Immigration Policies and Politics. Part 10 of the Welcoming the Stranger Series

Wall of Crosses in Nogales. Photo by Jonathan Mcintosh. White crosses with the names of those who have died crossing the US border adorn the Mexican side of the wall in Heroica Nogales, Mexico.

Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America. Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other’s positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost. — Soerens and Yang (2018) quoting the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform in, “Immigration Policies and Politics,” Chapter 8 in Welcoming the Stranger, p. 150.

Chapter 8 Summary

Chapter 8 is a thoroughly revised documentation of current immigration political debates and policy proposals. It is one of the longest and most complex chapters in the book, and is impossible to do a complete, reasonable summary here on the blog. As with many of the other chapters I’ve already described on the blog, including especially Chapters 4 and 6, much of what is here is very technical and also subject to contentious controversy. So, I’ll provide a brief description of what’s here, and provide a list of some of the immigration policy solutions that could be helpful in addressing our immigration problem. Hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to read their words straight from the source.

The chapter starts with a description of the role of immigration in the 2016 elections. If you are reading this blog, you are well aware of the profound impact immigration discourse had on the election. Immediately after the election, the Trump Administration directed Congress to move towards a solution to replacing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while also stringently reducing refugee resettlement. Most Americans, though, are probably most familiar with the Trump Administration’s travel restrictions on seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya) and the confusion that ensued after that executive order was signed and enforced. And what prompted me to start this entire series was the change to immigration enforcement priorities that led to sharp increases in forced family separations.

There’s a lot here to digest. But as a Christian interested in immigration policies and politics, I’d like to point out that Soerens and Yang do describe some of the roles of evangelicals in these events. For example, when Trump introduced his proposal to terminate DACA, evangelical leaders publicly urged the president against doing so. Soerens and Yang write that, “…most evangelical voters shared [the perspective that Congress should act to resolve the situation], with two-thirds supporting legislation to allow Dreamers to become permanent residents or citizens.” (p. 161) Also, while the politics around immigration suggest that more generous immigration policies and politics would be an advantage to the Democrats, Soerens and Yang point out that “a substantial number of Latinos are conservative and will consistently vote for the Republican Party.” (p.153)

The United States is in dire need of comprehensive immigration reform: “The United States spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on all other federal criminal law-enforcement agencies combined. The budget for immigration enforcement in fiscal year 2012 was 24 percent higher than the combined spending on the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, US Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.” (p. 167) During the Obama and Trump Administrations, the number of people deported has been many times higher than the historic norm.

As Soerens and Yang write:

the premise of comprehensive immigration reform is that to truly solve the issues around immigration, legislation could not focus on just [border security or legalization of the undocumented] but had to be comprehensive, addressing each element of the immigration issues simultaneously or in coordination. (p. 171)

Comprehensive immigration reform would make three fundamental changes to our existing immigration laws:

  • Improved enforcement policies consistent with humanitarian values. It is currently much easier to immigrate illegally than legally, for a number of reasons. Illegal immigration needs to be dis-incentivized by creating functional, enforceable systems to ensure the legal flow of goods, services, and people continues at the same time as systems for verification of work-authorization status are improved. In addition, we must evaluate existing border security measures for effectiveness without overly penalizing immigrants or providing us a false sense of security.
  • Reforms to our visa systems. As described in Chapter 4, it is virtually impossible for most people to immigrate legally to the United States. Visa systems need to be adjusted so that the supply of visas roughly matches the demand for labor and family reunification.
  • Earned legalization of undocumented immigrants. As Soerens and Yang write: “Immigration reform must include an opportunity for immigrants who are already contributing to this country to get right with the law by regularizing their status after satisfying reasonable criteria, and over time to pursue an option to become Lawful Permanent Residents and eventually US citizens. A path to legal status would provide undocumented immigrants with a chance to admit their infraction against the law, pay an appropriate fine as a consequence, and proceed to become fully restored, integrated members of our society if they wish to stay here.” (pp. 172-173)

While some might be tempted to label these policies as amnesty, neither the comprehensive immigration reform bills brought to the floor in Congress nor the three pillars proposed above constitute amnesty because undocumented immigrants would be required to admit their infraction and earn their status. Both the bills brought to the floor and the three pillars proposed above require considerable work and bipartisan compromise to be successful. They also must be solved in the context of other challenging economic and social needs we have as a nation, including entitlements reform, employment and underemployment, poverty reduction, perceived trade imbalances, etc. We face a great and urgent challenge, but hopefully after you will have read Soerens and Yang, you will be prepared to engage the comprehensive immigration debate from whatever perspective your conscience demands.

