have passed these harsh enforcement-only laws, and I’ve seen firsthand the effects they have on communities and businesses. Last year in Georgia, families fled their homes in fear and millions of dollars in crops rotted in the fields. Immigrants are important parts of our communities and our economy.  These states are spending millions of tax-payer dollars defending new laws that target minorities but have already had federal judges strike them down.

In neighboring Alabama, Governor Bentley signed HB56 last year to turn state police into ICE agents. Last month, he topped himself by tweaking HB56 to require the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to publish a list of undocumented immigrants who appear in court for violations of state law, regardless of whether they were convicted.

I found Georgia’s harsh law so un-American that I joined with unlikely bedfellows to sue the state. Did I ever dream that I would be joining a class action suit with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center? No, but I also didn’t dream my state would go down the awful path of creating felons out of grandparents who have an undocumented in-law or step-grand in their home or automobile.   

My involvement in the lawsuit led me to the National Immigration Forum and their work advocating for common-sense solutions. I spoke at the Mountain West Summit in Salt Lake City late last year. Faith, business, and law enforcement leaders came together in this fractured environment to find common ground and make renewed calls for federal action.

Building on the success of the Mountain West Summit, I’m joining with other regional leaders to host the Southeast Summit in Atlanta on June 11. Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will deliver the keynote address and we’ll also hear from North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

These efforts are part of the Forum’s project Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America, an effort to engage leaders from faith, business, and law enforcement communities in immigration reform advocacy. I’m excited to launch the project’s new blog with this post. Consensus between conservatives, moderates and liberals has never been more important. I invite you to join me in this work and follow our progress here.

We can go beyond the divisive rhetoric that we’ve been hearing.  I’m confident that we can build a new consensus around practical solutions while valuing immigrants and building a stronger, safer, and more prosperous nation.

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