Faith leaders across the United States were eager to hear President Obama outline a series of executive actions that he is taking to address America's immigration crisis. Conservative evangelical Christians, progressive mainline Christians and Roman Catholics (ranging the wide spectrum of Roman Catholics in America) generally agree on the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
As President Obama said Thursday night in his address to the nation:
Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.
The executive action undertaken by President Obama, after years of failure by Congress to pass reform, moves us in the right direction. Five million people -- not illegals, as some like to define them, but people -- will be able to live without fear of being ripped apart from their families if they play by the rules and continue to make contributions to American society.
My family is an immigrant family. We came to the colonies in the 1600s and settled in South Carolina. Sadly, those ancestors of mine displaced Native Americans and helped to institute the sin of slavery in America. Yet their decedents, and waves of immigrants to come, would birth a nation founded on the principle of liberty. New immigrants have always been the subject of new controversies and even faced ugly waves of bigotry. But our immigrant nation has become of the most unique nations in human history. We are a deeply pluralistic society where -- when we are at our best -- our differences are celebrated while we still come together as one in common cause to address our greatest struggles, from defeating fascism in Europe in the 1940s to breaking the back of white supremacy in our own back yard in the 1960s.
President George W. Bush proposed immigration reform in his presidency very similar to what President Obama proposed in his first term. Too many politicians, however, saw an opportunity to divide Americans along racial lines for political gain and the bi-partisan consensus that had moved immigration policy forward in modern era crumbled.
All of this has forced President Obama to by-pass Congress and use his lawful authority to begin the process of reshaping immigration policy. What President Obama intends is not amnesty. But it will help families who play by the rules stay in the country without fear of deportation while making it easier to deport felons. Already, GOP leaders in Congress are threatening to shutdown the government. They would fundamentally change the nature of America from a nation of immigrants to a nation intolerant of immigrants. That is not who we are.
That is why people of faith have championed real, meaningful comprehensive immigration reform. We want a system that rewards those that follow the rules and that protects families. In the meantime, President Obama should be applauded for defending America's greatest values and challenging the nation to be a welcoming place for the stranger. For in the face of the stranger we see the face of God.