The faith community has much to contribute to the discussion on immigration reform. Immigration is not only an economic and national security issue, but also a moral issue.
While immigration is predominately a federal issue, states and localities play an integral role in assisting the federal government’s mission to protect the nation’s laws and sovereignty and to promote an orderly immigration process. Chief among these is cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs and policies.
Family values do not end at our shores. Nor do they stop at the banks of the Rio Grande. Immigration policy should therefore strengthen the family. Today’s immigrants come to America for the same reasons our ancestors did – to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Consequently, priority in the issuance of green cards should be given to spouses and children of legal residents who have obeyed the law and played by the rules.
There are currently an estimated one million spouses and children of legal residents of the United States awaiting green cards. Under current law, it may take 3 to 10 years before these spouses and children can join their loved ones. We believe a newly arrived American who is joined by their husband or wife and children will make a better employee, employer, member of the community, and future citizen.
Respect for the rule of law is important.
The first act one commits on the path to becoming an American should not be to violate our nation’s laws. There are currently 38 million people in the United States who are foreign-born. Over two-thirds of them entered the country legally and played by the rules.
We must reform the visa system to meet the needs of the U.S. economy. Recruiting foreign workers to meet national needs is as old as human civilization itself.
Solomon built the temple in ancient Jerusalem by recruiting workers from Lebanon and elsewhere to perform most of the work. Completing the temple would have been impossible without the highly-skilled artisans and stonemasons from other countries. (1 Kings 5:6).
The same is true in the U.S. today, especially regarding the scientists, engineers, and software designers needed by our technology sector. Too many U.S. companies must locate facilities in China or India because of a shortage of Americans with undergraduate or advanced degrees in these fields. The current immigration system is based on country quotas rather than one’s skill or education. Only 6.5% of current legal immigration is skill-based.
This model, enacted under Lyndon Johnson nearly a half-century ago, is antiquated and inadequate to meet the demands of today’s economy. We call for the expansion of H-1B visas so foreign-born engineers can assist our technology and manufacturing sectors.
We also need guest workers for agricultural and other sectors. We should staple a green card to every college or graduate-school diploma so we can keep the best and the brightest as we compete with the rest of the world in an increasingly global economy.
We must create a visa program for those immigrants who have started a business and are employing others. One of these immigrants might well be starting the next Facebook or Google in their garage. In addition, the visa system must be modernized to allow for the tracking of entrance and exit of all visa holders to and from the U.S. Compliance with an e-verify system that allows employers to conduct immigration status and criminal background checks on prospective employees will promote enforcement of our immigration laws. There must also be reasonable fines and penalties for those who employ illegal immigrants.
Finally, it is imperative that we simultaneously secure the border and enforce existing law. U.S. border security has improved in recent years, with border apprehensions falling by roughly 50% to just over 300,000. The number of border guards has more than doubled since 2004 to 22,000 agents.