"When we talk about Jesus Christ, when we look at what his message was, he was talking about loving people. He was talking about righteousness. And not just righteousness in a religious sense, but righteousness in justice, having systems that are right, that don't abuse people."
So says Eddie Broussard, senior vice president of the Navigators, the Colorado Springs-based global Christian ministry, and one of seven local pastors and religious leaders who have joined with the nationwide Evangelical Immigration Table.
This table brings together more than 140 evangelicals spanning the ideological spectrum, from the liberal-leaning such as Jim Wallis of Sojourners, to the more-conservative Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Colorado Springs' own Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. Matthew Ayers, director of Dream Centers of Colorado Springs, a New Life Church-driven nonprofit, and Danny Garrido, pastor of The Crossing Church, are also signatories.
What is needed, they say, is a reasonable, lawful and humane approach to a policy that has become overburdened with out-of-control political rhetoric.
Daly couldn't be reached for this article, but according to Gary Schneeberger, Focus' vice president of communications, the immigration system's adverse effects on families is of top concern to his boss.
"We're not experts on immigration reform," says Schneeberger. "But we do have 35 years of experience helping families, and we see the impact this is having on families. If we have a voice, if we have a national profile that we can lend to a discussion that recognizes that families are being torn asunder by a system that's currently broken, and that leads to solving those problems, it's the next logical step to make as a family advocacy organization."
"We all agree that we absolutely have to have immigration reform," says Will Stoller-Lee, director of Fuller Seminary and also a signatory to EIT. "The majority of Americans want reform, want the rule of law upheld but want some path toward citizenship for a good number of these people."
Polling seems to support this claim. The nonpartisan Immigration Policy Center points to polls indicating that 67 percent of voters want immigration reform that would give undocumented immigrants a path to legal citizenship.
An estimated 11.5 million people live in this country without documentation, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. IPC estimates they make up roughly 5 percent of the nation's workforce.
Immigrating to the U.S. can be daunting, if nearly impossible, especially for the unskilled laborer competing for one of 5,000 visas made available annually.
Most troubling for Tom Minnery, executive director of Focus' public-policy wing, CitizenLink, are barriers in place that prevent green card holders from bringing their families to the States. This process can take five to 10 years, or even decades.
"That's unconscionable," says Minnery. "We can do better than that. If we are going to ask people to get in lines, the lines ought to move, and the lines do not move now. So there's no incentive for people to do it right."
Last week, EIT released an Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.
It calls for reform following six principles, which include respecting the "God-given dignity of every person," as well as the "rule of law," while establishing "a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents."
"The principles carve out a middle ground; they seem moderate to me," says Stoller-Lee. "Politicians are afraid to move out on this issue, because they don't think that there is a middle ground that Americans hold."
Don't call it amnesty
Minnery says that Focus has been studying the issue of immigration for years.
"But we had not gone forward with it, because the rhetoric had become so strident, we felt that it was impossible to move any serious legislation," he says, "so why enter the fray and just get frustrated."
Now, with the issue taking a backseat to other policy debates, the time might be ripe. He says that come January he'll work with U.S. House leaders, who he assumes will still be Republican.
Minnery says that he would like to see a policy adopted that allows an immigrant to "come forward, confess his guilt, pay a fine, and at least get temporary status while he works on the larger problem."
"It's a tremendous stress on families who, through economic misery, find themselves here outside the law," Minnery says. "And, there's a specific care that we have: Illegal immigrants live in fear that the breadwinner will be arrested and deported. And that will leave an already poor family destitute."
Anticipating possible criticism for this stance, Minnery continues, "Now, our detractors will call that amnesty, but the dictionary definition of amnesty is not confessing your guilt, paying a fine, and paying restitution. Amnesty is forgiveness, and that's not what we intend."
Those who charge them with supporting amnesty, he says, are just relying "on that rhetoric that we had hoped moved off the table."