In a roll call Thursday (June 27), the Senate voted 68-32 to reform an immigration system universally recognized as badly broken. The lack of enforcement of the current system has resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States illegally.
Fourteen Republicans joined with the Senate's Democratic majority to support the proposal. All the "nay" votes came from GOP members.
Immigration reform's future remained in doubt, however, as attention moved to the House of Representatives. On the same day senators approved a bill, Speaker of the House John Boehner reiterated representatives would not vote on the Senate measure but produce legislation that "reflects the will" of the Republican majority in that chamber.
Evangelical advocates for immigration reform applauded the progress reflected in the Senate vote.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore commended the Senate for "accomplishing something we don't often see: bipartisan cooperation across the ideological spectrum for the common good."
"Most of us can agree that our current immigration system is broken and is neither just nor fair. While this legislation isn't perfect, it's clear that our leaders are working toward 'both/and' solutions, solutions that both secure our borders and demonstrate compassion for hard-working immigrant families," said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "As Christians, we are called to affirm the rule of law and compassion for the vulnerable. Let's pray for just such a solution to our immigration crisis."
The ERLC has not endorsed the Senate-approved bill. Moore has said the entity will support principles but not specific legislation.
Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said the Senate vote was a sign Americans "can provide real solutions to our greatest challenges" when they work together.
"While there is still much work to do, we pray that the House will work in the same spirit of bipartisanship to finally bring a resolution in line with the highest of our values," Salguero said in a written statement. "We stand at a defining moment where we must choose between inaction or courageous leadership."
President Obama applauded Senate passage and said the bill, while a compromise, is "consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I -- and many others -- have repeatedly laid out."
The last time Congress seriously attempted immigration reform, the effort died for lack of agreement between the two houses. The Senate and House both passed bills in the 2005-06 session, but the differences between the two never were reconciled.
Distinctions this time between the Senate-passed bill and what the House might approve may again make agreement difficult.
The Senate version -- the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744 -- includes a universal employment verification system, as well as border security and fence plans. When the border security plans are in place, undocumented immigrants can seek temporary status. To achieve such provisional status under the bill, each immigrant must meet several requirements.
A House-approved version likely would be tougher on border and legal status issues.
Foes of the Senate bill criticized the border security provision, among others, in spite of late passage of an amendment designed to strengthen that aspect of the legislation.
After the vote, Sen. Jeff Session, R.-Ala., charged there will be "no border fence, no border surge, nothing but the same tired illusory promises of future enforcement that will never occur."
The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), a coalition of Christian leaders that includes Moore and Salguero, said the Senate bill marked a solid, though imperfect, start upon its mid-April introduction but did not endorse it. EIT has called for immigration reform that:
-- "Respects the God-given dignity of every person;
-- "Protects the unity of the immediate family;
-- "Respects the rule of law,
-- "Guarantees secure national borders,
-- "Ensures fairness to taxpayers;
-- "Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents."
Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in support of immigration reform with specific guidelines.
That resolution from the SBC meeting in Phoenix called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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