WASHINGTON (RNS) — This week saw another attempt by the White House and some in Congress to hurt our country’s most vulnerable people.
The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act — or the RAISE Act — introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., seeks to separate families and commodify the worth of individuals by moving the U.S. to a so-called “merit-based” immigration system.
This is completely contrary to my values as a Christian and an American who fully believes we must welcome — not turn away — our neighbors, and we must prioritize the unity of each family.
Undoubtedly, we need to reform and modernize our immigration system, which keeps families separated for far too long. But this proposal takes us in the opposite direction, exacerbating the harm inflicted on families and members of our communities by our current immigration system.
We saw the consequences of these policies play out last week, when 39 of our brothers and sisters in San Antonio were trapped inside a sweltering semitrailer. Banging against the trailer walls and taking turns gasping for air, these men, women and children begged for their lives, praying for a miracle.
Ten of these souls died brutal, inhumane deaths.
My faith teaches me that their lives were no less dignified nor cherished than my life or the lives of my fellow Americans. More than two dozen other individuals suffered serious injuries, stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder in that truck among the dying.
These mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and adult sons and daughters, risked everything in hopes of a better life here in America. All were victims of a broken immigration system — and all were ill-served by government officials who seek to score cheap political points by slamming the door on people seeking a better life.
This administration and some members of Congress have touted what can only be described as hateful rhetoric regarding immigrants and refugees, intentionally stoking fears to appeal to our basest instincts rather than our best values.
For Christians, our faith tradition decisively calls us not into fear, but into love. Matthew 22:39 calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Romans 12:13 tells us in no uncertain terms to extend hospitality to strangers.
We need government officials at all levels to be honest about the real cause of these tragedies — including an inaccessible legal immigration system so strict that it denies individuals the God-given desire to be with their family members. A system that only allows in people who have certain education levels, work history, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, or past achievements is not a humane or lasting solution.
For decades, our government has increased fencing, walls, deportation forces, detention centers, and enforcement strategies, but our lawmakers have refused to modernize our visa system or address the status of our undocumented community members who have no line to stand in. We have made legal immigration nearly impossible, we have criminalized undocumented immigration, and we have turned a blind eye to the deadly consequences. And now Senators Cotton and Purdue want to take us even further down this immoral path.
Many divisions are being inflamed by President Trump’s proposed border wall and Congress’ complicity in providing him the funding to make it a reality.
Increases in the deportation force, detention regime, and border militarization will never serve to fix our immigration system. Neither will making legal immigration nearly impossible for people to access in a timely way. These policies have failed for decades, serving only to cause our immigrant neighbors to live in constant fear.
Congress should reject the RAISE Act, cut funding for deportation, detention, and border militarization, and invest in addressing the root causes of migration: making our legal system more accessible, including for families seeking to be reunited, and helping people be able to sustainably and safely live in their home countries.
For our nation and our world, we pray that Congress will demonstrate moral courage and reject the RAISE Act, instead enacting immigration reform that recognizes the dignity of each person and family, creates a way for immigrants to pursue legal status and citizenship, and addresses the root causes of migration.
It is high time for our nation’s immigration policies to reflect the welcoming virtues of love and hospitality.
(The Rev. John L. McCullough is president and CEO of global humanitarian agency, Church World Service. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service)