Tara Culp-Ressler, Faith in Public Life’s Executive and Development Assistant, came to FPL after graduating from American University and interning with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Interfaith Voices. She blogs about immigration and economic issues.
The Public Religion Research Institute recently released the results from a poll about attitudes in an “increasingly diverse” America ten years after September 11th. The poll’s findings on current American views of illegal immigration and the immigration system are encouraging, with the majority of respondents in favor of reforming our system to allow immigrants a path to citizenship–the basic tenet of the DREAM Act.
When asked separately about the best way to approach illegal immigration, a majority of Americans paradoxically respond in favor of both comprehensive immigration reform AND deportation. However, when asked to choose between the two, the poll shows that Americans strongly prefer that approach rather than deportation:
“When Americans are asked to choose between a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that couples enforcement with a path to citizenship on the one hand, and an enforcement and deportation only approach on the other, Americans prefer the comprehensive approach to immigration reform over the enforcement only approach by a large margin. More than 6-in-10 (62 percent) Americans say they prefer a strategy that secures the borders and provides an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, compared to only 36 percent who support a strategy that secures the borders and seeks to arrest and deport all illegal immigrants already in the country.”
It’s clear that a significant majority of Americans recognize the human cost of harsh immigration laws and instead endorse a just, compassionate approach to immigration reform. As I pointed out earlier this week, faith communities have been at the forefront of this debate, opposing restrictive anti-immigration legislation in states like Alabama and Georgia. Just yesterday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced its support for ongoing protests against the new immigration law in Alabama, condemning the law as unjust. With religious leaders and public opinion both on the side of common-sense, common good immigration policy, it’s time for legislators to take notice.
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In a positive step forward on the path to immigration reform, the Obama administration has announced the suspension of deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants who don’t pose a threat to national security or public safety. Under the policy, the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who don’t have a criminal record won’t face the threat of deportation and separation from their loved ones. As Adam Serwer notes, this is a victory for all those who have been pushing back on the administration’s deportation strategy so far and calling for a fair, compassionate approach to reforming the nation’s immigration policy, including so many people of faith.
J. Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the New York Times that the new initiative honors religious values by keeping immigrant families together. “It is consistent with the teaching of the church that human rights should be respected, regardless of an immigrant’s legal status,” he said.
The Obama administration deserves praise for this move. As the momentum around the passage of Durbin’s DREAM Act has increased and faith communities have continued to speak out against anti-immigration laws that contradict their values, it’s gratifying to see a new policy in line with the moral call to approach immigration reform with compassion and human dignity.
Photo credit: Todd Dwyer, Flickr
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Today, we’ve been highlighting the new conservative coalition Christians for a Sustainable Economy and their misguided critiques of the Circle of Protection’s call to not balance the budget on the backs of the poor. We’re not the only ones finding fault with CASE’s weak arguments. Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, puts it this way:
“The arguments of the Circle and CASE both have merit. But the Circle’s approach is more urgent. Public spending on poverty and global health programs is a sliver of discretionary spending and essentially irrelevant to America’s long-term debt. A political argument giving equal weight to cuts in poverty programs and reductions in entitlement spending is uninformed about the nature of the budget crisis, which is largely a health-entitlement crisis. A simplistic philosophy of ‘shared sacrifice,’ focused mainly on cuts in discretionary spending, requires disproportionate sacrifices of the most vulnerable. If religious people do not make this case, it is difficult to determine what distinctive message they offer.”
It’s encouraging that Gerson sees the logical fallacy in the deep spending cuts that GOP politicians continue to demand. However, Michael Sean Winters pushes Gerson’s point even further in the National Catholic Reporter:
“…There is a different difficulty in comparing the bishops’ ‘Circle of Protection’ and the CASE approach, one that escapes Gerson’s otherwise discerning eye. He allows that ‘the Circle’s approach is more urgent’ but he fails to note that the Circle’s approach is rooted in centuries of social justice teaching applied to the circumstances of today. The CASE approach evidences a different orthodoxy, an economic orthodoxy rooted in the specifically anti-Christian teachings of the Austrian school of economics and its American cheerleaders like Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard. When CASE makes claims about promoting ‘economic freedom and growth,’ they are not appealing to a particular verse of Scripture, are they?”
