This week the Department of Homeland Security released fact sheets, Q&A’s, and implementation memorandum for the President’s Executive Order issued January 25 entitled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”   Let’s examine what all these documents say, the possible impact, and how people of faith can respond.

What the President’s immigration orders say.

The Department of Homeland Security released several guidance documents this week relating to both the President’s Executive Order on border security as well as on immigration enforcement.  Here I examine the immigration enforcement orders.

The title of the Executive Order conveys well the overarching message: “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”  With a tip of his ‘Make America Great Again’ CAP, the President gives VOICE to fear.  CAP is the greatly expanded “Criminal Alien Program” and VOICE is the “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement” office.  The implementing memorandum released this week make clear the theme that “criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents.”  This is empirically not true as immigrants have a much lower crime rate than other Americans.  In fact non-citizens are more likely to be victims than to perpetrate crimes.

With the belief in a large criminal immigrant population comes the necessity for a vastly expanded deportation force – an additional 10,000 ICE officers and agents nearly doubling the number of agents.  But the criminal force is so great more agents are needed and so the memos call for expansion of the Sec. 287(g) program as a “highly successful force multiplier”.  That program designates local law enforcement officials as ‘immigration officers’.

The President’s immigration orders expedite removal

The implementation memorandum remove the privacy rights of unlawful immigrants.  The guidance provides unfettered prosecutorial discretion.  “Department personnel have full authority to arrest or apprehend an alien whom an immigration officer has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws.”  And the Department immediately terminated all resources providing outreach or advocacy services to illegal aliens.  Rather all such resources are to be spent on VOICE.

The Executive Order gives broad latitude in defining and punishing sanctuary jurisdictions which are deemed to be causing “immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”

The Executive Order provides seven categories for priority removal which were affirmed in the implementing memorandum released this week.  Basically everyone is included.  As the orders stated, “We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”  And those removable include anyone who “in the judgment of an immigration officer…pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

Finally, the orders create civil fines against aliens unlawfully present AND “from those who facilitate their presence in the United States.”

The war on immigrants

As President Reagan waged a war on drugs that destroyed black neighborhoods, President Trump has announced a war on immigrants that threatens to destroy Hispanic neighborhoods.  Already there are stories of hundreds of immigrants being rounded up in sweeps.  At the same time many local law enforcement agencies are refusing to take part in the deportation policy.  They are afraid of the chilling effect this has on immigrants reporting crimes.  The result is uncertainty and growing fear in immigrant communities.

This week I spoke with a Hispanic pastor who is desperate to learn how he can help his community.  I heard from a crying student seeking assurance she would not lose her DACA status (she is temporarily safe).  But she is terrified her mom will get pulled over and departed.  One speeding ticket, rolling stop sign, or other offense could disrupt their lives.  One dad asked me who would provide for his citizen children if he is deported.  These are the faces of our neighbors.  They are faces filled with fear.

How people of faith can respond to the President’s immigration orders

First, can we learn from our mistakes?  Honestly many people of faith got slavery wrong.  We got civil rights wrong, too.  As a conservative evangelical, I got the war on drugs wrong.  I bought the lie we were simply being tough on crime.  I failed to see the consequences of ripping families apart.  Do I really want to make that mistake again?

Second, can we acknowledge common ground?  I am in favor of lawful immigration and enforcement of the rule of law.  We must be a nation of laws.  But we all contributed to our broken system.  Our government long ago turned a blind eye to unlawful immigration, established a process to collect tax revenue through the ITIN, and allowed the employment of undocumented workers.  We did so knowing our economy would collapse without this work force.  This was highlighted by the national closure of businesses in the protest of “a day without immigrants”.

We should do the hard work of fixing the system through comprehensive immigration reform.  Such reform would require honoring the law by making things right through the payment of fines and a well-defined process toward citizenship.   That process keeps families intact, stabilizes communities, and supports the rule of law.

Third, can we courageously follow the Bible and not politics?  I am a life-long conservative evangelical.  For me that means I follow God and His word above all else.  Not only does the Bible contain 92 clear references to how we are to treat the immigrant, but the overarching theme of scripture is one of loving God and loving neighbor.   My neighbor may be a law-breaker – but so am I.  I follow a God of grace who overlooked my unlawful status and welcomed me into His kingdom.  I did not deserve or earn that.  One day I will be fully part of that Kingdom and will spend eternity with my Hispanic and other immigrant neighbors.  How can I possibly neglect them now?

The power of love in driving out fear over the President’s immigration orders.

We should know that perfect love cast out fear.  I Jn. 4:18.  But allow me to give one example which should resonate with my conservative friends.  Norma McCorvey died this week.  She was Jane Doe in Roe vs. Wade.  Norma was a poor high school dropout who worked for an abortion clinic.  Many conservative pro-life people saw her as “the other”.    We could fill in the blank today – black, Hispanic, Muslim, poor…  Easy from a distance to throw stones.  Easy to say I’m right, you’re wrong.

But Pastor Benham refused to do that.  Staunchly pro-life he chose to enter into Norma’s world.  As a result Norma came to faith in Christ, was baptized, and spent her life advocating for life.  Christ followers must put people ahead of politics.  Loving our neighbor is not only our call – it is a blessing.

Practical responses to the President’s immigration orders

So here are some practical considerations for God’s people in responding to the President’s immigration orders.

  • There are good messages available prepared by the Immigration Table.
  • Pray against the fear gripping our neighbors.  Pray for opportunity to meet and serve your immigrant neighbors.
  • If you know an immigrant family they should prepare a family plan in the event someone is picked up.  This involves legal preparedness.
  • Consider holding informational meetings to let immigrants know their rights – don’t open a door unless ICE has a warrant, don’t say anything, don’t sign anything, call an attorney or national hotline (1-844-363-1423), record any raids.
  • Advocate for reform with Congressional leaders.
  • Join the Matthew 25 movement – sign a simple pledge, download their helpful toolkit.
  • Attend our conference in Elgin, IL on Thursday, June 8 as we explore numerous ways to be involved in meeting the legal and spiritual needs of immigrants and others. Matt Soerens, Noel Castellanos and I will be speaking along with several practical workshop leaders.
  • Connect with a gospel justice center, reach out to us with legal questions, or help launch a local legal ministry in your area.
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