One of the least helpful ways to discuss social policy is to presume that one particular social policy is self-evidently more compassionate than another. Suppose I wanted to open a soup kitchen to feed the homeless, but the food I was going to serve was incredibly unhealthy. While I could easily insist my efforts were “compassionate,” others could oppose me not out of a desire to see the homeless starve, but out of even greater concern for their health. In the same way, it is possible to oppose, or to be very concerned about these proposed changes to our immigration law out of concern for the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, as well for as the immigrants themselves.
Our immigration policy has become so dysfunctional that we cannot even reliably deport violent criminals, and the proposed changes would do little or nothing to fix this. Just to cite a few examples, in Los Angeles, high school football star Jamiel Shaw was gunned down in cold blood by Pedro Espinoza, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Espinoza had only recently been released from jail before the killing. In Fairfax County, Virginia, 19 year old Vanessa Pham was stabbed to death by Julio Miguel Blanco-Garcia, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. Blanco-Garcia had been arrested several times before Pham’s murder for crimes ranging from larceny to public intoxication. Elsewhere in Texas, Juan Lozano Ortega and Edgar Derardo Guzman Perez, illegal immigrants from Mexico, were arrested for gang-raping a 13 year old girl. And perhaps most famously, Tamerlan Tsarnaev should have been deported in 2009 after being convicted of assault. Instead he remained in the country and was able to murder innocent people at the Boston Marathon.
These rapes and murders do not generally occur in upscale neighborhoods or high priced country clubs. It is very easy for some well-meaning activists to advocate “compassionate” immigration policy when neither they nor their loved ones have suffered at the hands of a violent criminal whom our government failed to deport. Is it “compassionate” to leave violent criminals on the street to prey on the most vulnerable among us?
According to a Homeland Security audit, as of a year ago an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants had been ordered to leave the country but had simply ignored that order. You and I both know what happens if you ignore your income tax notification or your credit card bill. Before we race to naturalize 11 million people, we need to make sure we are enforcing the most basic measures of the laws we already have.
I am very pro-immigration. I think our country is better and stronger for the amazing people we attract from all over the world. My own church is full of wonderful families from almost every continent. But we need a real commitment to border enforcement and deporting violent criminals before we can enact any accelerated path to citizenship. We can love our neighbors without leaving our doors unlocked.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.