Evangelicals Weigh in on Immigration Reform Bill

( [email protected] ) May 24, 2007 03:49 PM EDT

WASHINGTON – Evangelicals have voiced concern over the contentious immigration reform bill that has provoked an onslaught of opposition and bitter debate throughout the nation.

Before the House of Representatives subcommittee, an evangelical representative reminded Congress that a truly comprehensive immigration bill needs to foster the maintenance of the immigrant family unit.

“We have seen the consequences of a broken system that has separated families for many years,” warned Dan Kosten of the evangelical agency World Relief, before the House subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, on Tuesday.

“Immigration through family is the cornerstone of our system and we must continue to value and strengthen what has made our country great,” added Kosten, who is director of immigrant programs at World Relief. “Any means to undercut family reunification undermines the value of family.”

The evangelical leader urged legislators to have a family-oriented approach to comprehensive immigration reform, pointing to the proposed point system in the current bill that threatens to favor an immigrant’s educational level over reuniting families.

World Relief, which developed out of the National Association of Evangelicals’ War Relief Commission during World War II, represents the NAE in helping to resettle more than 200,000 refugees and assisting thousands of immigrant families across the United States.

On Tuesday, Kosten called on Congress to make amendments to the bill which includes reducing visa waiting times for separated families, creating more opportunities for migrant workers, implementing border controls “consistent with humanitarian values,” and placing certain undocumented workers already in the country on a path to legalization and eventual citizenship.

Other evangelicals, such as three synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), have also expressed concern over the immigration bill’s affect on immigrant families. The three bishops oppose the current bill’s cut to the family-sponsored immigration system.

“Our nation is founded on strong families that stand at the center of our communities,” said the Rev. H. Gerard Knoche, bishop of the ELCA Delaware-Maryland Synod, in a statement on Monday. “This proposal turns away from that long-standing tradition and from the Christian principle that we should welcome the stranger in our homes and families.”

According to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the current bill would drastically cut visas for adult children and siblings who are seeking to join their U.S. citizen and permanent resident relatives and would greatly reduce the number of visas available for parents of adult children.

"We commend the Senate and administration for their hard work on immigration reform, but we urge them to redouble their efforts to develop truly comprehensive reform that better serves families and the common good," said LIRS President Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr.

Due to heavy debate and the significance of the bill impacting 12 million people, Senate leaders agreed Monday to push off completing the bipartisan bill until after Memorial Day and will resume discussion on the plan in June.