Evangelicals address migrant crisis
By Seung Min Kim on July 22, 2014
They also called on Congress to provide additional funding for immigration court judges. | Getty Images
A band of influential religious leaders is urging lawmakers not to make any changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law that was originally meant to protect migrant children but has now become a flashpoint in the crisis of unaccompanied minors at the border.
The Evangelical Immigration Table, the umbrella coalition of the evangelical groups, plans to send a letter to Congress later Tuesday that stresses opposition to revisions to the 2008 law, which gives more legal protections to children from other countries than ones from Mexico or Canada, and, in practice, makes it more difficult to deport them.
Signers of the letter include leaders from groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, Bread for the World, Christian Community Development Association, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, World Vision U.S. and Sojourners.
“The [anti-trafficking law] is working according to its design,” the religious leaders said in the letter, obtained by POLITICO in advance of its release Tuesday. “It should not be changed to address the current temporary situation.”
Though tweaks to the 2008 trafficking law were initially dangled in public by the White House, opposition among congressional Democrats, immigrant-rights groups and other influential advocates have mounted in recent days against changes to the statute.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Senate Democratic leaders, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are all opposed to significant revisions to the law, and Senate Democrats in particular believe that Obama can act without the blessing of Congress, due to the “exceptional circumstances” provisions written into the 2008 law.
That stance is reflected by the Evangelical Immigration Table in its letter Tuesday.
But that position sets them on a collision course with congressional Republicans. The GOP-led House is poised to recommend revising the 2008 law as a condition of any additional funding for the Obama administration to respond to the influx of unaccompanied minors at the Southwestern border.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied children — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have been apprehended since October, according to administration officials, although the number of children caught per day by border patrol agents has been waning, the White House said Monday.
The religious leaders also called on Congress to provide additional funding for immigration court judges and the Office of Refugee Resettlement — the agency within Health and Human Services charged with taking care of unaccompanied migrant children — as well as sufficient legal counsel for the children.
“More robust investment in effectively addressing root causes of migration in Central America and Mexico is also imperative,” they wrote to lawmakers. “As we pray for these children and also our nation, we are reminded of Matthew 19:13-14 in which Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.’”
Stephan Bauman, the president and CEO of the nonprofit aid group World Relief, said in a statement that “political expediency should not trump good policy.”
“Many evangelicals worked hard to support the [2008 law] in 2008 and in 2012,” he said. “So to hear about potential rollbacks in protections for unaccompanied children is troubling. Urgent resources are needed to provide care for unaccompanied children, and Congress should support such funding needs without resorting to unnecessary changes in law that will weaken protections for children and be difficult to gain back if passed.”
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