Don't you wish America's political leadership had an ounce of moral imagination? The Senate's failure to improve our immigration system represents a new low in legislative ineffectiveness. (Coming from someone who's watched the Texas Legislature at un-work, that's a mouthful.) One side wanted reform. But even with support from the president and top members of both parties, they couldn't put together a plan to answer basic concerns, much less build a victorious coalition. Not to be outdone, the other side behaved just as badly. They waved the flag of fear long enough to beat back the reformers. Yet their warnings about “amnesty” for “illegal immigrants” rang hollow when they failed to offer an option for alleviating the problem.
So now what do we have? Something to scare and/or trouble almost everyone: Porous borders. Between 12 million and 14 million undocumented workers living in the United States. Strained social services, particularly in the Southwest. Industries vital to our economy—such as agriculture and construction in the Southwest, textiles in the Southeast—dependent upon cheap labor. Thousands, if not millions, of workers who are vulnerable and exploited. Thousands, perhaps millions, of U.S. workers whose job status and/or income is affected by competition from immigrant workers. Families torn apart. Millions of citizens angry and confused by the dramatic changes they're seeing in their culture and communities.
Meanwhile, back in Congress … well, nothing.
Common sense has sprung from other quarters, however. In a Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan White House speechwriter, laid out a two-step solution that's profoundly simple: Secure the borders. Admit the workers we need.
Noonan's initial step seems obvious, for several reasons. First, our national security demands it. Each border should be secure to protect us from terrorism. (By the way, far more known terrorists have come through Canada than Mexico.) Second, we are a nation of law. Crossing borders without authorization is illegal, and we should prevent illegal activity. Third, and I'm not sure Noonan intended this, secure borders are more humane to would-be illegal crossers. Better to stop at a border than to die of heatstroke in the back of a tractor-trailer or die of dehydration in the desert.
Noonan's second step is practical. She proposed open borders for workers we need, citing specifically engineers and nurses. But anyone who has lived in the Southwestern part of the country recognizes the border should be open—a crack, at least—to some less-skilled workers. Where would the Texas economy be without an abundant supply of hard-working agriculture and construction laborers with modest skills but strong backs? Regulated immigration would secure the supply of workers, support their fair treatment and create more humane conditions for their families.
Of course, the most sensitive problem remains: What to do with up to 14 million undocumented workers? While “amnesty” was treated like a four-letter word in the political debate, we need a serious discussion of the situation. Deportation of that many people is not realistic. Logistically, it's practically impossible. And the rapid loss of that many workers would have the exact opposite result the deporters intend—dire consequences for the economy.
I'm convinced Jesus would find a way to document the workers and make them safe and productive residents. Study the Scriptures. Jesus wasn't soft on sin, but he wasn't all about punishment, either. He focused his gifts—and his divine imagination—on redemption. Time after time, he told sinners, “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus emphasized second chances, fresh starts, better tomorrows.
When it comes to immigration, Lord knows we need a better tomorrow.
Marv Knox is editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.