Background and Rationale for Stand Up for Our Immigrant
Neighbors and Fund the Government Responsibly Action Alert

Contents:

Background on the Issue

CRNCA Positions and Mandates

 

Background on the Issue

What’s happening?

A tentative budget agreement has reportedly been struck in Washington, just before a deadline set by the President to move forward on border security.

After 35 days of government shut-down due to a lack of agreement over funding for a border wall, President Trump announced a re-opening of the government and set a date of February 15 as the deadline for reaching a final budget compromise. Beyond that date, the President has indicated an intention to enact a national State of Emergency, which would allow the executive branch to draw from other government departments in order to build the wall without Congress’s approval.

As negotiations continued during the shutdown, the House Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee heard the testimonies of witnesses, including Bethany Christian Services, about the practice of separating families at the border. A government report released in recent weeks stated that the Trump administration probably separated thousands more migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border than had previously been reported, and federal efforts to track those children have been so poor that the precise number of separations is unknown.

This practice of removing children from their parents to be processed by separate government agencies - thus separating even infants from the care of their parents - quietly began in late 2017. It was made public early in 2018, when the policy of “zero tolerance” was announced: the prosecution of all individuals who illegally entered the U.S., even if they had small children in tow. By June, the President responded to public outcry about the practice and its impact on the well-being of children by signing an executive order meant to end the practice of separating families, but it did so by attempting to enact a practice of detaining parents and children together for an indefinite period. This violated an existing law, which does not permit children to be detained for longer than 30 days. It has now been disclosed that the practice did not end when this executive order was signed, and instead an unknown number of children -- expert testimonies point to thousands -- are living apart from their parents.

The predominant narrative about immigrants during this time has been negative and often factually untrue. During the course of the shutdown, the surrounding debate about immigration, a nationally-televised Oval Office address, and the State of the Union, the President said or tweeted several misleading or factually inaccurate statements about immigrants -- particularly a false narrative about the dangers that immigrants bring to public safety in the U.S.

Just ahead of the Feb. 15 appropriations deadline, details have emerged of a tentative compromise in Congress. However, the President has indicated that he does not support this proposed plan.

 

The Details of the Budget Agreement

The “agreement in principle” that has been disclosed from these negotiations includes:

  • $1.375 billion for new physical barriers along the southwest border. This will not include the construction of a concrete wall, but enough funding for 55 new miles of steel slat fencing along the Rio Grande Valley. This is only 9 miles shy of the barrier length that President Trump had initially proposed, but considerably less costly than what 64 miles of concrete wall would have cost ($5.7 billion).
  • It does not include a cap on the number of individuals that ICE is permitted to detain within the borders of the U.S., though this is what Democrats had pushed for in negotiations. However, the agreement requires a 17.4% drop in the number of immigrant detainees that ICE is given the funds to incarcerate (a drop from 40,520 to 33,470 detention beds).
  • The agreement includes authority for DHS to shift up to $750 million from other government accounts, which would enable ICE to house up to 58,500 detainees if there were to be an increase in the number of immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. in the future.

While left out of the negotiations about border security, many of those who are seeking entry into the U.S. (either at ports of entry, or at locations where it is illegal to cross) are attempting to make asylum claims once they arrive. This is legal and protected by both U.S. and international law.

Many recent and significant changes have been made in the policies related to asylum-seekers, restricting access for those families and individuals to come to the U.S. and request asylum. Recent changes enacted by the Trump Administration related to asylum-seekers include:

  • Limiting the number of asylum-seekers permitted to enter the U.S. each day — a policy the Administration calls “metering.” Asylum-seekers are given a number and told to wait until their number is called, with no indication as to when or if they will be called. In Tijuana, for example, this has led to dangerously high wait times - months in many cases - stretching migrant shelters beyond their capacity to safely house families and subjecting many to unsustainably vulnerable conditions.
  • In budget negotiations during the shutdown, President Trump proposed increased funding for nearly 3,000 additional border agents and law enforcement officials, even though the overall number of apprehensions at the border has decreased significantly since 2000. Children and families have constituted an increasingly large portion of these apprehensions in recent years - a vulnerable population that needs different housing, medical, and social services than are currently utilized. Proposals to fund new protocols and resources to meet the needs of this population largely went ignored in negotiations. Two children recently died in CBP custody; CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned that CBP’s current infrastructure for migrant children and families is not sustainable.
  • An announcement of the Administration’s intent to circumvent legal protections under U.S. and international law by requiring asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico during the processing of their claims, a policy more widely known as the “remain in Mexico” policy. This is a significant change in human rights laws for those seeking asylum. Mexico has a history of human rights violations against migrants and asylum seekers. Many humanitarian organizations have opposed this policy due to the dangerous conditions that migrants would be subject to if required to wait in Mexico while pursuing asylum in the U.S.
  • Central Americans who attempt to enter the U.S. without documentation at the port of entry at San Ysidro — the border crossing with the most traffic of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. — are being turned back to Mexico while their cases are pending, which has put many asylum-seekers at further risk of harm.

