I believe that our immigration policy is in need of reform, particularly with regard to Mexican immigrants. Mexicans benefit from coming here to work. Americans benefit from having them here to work. Mexicans coming to the United States are far more likely to encounter evangelical Christianity than they are in Mexico. I have them in my church, as do most pastors in Texas. Ethnic churches are one of the major growth areas of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I’ve only ever heard two arguments against permitting Mexican immigration: One is economic and one is political. The economic argument is protectionist, desiring to accomplish runaway wage inflation by blocking the supply of less expensive labor that comes from south of the border. The political argument is the self-fulfilling prophecy that Republicans have to try to harry Mexicans out of the land since they’ll all vote Democrat. Let me just say that if that is true—that nobody but a white man would ever vote Republican—then the GOP is both doomed and unworthy of our support. But I think it is not true, for whatever my opinion is worth to you.
Of course, even among those who might agree that the law needs to be changed, there may be significant difference of opinion over what to do with those who have broken the former law. These are, after all, criminals who have crossed our borders illegally. As a nation of laws, we can’t pretend that doesn’t mean anything.
And yet, in the immigration debates people often throw around the word “amnesty” as though it is an injustice and an evil unto itself. I disagree. I think all-amnesty-all-the-time would be unjust and evil. But I favor some amnesty some of the time.
For example, I think the amnesty that our nation granted to Confederate soldiers in 1865 was a good idea. It recognized that a legal situation existed in which an enormous number of people had committed what, from the perspective of the government, amounted to high treason. It recognized that a political situation existed in which the prospects of lasting peace, future political unity, and an end to interpersonal rancor were fragile and sickly. Amnesty, the government calculated, was the best way to reconcile those two realities. It worked, perhaps better than anyone imagined it could.
Thus, amnesty is not evil or unjust just on its face. If one believes that a particular grant of amnesty would be evil or unjust, one must make a case as to why it is evil or unjust in the details of that case.
Regarding the people who live alongside me in Texas who have entered our nation illegally, I will simply say that few, if any, have bothered to try to make the case to me as to why amnesty for them would be evil or unjust and that none have made it to my satisfaction (conversations seldom rise above “Because AMNESTY”). Since—and this is true even if we were, by some miracle, able to deport all of the illegal aliens in our midst—the “browning” of our demographic future is all but inevitable, I think one could make a case that the political realities calling for immigration amnesty at the present moment are as immediate and pressing as those we faced in the 1860s.
Of course, amnesty in 1865-1868 did not amount to an acquiescence to unbridled civil war as a natural right. Far from it: The government made it clear that such would not be tolerated. In the same way, our nation must draft and enforce more realistic immigration laws and secure our borders once and for all. But those realistic immigration laws need to make a much larger space for legal immigration from Mexico to the United States.
On this night in particular, I should add that President Obama’s way of changing immigration policy is dubious constitutionally and poisonous politically. I regret that he has done what he has done. I also regret that the question of immigration reform has become so intractable in our government. Perhaps Congress will override the President by enacting realistic reform of our immigration laws in the near future.