A Restitution-Based Immigration Reform

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Since it was launched in 2012, thousands of evangelical pastors and leaders have affirmed the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform, which calls for a bipartisan solution on immigration that both keeps families together and respects the rule of law.

When it comes to the millions of immigrants residing unlawfully in the country, many with U.S.-born children, many feel a tension between these principles: to deport the estimated 11 million immigrants who are unlawfully in the country might satisfy the law, but would almost certainly mean dividing many families as well. To declare an amnesty, simply dismissing the violation of U.S. law, would keep families together, but would not honor the law. Is there a way to do both?

We believe there is: a restitution based immigration reform. The Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform also calls for “a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.” That path can honor the law by involving a process of restitution, whereby those seeking to remain permanently in the U.S. could, among other appropriate requirements, pay a significant fine as a penalty for having overstayed their visa or crossed into the U.S. unlawfully.

At the Evangelical Immigration Table, we have long believed that such a restitution-based solution is the best way forward, resolving a longstanding problem in a way that avoids either mass deportation or amnesty.

And it’s also the policy that most evangelical Christians already support. As World Relief president Scott Arbeiter notes in a recent article for FoxNews.com,

According to a recent LifeWay Research poll, support for citizenship for undocumented immigrants is up significantly among evangelical pastors across the U.S. 66 percent of evangelical pastors are in favor of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Just 21 percent are opposed, down from 39 percent of evangelical pastors who were opposed just five years ago…

These pastors aren’t out of step with their congregants.

An earlier LifeWay Research poll of evangelical Christians found the significant majority support immigration reforms that would pair improvements to border security with an earned path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally who pay a fine and meet other qualifications. Just 16 percent were opposed to such a deal.

In reality, many immigrants are more than eager for this opportunity to pay a fine and make things right. Most immigrants without legal status in the U.S. have been in the country for at least a decade, and often much longer. They are in many ways integrated members of our communities and, in many cases, our churches. They are desperate to get right with the law – but without changes to U.S. law, it is not possible for most of them.

Ultimately, as Scott Arbeiter notes, this sort of a restitution-based immigration reform is rooted in a core evangelical belief in the possibility of redemption:

Evangelicals… believe in redemption. They want a way for immigrants in this country unlawfully to be able to make things right, to earn citizenship.

For most evangelicals, it’s important that reforms respect the rule of law. The significant majority of evangelicals don’t think of a legalization process as amnesty; instead, they see it as acknowledging the violation of the law and making restitution.

Our hope is that evangelical support for this sort of common-sense policy, driven by our biblical values, can help to finally resolve the longstanding challenge facing our country. You can add your voice by affirming the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.

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