The proposed budget agreement fails to address critical concerns:

  • There has been no indication that anything in the current agreement addresses the policy and practice of separation of families, or the lack of organizational investment in returning children to their parents and keeping families together.
  • There is nothing in the current agreement that addresses the need for CBP to change its policies and resources to fit the needs of the new population of migrants who are arriving at the border today, which increasingly includes families and children. Though those interacting with immigrants at the border have indicated the need for this -- more social services, more appropriate facilities for housing, etc. -- funding proposals have not addressed these needs.
  • The wait times for processing asylum applications continue to grow longer and longer. Those waiting at the border are experiencing a new practice called “metering,” where only 10-50 people are processed by asylum judges per day, leaving thousands to wait without a timeline, in increasingly dangerous conditions. Many migrants anticipate that they could be waiting months.

 

CRCNA Positions and Mandates

Why does the CRCNA care?

The synod of the CRCNA has long advocated for a fair and just immigration system that honors the inherent dignity of immigrants and refugees, and provides a humane pathway to legal status within the nation. Our government does not honor those we consider our brothers and sisters in Christ when immigrants are unjustly used in policy negotiations and painted in broad strokes as criminals seeking to do the country harm. Immigrants are made in the image of God, and we must treat and talk about them as such.

 

Scripture

Synod has affirmed that the Bible has instructed the church to engage on this issue, saying:

  • All people are created in the image of God and are to be treated as such regardless of circumstances under which the church encounters individuals or of a given person’s race, background, or legal status.

  • God’s Word consistently directs the people of God to be welcoming toward the strangers in their midst and to extend special care to those most vulnerable to social or economic conditions that threaten their ability to survive.

  • The church of Jesus Christ welcomes all who profess faith in him as their Lord and Savior and who desire to live for him. God has no favorites—true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition of membership in the church.

  • God’s Word calls upon believers to respect the governing authorities and the laws of the state. However, citizenship in the kingdom of God obligates believers to the highest law of love for God and neighbor above all, and the exercise of this love should lead believers to advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant peoples.

An extended theological and Biblical treatment, which grounds the CRCNA’s position on immigration, can be found in Study on the Migration of People report of the 2010 Synod.

The 2010 synodical report goes into detail about Scripture’s teachings regarding immigrants, refugees, and “the stranger.” Among many themes the report highlights is this: following our scriptural calling to welcome the stranger, we demonstrate Christ’s love to the marginalized, offering assistance for needy immigrants and for their children in terms of financial assistance, food, clothing, and shelter.

The Contemporary Testimony, Our World Belongs to God, says this:

53. We call on all governments to do public justice

and to protect the rights and freedoms

of individuals, groups, and institutions

so that each may do their tasks.

We urge governments and pledge ourselves

to safeguard children and the elderly

from abuse and exploitation,

to bring justice to the poor and oppressed,

and to promote the freedom

to speak, work, worship, and associate.

That governments are called to justice generally and that how a government treats the poor and the weak is a key indicator of a society’s commitment to justice is taught in all the prophets and in psalms like Psalm 72.

John Calvin taught that the government authorities had a particularly important role: to ensure that the rights of the poor are protected and maintained. “God takes a more special care of the poor than of others, since they are most exposed to injuries and violence. . . a just and well-regulated government will be distinguished for maintaining the rights of the poor and afflicted.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 72).

 

Denominational Positions

Synod passed the following in 2010:

G. That synod instruct the Board of Trustees to encourage the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action and the Canadian Committee for Contact with the Government, in collaboration with their denominational and non-denominational partners, to engage in, as a priority, policy development and advocacy strategies that will lead to immigration reform and the enactment of fair, just, and equitable laws regarding those without status in Canada and the United States.

H. That synod encourage congregations and their individual members to speak out against, and seek to reform, laws and practices concerning the treatment of immigrants that appear to be unduly harsh or unjust.

I. That synod, mindful of the need for governments to create and enforce laws that protect the security and integrity of a given nation’s borders, nevertheless encourage congregations and church members to support the need for comprehensive immigration reform in ways that will reduce the number of people without status and/or non-status workers and provide increased opportunities for immigrants to gain legal status within the nation.

J. That synod encourage congregations to advocate on behalf of those suffering in prison on account of their lack of status to ensure a more just and dignified process in dealing with them while also advocating for more humane treatment of those who are unfortunate enough to be imprisoned.

Ground: The governments of both the United States and Canada have been struggling with comprehensive immigration reform for years, recognizing that current policies are insufficient to deal with contemporary aspects of immigration. The CRC can be of service to these governments by speaking up for the just treatment of all people as part of the larger process to reform current laws and policies.

K. That synod urge the Christian Reformed Church, through its assemblies and agencies, to affirm the need to reach out in hospitality and compassion to immigrant people and that synod further encourage churches to display this ministry concern through actions that include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Prayerful study and discussion of issues related to the causes that motivate people to immigrate to other lands so as to deepen understanding of the circumstances under which many people live.

  2. Mindful attention to the plight of both documented workers and people without status and to reach out in love to those who seek assistance for themselves and for their children in terms of financial assistance, food, clothing, and shelter.

Ground: Scripture calls us to be mindful of the plight of aliens and strangers, offering compassion and love in Christ’s name to those who find themselves marginalized and in need.

 

Ask your Member of Congress to Stand Up for Our Immigrant Neighbors and Fund the Government Humanely and Responsibly!