Immigration, Security, Families: Evangelical Pushback Led to Trump’s Executive Order
On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order to end the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Now, this decision to issue the order followed several weeks of protests, including clear calls to action by evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham.
The executive order is an important step in the right direction, but the larger immigration issue is still not settled. So Christians will have a continuing opportunity to help direct the debate hopefully in a productive direction.
It’s difficult to believe that anyone on the planet has not heard about this particular issue from the week, given the noise it’s created. But it’s not so difficult to think that for many, the issue of separating families at the border has been confused by the noise. So, here’s a brief and oversimplified synopsis: In May, the Attorney General announced a zero-tolerance policy, that everyone—including families with minor children—who are caught crossing the border illegally would be referred for prosecution.
For complicated legal reasons, minor children cannot be detained indefinitely with their parents. Specifically, barring good reasons to the contrary, they can’t be detained more than twenty days.
This leaves the government with two choices: It can either drop criminal charges and initiate deportation proceedings or it can separate children from their parents while they continue with the prosecution.
These same complicated legal reasons make the full impact of the president’s executive order somewhat unclear. That’s why, as I said earlier, this issue isn’t going away. And it means Christians have a continuing role to play in this debate.
One important role we can have is to help tone down the rhetoric. As Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, and more importantly, an old friend of Chuck Colson recently said, “political polarization and inflammatory rhetoric play directly into the hands of America’s very active enemies.”
Words like “infestation” to describe immigration or “concentration camps” to describe detainment facilities are not only inaccurate, they inflame the passions in a way that make reasoned discussion impossible.
In the same way, too many refuse to acknowledge and understand that immigration is, to use a word again, complicated. The question is: How can we balance the competing interests of national security, the rights of those seeking asylum, and the need our economy has for immigrant labor?
Well, something that seems to be becoming a theme for us to say around the Colson Center is to say that as Christians in this cultural moment, we have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. What I mean by this is we might have to take positions on issues that are true but may cross party lines. For example, we can advocate for strong border security and the right of a nation to enforce its laws, while still demanding our government treat people in a way that respects the sanctity and dignity of the human person.
We can say on one hand that parents shouldn’t break the law with their children, but also that children shouldn’t be punished for their parents breaking the law.
The immigration debate is being driven by fear. What would it look like to start the conversation over by talking about the image of God and the love of neighbor?
Doing this will require not falling into the tribalism that afflicts contemporary American politics. Christians don’t have a “team,” we have a cause: that the will of God be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
The past few weeks have seen many examples of Christians embracing this cause. NPR’s Mara Liasson pointed to the pushback from evangelical leaders as contributing to the president’s issuing his executive order.
These leaders understand that it’s proper to thank politicians when they do the right thing but to push them in the right direction when they don’t.
And so should we.