As I’ve noted before, the notion that Republicans have the luxury of waiting on immigration reform is a fantasy. It will only get harder to embrace reform later.
But beyond the politics, there’s a substantive problem with Republicans deferring action: Specifically, doing nothing now is tantamount to supporting a status quo that even Republicans acknowledge is untenable.
The moral case for reform as an alternative to an unacceptable status quo — a humanitarian crisis that is hurting untold numbers of people — has motivated many evangelicals to get involved in the push to fix the immigration system. And today, evangelical writer Jim Wallis makes that moral case by painting a vivid picture of the dilemma the country currently faces:
What hasn’t changed is the moral crisis created by the failures of the status quo. Every day millions of families live in fear of their lives being irreparably disrupted or dislocated because of one member’s immigration status. Human beings searching for economic opportunity, but frustrated by a complicated and unresponsive visa or legal guest worker system, die as they venture across vast desert expanses, making a desperate attempt to find a better life. Undocumented workers, many of whom are women, have their rights and dignity violated on a daily basis because they have little recourse against their employers. Young people, who came here as children, live as “illegals” in the only country they have ever known as home.
It has become abundantly clear that immigration reform is the moral test of our politics. Evangelicals have been at the forefront of the push to fix our broken immigration system. Long considered an important political constituency, our engagement has drawn significant attention for its breadth and depth. We aren’t motivated by political calculations or economic self-interest, but by the call of Jesus who audaciously proclaims that the way we treat the most vulnerable members of our society, including immigrants, the biblical “stranger,” reflects how we treat Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46). We stand outside of a broken political system, urging our leaders to prioritize the common good. We believe that what is morally right should never be nakedly sacrificed for political gain. [...]
We have arrived at a critical moment of significant moral importance. As I often remind legislators and pastors alike, the policy debate is over. It is just a matter of time before immigration reform is enacted. The only questions left to decide are how much more suffering we will tolerate as a country and how many more families we will tear apart because our leaders refuse to put people before politics.
Dismiss Wallis as a lefty if you will, but this sounds similar to the conservative Christian case for reform made by GOP Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama. And Republican leaders themselves have admitted the problem must be solved. Last summer, back when reform looked plausible, John Boehner said a “vast majority” of House Republicans “do believe that we have to wrestle” with the problem of the 11 million. There’s no longer any debate from top Republicans: the status quo is unacceptable, including when it comes to the status of the undocumented.
There is evidence that even Republican base voters respond to the argument that the current situation is unacceptable. GOP pollster Whit Ayres explains that his polling and focus grouping shows that Republicans are hostile up front to reform, but once they are told the consequences of inaction are to maintain the broken status quo, they change their minds and support legalization under certain conditions.
Two polls this week found that more Americans say doing something about the 11 million is as important or more so than securing the border. Indeed, as Francis Wilkinson has put it, not only is the policy debate over the need to deal with the 11 million mostly over; the cultural debate underlying it is over, too:
As with gay rights, Washington is trailing the American public’s open-hearted attitude — as well as its pragmatic impulse to solve a problem. Sooner, rather than later, Washington will come around.
Reform will happen. Republicans can continue deferring action, forever hoping that the next cycle will make embracing reform easier for them politically, or give them more leverage over what reform ends up looking like. Maybe that gamble will pay off. Or maybe it won’t, in which case reform will have to wait until Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress, and do it themselves.