As Congress left Washington for August recess, advocates for immigration reform knew it would be a critical month for the effort to fix our broken immigration system. Legislators would be talking with their constituents at countless events about the issue and gauging how public opinion had (or hadn’t) shifted based on the Senate’s recent passage of a bipartisan bill.
Several officials used recess as an excuse for increasing their attacks on immigrants in an attempt to stop the growing momentum across the country for finding a solution to this challenge. For example, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has stated: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Thankfully, other members have been far more constructive. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) embraced immigration reform and the need to provide a path to legalization for the millions of aspiring Americans who are already major contributors to our communities and our economy. He was clear that his motivations were rooted in his religious beliefs, saying: “with my Christian faith, it’s hard for me to say that I’m gonna divide these families up.”
Bachus’ encouraging comments reflect a growing awareness of the moral issues at the core of this debate. As Sojourners President Jim Wallis recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “[Christians] aren't primarily motivated by political considerations or even by the clear economic benefits immigration reform would bring. It is the biblical call to ‘welcome the stranger’ and Jesus' concern for ‘the least of these’ that inspires us. Congress needs to pass immigration reform because it is the morally right thing to do.”
Passing commonsense immigration reform will require our elected leaders to focus on the values that unite us, instead of the political pressures that sow division in Washington. The coming months will reveal what lessons Congress learned during this recess. Hopefully the compassion of Rep. Bachus will prevail over the fear of Rep. King in the House of Representatives.
Ivone Guillen is Immigration Campaign Associate for Sojourners.