Good point. Despite the fact that CASE is attempting to draw a parallel with the Circle of Protection by relying on similar values-based language, Rand-inspired economic philosophy is not compatible with Biblical principles. This is not a case of two different perspectives on achieving a faithful budget; rather, it’s a case of religious values contrasted with empty religious rhetoric.
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Now that religious voices like the Circle of Protection have succeeded in highlighting the dangers of cuts to government programs that protect the most vulnerable, right-wing voices are scrambling to reinsert themselves into the national conversation. This week, conservative groups such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) project on Values and Capitalism, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the American Center for Law and Justice, the Acton Institute, and the Family Research Council signed onto a letter organized by Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE), a coalition created to challenge the progressive religious narrative about a moral economy.
These signatories have launched a coordinated attack–including op-eds, radio ads, and a full-page ad in Politico–aiming to obscure the truth that safety net programs are crucial for protecting the poor. These groups are trumpeting conservative talking points about “welfare dependency” and the “threat” of government spending, harkening to the misguided assumption that private charity alone is sufficient to meet all citizens’ needs.
However, when it comes to articulating their own plan for caring for the poor while managing the debt, these critics offer mostly generic platitudes rather than a substantive approach. For example, when the Washington Post asked which government programs should be cut under the debt ceiling plan, AEI Values and Capitalism project head Eric Teetsel suggested eliminating “inefficiencies and redundancies throughout the budget” instead of providing a clear plan of action.
As we’ve pointed out before, several of these right-wing groups support draconian fiscal policies that would necessarily rely on extreme spending cuts that would harm struggling families by decimating the crucial programs to help them meet their needs during hard times. The Politico ad (placed by AEI) states that “our duty as people of faith is to advocate for just policies that advance human thriving,” but that certainly doesn’t describe the harmful effects of privatizing Medicare and block-granting Medicaid–policies AEI endorses that will jeopardize the health and even the lives of vulnerable people.
Conservative groups may be setting up a parallel to the Circle of Protection’s campaign by using similar values language and communications strategies, but they can’t disguise the fact that their economic philosophy harms the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable. The notion that depriving sick people of healthcare “advances human thriving” is, to say the least, a bit of a stretch. CASE is standing against the thousands of people of faith who share the principles of the Circle of Protection–including over 4,000 clergy, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and dozens of denominations and humanitarian organizations–not to mention the basic Biblical teaching that informs the call for economic justice.
Photo: AEI’s full-page ad in Politico
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It’s been encouraging to see prominent Christian leaders form a Circle of Protection around the most vulnerable as Washington is mired in ideological battles over debt and spending. But the members of this group aren’t the only faith leaders who have met with the White House lately. The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a group of Jewish nonprofit organizations committed to advancing economic and social justice as a core tenet of their faith, met with White House officials this past Friday. The key topics of discussion were issues such as health care and education.
The Nathan Cummings Foundation convened the Roundtable two years ago, joining over 20 organizations with a commitment to collective justice as informed by their prophetic Jewish values. Friday’s meeting was an important step in bringing their priorities into the public sphere. Simon Greer, the outgoing President and CEO of Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice, explains:
“The fact that 170 Jews are coming to the White House to talk about housing, healthcare, education and food justice shows that these issues are priorities for millions of American Jews. The number of Jews and Jewish organizations engaged in social and economic justice work has grown exponentially over the past two decades….To spend the day in conversation with some of our government’s top leaders about the pressing issues facing our nation was an incredibleâ€¨ validation of the Jewish social justice movement.”
We’re glad to see religious communities taking their issues to the White House and continuing to advocate for the common good. It’s important for our politicians to continue to hear from diverse groups of faith leaders whose work is rooted in shared values.
Photo: Jewish Social Justice Roundtable participants. Credit: Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
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