Key Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think the issue of immigration has been used for political gain by members of Congress and those running for president?
  2. Do you think that a path to earned legalization with appropriate penalties is a fair consequence for the legal infraction of unlawful presence in the United States?
  3. What factors have made immigration a hot topic in political circles?


This week, I actually wrote the reflection before I wrote the summary. It’s been well over 10 weeks since I decided to write this blog series, after finally reading my copy of the original edition of Welcoming the Stranger before the Fourth of July holiday, and then learning about—and reading—the new edition. When this series was conceived, immigration was on every major news channel around the clock, with the cries of children my own children’s ages after having been recently separated from their parents, or video of various Republican politicians quoting from Romans 13 in order to justify the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

Then, it was hot outside, and public attention and polarization on this issue was hot. Now, cool winds of early fall mornings make training enjoyable, while public attention has greatly cooled on immigration and has moved on to how #MeToo will influence the Supreme Court nominee’s hearings. While I’m editing this post in the train station before my commute, the TV screens’ tickers are attuned to how the statute of limitations might impact any criminal investigation of the allegations against Kavanaugh, and photos of an Indonesian earthquake/tsunami that has affected nearly 2 million people. It seems like immigration “was so long ago…”

I guess that’s how it’s been since I’ve been able to vote, though. Just enough concern whipped up to attract votes—say, scaring the public that immigration will change our country or that everyone here illegally will be deported—but not enough that anyone might actually pass some laws. All of this to say that political expediency may obstruct political solutions to this issue from flowing through the House and the Senate. And while that’s the way it’s been for a long time in the United States—saving immigration for when it is politically convenient to “whip up the base” whether liberal or conservative—I am reminded by Soerens and Yang that our failure to address this crisis politically leaves real lives hanging in the balance. It keeps real people, who hold real jobs that perform needed work, in the shadows unable to challenge unfair work practices or demand justice. It keeps real people, many of whose only transgression was obeying their parents, from pursuing education, serving in their churches, or being employed to the maximum of their capability. It keeps real children wondering whether or not their fathers or mothers will be reunited with them, or whether they will not be kissed and sent to school by their parents again. I have long thought that the only reason this issue is not more forcefully addressed is because immigration affects “those people,” and that the politicians families and friends are not affected.

I know saying that may not be completely fair to the politicians, and that there are many issues where politicians’ interests are divided or conflicted. But when we look at immigration policies and politics since the late 1990’s, one cannot help but come to this conclusion. As Soerens and Yang in this edition and the previous one, and other authors, point out, there have been several times when bipartisan solutions have been proposed that would pass the Senate, but not the House, and vice versa. For me, the fact that comprehensive immigration solutions have been proposed that are acceptable to both sides, but will not be passed only for craven political reasons — this fact is the most frustrating thing about our current immigration system. I am also aware that this is one symptom of a broader problem in our politics where short-term political interest may make it much more difficult to pursue compromises in this environment. Let us pray that no matter the politics on this and other issues, God’s wisdom might prevail.

