By Josh Chomet, a summer intern
At a time when several southern states are joining Arizona in passing draconian and constitutionally questionable anti-immigration laws, the conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is moving in the other direction. According to Politico:
The nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist ConvThe Native American Rights Fund ention approved a resolution backing a path to legal status for illegal immigrants at its annual meeting in Phoenix.
The SBC’s 16 million members are heavily concentrated in the South, including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, three states that have followed Arizona in passing harsh anti-immigration laws that require the use of racial profiling to indentify immigrants who may be undocumented.
As in Arizona, where a federal judge blocked key parts of S.B. 1070 from taking effect, the copycat laws have attracted expensive legal battles that are not going all that well for the states. Earlier today, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking part of Georgia’s law. And the ACLU has announced plans to challenge South Carolina’s S.B 20, which Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law this afternoon.
The SBC resolution, “On Immigration and the Gospel,” calls on “governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in the country.” It also takes a strong stand against “any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation” as well as “bigotry or harassment against any persons, regardless of their country of origin or legal status.”
As Rev. Paul Jimenez, a South Carolina pastor, told the Greenville News, “It’s just not a viable option for the government to round up and send back to their countries 12 to 15 million people. Nor is it humane.”
Although the resolution states that undocumented immigrants are in violation of federal law, the content and tone is a far cry from the SBC’s 2006 resolution “On the Crisis of Illegal Immigration,” which was heavily weighted in favor of enforcement and made no mention of a pathway to legal status.
While many religious groups are supporting comprehensive immigration reform, this shift in tone and perspective on immigration by the conservative SBC could be a notable stepping stone toward a more enlightened immigration policy in the future.
Or as the Charlotte Observer puts it:
“Here’s the problem confronting Americans, including our politicians: Plenty of voters don’t like the idea of just giving a pass to people who chose to break the law to get here. Yet the inescapable reality is that millions of illegal immigrants are already here, part of our society and economy and having children who, if born here, are legal citizens. Shunning those immigrants, by refusing them, for example, a chance at higher education – as a new Alabama law seems to do – is patently wrong, not to mention unwise. But can you devise a path to legality that doesn’t seem to reward law-breakers?
“We think you can. And if a group as conservative as the Southern Baptists is willing to entertain the idea, so should politicians from across the spectrum.”