I will confess -- I didn't watch President Obama's speech last night. Like many Americans I watched the latest episode of the Big Bang Theory. Sheldon was signing off from his internet series on flags. It's not that I don't think that immigration reform isn't important. It is very important. But really, this was not an earth shattering move on the President's part. Yes, the Republican Party is having a temper tantrum and is threatening all manner of retaliation. Democrats are sort of giddy. I say sort of, because they seem to understand that this didn't go far enough. Indeed, the only way to truly get things moving forward is for Congress to act in a comprehensive way. Of course a bi-partisan bill was passed some time ago in the Senate and sits there untouched by the House leadership. But the President did address a bit of the problem facing the nation.
There is a moral case to be made for immigration reform. Millions of people have come to this country in hopes of achieving a better life. It might be driven by war and terror at home. Across the globe we are seeing massive upheavals of regions, with refugees streaming everywhere. While the Statue of Liberty beckons them, our political process and resistance among the populace keeps us from being more hospitable to those in need.
While I didn't watch the speech, I did check the twitter feed. That gave me sufficient information on what occurred in the fifteen minutes or so that the President spoke. As for me, I think the President acted within the bounds of executive authority. He followed the lead of Presidents Reagan and Bush 41, and addressed the deportation status of about four to five million people.
So I did read the speech this morning. Here is what he proposes to do.
First, we'll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.
Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.
Third, we'll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.
The first two parts shouldn't be controversial. The third point, however, is the crux of the matter. Here is what he said:
Now here's the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we're going to offer the following deal: If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.
It is an invitation to those who have lived in the country for five years or have children who are citizens or legal residents you can come out of the shadows register, have a background check, and then pay taxes -- well you get to stay here for now. It's temporary. It can be rescinded. It will cost you. You won't get any benefits or services. Just work, pay taxes, and you won't get deported. In my mind it's really not much. There's no path to citizenship. There's not even any legalization of status -- just an agreement not to deport, so you can breath and then perhaps get in line for legal status.
As a preacher I was of course impressed that he drew on the biblical story. Since many of the opponents of this action like to speak of Christian values, here's a value that they've not been highlighting. There is a strong sentiment in the Scriptures that speak of welcoming the stranger. It tells stories of sojourners -- migrants moving from one place to another. You were an alien the Jewish people were told, so welcome the alien.
In one way or another all Americans are immigrants. We came from some place else. Even Native Americans came here from some place else. Yes, they came thousands of years ago, but still it proves my point. We are a land of immigrants. Perhaps we should be more willing to embrace that heritage by showing more hospitality to our migrant neighbor. They too are God's children. So instead of the histrionics, can we get some work done?