At a time when our elected officials in Washington seem to be paralyzed by partisan politics, it is encouraging to see both sides of the aisle moving forward on an issue of critical national significance: immigration reform.
During his State of the Union address Jan. 28, President Obama voiced his support for passing immigration reform in 2014, while Republicans in the House of Representatives released their “Standards on Immigration Reform” on Jan. 30, outlining a set of broad principles to make this issue a priority this year.
As the executive director of an organization that provides legal services to almost 4,000 immigrants in the Chicago area per year, this is a very personal issue for me, my team and the people we serve. In our Immigrant Legal Services Department, we encounter countless individuals and families hurt by the broken immigration system: families split apart, children left without parents, promising young people whose dreams are dashed and victims of crimes afraid to report the offenses to the police. These tragedies tear apart not only the immigrants and their families but our communities and our country.
Like many other Christian leaders across the nation, I was disappointed that immigration reform was not brought to a vote in the House of Representatives in 2013, particularly given the widespread support among business, faith and law enforcement leaders across the United States. The release of the Republican principles, however, shows that our elected officials in both parties have finally realized that fixing our broken immigration system is a priority.
While broad, the Republican standards offer an important framework to begin Congress’s work on the issue. The principles rightfully include improvements to border security and internal enforcement mechanisms, updates to our outdated legal immigration system, and a process through which immigrants who do not currently have legal status can earn legal presence here. These immigrants – including those who were brought here as children – contribute untold benefits to our economy, our community and our churches, and both our Christian faith and our American heritage instruct us to welcome them with open arms.
Immigration reform is an economic and civic issue, but even more so, it is a biblical one. Many of the most important figures in the history of the Christian faith were immigrants, refugees and travelers whom God used for his purposes. I hope that our federal legislators will help ensure the continuation of that tradition by making the United States a place where immigrants are welcomed.
I encourage U.S. reps. Roskam, Duckworth, Hultgren, Foster and the rest of our congressmen and women in Washington to work together to make immigration reform a priority in 2014. Fixing our immigration system will require both courage and compromise, and while we can expect that no one will be completely satisfied with the final product, we will continue to pray that our representatives will find a workable solution. The president’s comments and the Republican standards are positive steps forward, but now they must be followed by legislative action on immigration reform. We have waited long enough. The time to act is now.
Emily Gray is executive director of World Relief DuPage/Aurora