Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Who Are Christian Congressmen Listening To?

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Last Friday at 8:37 pm, 223 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expedite the deportation process for unaccompanied Central American children by revising the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, even though doing so would deport and endanger children, many of whom would otherwise be eligible for asylum. Shortly thereafter, at 9:55 pm, 216 House members voted to end President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and deport more than 700,000 current beneficiaries, known as DREAMers.[1]

This ended—for the time being, at least—the saga that had been brewing for weeks over how Congress would address the surge of unaccompanied minors to the border, and the larger immigration reform debate that has been stalled since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring last year’s bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor for a vote.

Now the House has left for summer recess, having passed legislation that the Senate would never approve, and President Obama is left to deal with the mess through executive action.The Congressional Research Service has reported that between 87 and 89.8 percent members of U.S. Congress self-identify as Christian.[2] The House members who voted for Friday’s immigration bills run the gamut of American Christian affiliations. There were members of mainline protestant groups like Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Lutherans; more conservative Christians like Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God and Church of God members, and non-denominational Christians; many Catholics, some Eastern Orthodox members, and even a few Mormons and Christian Scientists.

It’s ironic—to me at least, and I identify myself as a Christian—to see so many of these same members of Congress use their Christian faith to rally behind the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius ruling. Even as they spread the erroneous belief—debunked by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Physicians for Reproductive Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Nurses Association in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court—that certain types of contraception cause abortions,  they show no compassion for children who are clearly suffering today.

For example, the number of girls caught fleeing Honduras more than doubled this year, and many girls reported their fear of rape or sexual assault from gang members as a reason for emigrating to the U.S. There has also been a 117 percent increase in children 12 and younger trying to cross the border without an adult. These are kids that should be learning to read, write their names and practice their multiplication tables—not fleeing their countries and running the very real risk of falling prey to human trafficking rings and other threats.

Shouldn’t our representatives, at the very least, pay lip service to their Christian duty to love thy neighbor when they discuss the fate of these children? The fact that many of them can’t bring themselves to even refer to the children as refugees, or accept that violence, sky-high murder rates, and social exclusion—not DACA—are the primary drivers of the surge, speaks volumes.

The Bible says not to mistreat or withhold justice from a foreigner six times in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Zechariah.[3] The Bible even goes so far as to say that the foreigner should be considered native-born,[4] and that anyone who deprives or withholds justice from the foreigner will be swiftly judged and cursed.[5] And just in case the Old Testament isn’t really your thing, both Matthew and Hebrews mention inviting in and showing hospitality to the stranger.[6] Feeling especially protective of your citizenship? Philippians 3:20 tells Christians that their citizenship is in Heaven—no mention of the U.S. there.

But don’t just take my word for it. Christian umbrella organizations made up of members from various denominations—such as Church World Service, Bread for the World and Esperanza USA—as well as individual denominations widely represented in Congress—such as the Catholic Church (through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church—have been calling for a humanitarian approach to comprehensive immigration reform for years. Even traditionally conservative denominations have been pushing for reform through coalitions such as the Evangelical Immigration Table, Bible, Badges and Business, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and even the Southern Baptist Convention—organizing prayer events, press releases and lobbying members of Congress.

American faith leaders of all stripes feel so strongly about deportations and immigration reform that 112 were arrested for civil disobedience when they protested in front of the White House on July 31.

While the overwhelming majority of members of Congress who voted for the restrictive bills last Friday may think they have nothing to lose in this midterm election, they should at least consider the long-term consequences of alienating Latino and Asian voters when determining their political platform.

And even if a long-term outreach strategy doesn’t factor into their political calculus, their actions beg the question: if the members of Congress who pride themselves on being Christians are not listening to the American people (including their constituents, such as the 59 percent of Tea Party Republicans who favor a path to citizenship), their faith leaders, or even their own holy book, who exactly are they listening to?

[1] Find out how your representative voted on H.R. 5230 and H.R. 5272.

[2] To find your representative’s religious affiliation, click here or here.

[3] Exodus 22:21, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:19, Jeremiah 7:5-7, and Zechariah 7:9-10.

[4] Ezekiel 47:22

[5] Deuteronomy 27:19 and Malachi 3:5

[6] Matthew 25:35 and Hebrews 13:2


Leani García is social media and production editor of Americas Quarterly and policy manager for Americas Society/Council of the Americas. Follow her on Twitter @LeaniGarcia.

Tags: Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Religion, unaccompanied minors, United States
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