Peace and Blessings,


PS—Training Updates. Last week, I was talking about how much the feeling of dread now comes over me when I have a scheduled run workout. This past week, though, I’ve been reflecting on quotes and thoughts attributed to Eliud Kipchoge, now the official world record holder in the marathon. Although he had broken the world record during the Nike Breaking2 event, that event was a non-sanctioned road race engineered in every way to see if the 2 hour barrier in the marathon could be broken under ideal conditions. In that race, he ran an absolutely breathtaking 2:00:25, only missing the 2-hour barrier by 25 seconds! Imagine running so fast for so long only to miss your goal by 25 seconds! Well, a couple weeks ago at the Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge officially broke the world record running an astonishing 2:01:39. Although this may seem like a major letdown, there are many differences between sanctioned races and engineered events. The most important difference here is that while in the Breaking2 event Kipchoge had the benefit of freshly substituted pacers for the entire event, in the Berlin Marathon he ran the final 10+ miles of the race alone! Running 10 miles at that pace, under such pressure is truly a mental accomplishment.

Thus, I felt I should learn from him about how he approaches life and mental fitness. My own experiences have taught me how important the mind is in distance running. I originally started distance running, 3-5 miles at a time, to supplement my training as a soccer player. When I became an assistant professor, though, I was no longer able to play sports like basketball and soccer due to time commitments, and I believe the stress caused me to suffer cluster headaches. During those first episodes, I could not even sleep laying down in my bed! I decided to try running road races to counter the stress. I had never run farther than 5 miles, intentionally, but I signed up for the Baltimore 10-miler. I don’t even remember how I learned about this race. When I was preparing, almost every week after the first couple involved me thinking about how I’d never run that far before, and how hard that is going to be. The mental battle at that time was just to go beyond my limits. Well now, 7 years later, I have run several 10 milers, 2 marathons, and other race distances, and am currently training for this half marathon. Now, the battle is not “can I run this route?” but “can I commit to being prepared?”.’

This is the wisdom of Kipchoge. When he speaks (or posts on Instagram) he reminds us that the mind is not so much important for the race, but it is crucial for preparations. Kipchoge says:

I believe in a philosophy that says to win is actually not important. To be successful is not even important. How to plan and prepare is critical and crucial. When you plan very well, then success can come on your way. Then winning can come on your way.

Nothing is closer to the truth than this. Elsewhere he talks about how “Only the disciplined in life are truly free.” This is also so true. Something similar is also reflected throughout Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. That is the battle I’ve been fighting throughout this training cycle. Staying disciplined, and staying focused on the journey of preparation. Sure, I’ve had to adjust my plans, listen to my body, and erase some of the workouts I’d written in my training log to make way for others. But this time through — even if I run a bit slower than I have in the past — I’ve not skipped workouts, I’ve not given myself excuses not to do things I said I needed to do, and I’ve not given up at the first sign of physical difficulty. This past week was the longest run of the training cycle, and as we wind down with Welcoming the Stranger, we’re also winding down my training cycle in preparation for the race. The small victories throughout — the time I thought I couldn’t finish that tempo run but did, the time I thought I didn’t have 5×1000 in my legs but did, the time I was prepared to stop at 75 minutes but made it through 90, and certainly the time I had to attempt the 2 hour run in two consecutive training sessions (I train running with minimum one day in between) — have made my mind stronger and I’m encouraged as we look forward to race day in just about 3 weeks! I have been winning on the way…

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Royce Francis

Royce is an associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering at the George Washington University. He conducts and teaches under the broad theme “SEED”: Strategic [urban] Ecologies, Engineering, and Decision making. His research and teaching interests include infrastructure sustainability and resilience measurement, risk analysis, and drinking water systems analysis. Royce is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA).

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  • Gerry Rau commented on October 2, 2018 Reply

    I think this is the heart of the problem. Once any issue is no longer news, we move on – but those whose lives are personally affected by the issue, whether immigration or an earthquake/tsunami, cannot. They continue to deal with if for years. If we as a church are to make any real difference, we need to get out of news mode and get involved in lives. No one person will be able to help in every situation or issue, but if we encourage EVERY believer to pursue whatever God lays on their heart, for the full marathon, we as a body could make a major difference.

    • Royce commented on October 4, 2018 Reply

      Absolutely, Gerry. I can’t imagine what this is like for those whose families are more affected than mine. I hope that Congress and those in our nation can find a way to cross partisan lines. Thank you for your comments and support!

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