Nov. 21, President Obama announced his plan to overhaul immigration policy, in a move that effectively defers deportation for nearly 5 million individuals. As we previously reported, “Under his new plan, parents of legal U.S. citizens or green card holders would be allowed to continue to live and work in the United States without the threat of deportation for three years. The plan also broadens the requirements necessary for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children, essentially granting legal status to hundreds of thousands more.” The plan, which was signed via an executive action—circumventing Congress—also contains measures to strengthen border security.
We recently spoke with the Rev. Sammy Rodriguez, the president of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, about the new overhaul, the controversy surrounding the use of executive action and why immigration reform is so important.
What was your reaction to President Obama’s recent announcement to implement immigration reform?
I’m torn, would be the best way of capturing my sense. As a student of history, my ideological, political worldview is one that really embraces the following concept: God over man, man over government.
When government grows, God and man have to move out of the way, that’s why I believe in limited government. That’s why I believe this thing we call the American Experiment is so successful, or has been thus far.
The only time I see any candidate, Republican or Democrat, engage in executive action, it creates great angst in my system. It creates, let’s just say, political and ideological acid reflux. It disturbs me. So I am not happy with the modus operandi. It is not my utopia. It is not my preferable choice that President Obama engaged executive fiat in order to advance the cause of immigration.
Nevertheless, I must, with great reluctance, support the spirit of his action. And I have to support the spirit of his action because it serves as a tourniquet. It stops the bleeding for approximately 5 million people.
I’m a pastor, an evangelical pastor who works with these individuals on a daily basis. I know the suffering, and I see the consequences—the outcomes of the parents and their children living in the shadows and not being able to go to the hospitals. Something is broken.
I have a wonderful man in my church—he’s actually on our ministerial staff—and the week before Obama made his declaration, he suffered with a kidney stone. He knows that because of the excruciating pain in the lower part of his body. I said, “I’m going to pick you up myself and take you to the hospital.” He said, “No, no, no. I can’t. I can’t. I cannot.” And the reason he cannot is because he is undocumented, and he was afraid if he goes to the hospital and gives his information, he will be exposed and be deported. This is the sort of thing that happens on a daily basis. This is not hypothetical; it’s not about politics: It’s about literally saving lives.
So President Obama’s actions, does it save lives? Yes. Was it the best modus operandi as it pertains to delivery mechanism? No. The preferable choice would have been a congressional bill that the Senate and the House would have agreed upon, preferably the House signing on to the Senate bill that passed some time ago, and the president signing it in the Rose Garden.
By the way, it’s a temporary reprieve. There’s no guarantee that these individuals will stay here indefinitely. And so they can work here legally, yes. Will they be deported? No. But it’s only a two to three year reprieve.
And let’s put this in context: President Obama has deported more individuals, more undocumented individuals, than the previous presidents. So, let’s be fair. my job is not to defend President Obama. I am reluctantly supporting the spirit of his action. But I am not in any way endorsing the idea of him taking executive action as a means by which presidents should advance their agenda.
Why do you think that the House hadn’t brought the Senate bill to a vote?
Political expediency. Period.
I was there. I was there literally the day that the Senate passed the bill. I was right behind John McCain and Marco Rubio. I was celebrating, thinking, “Yes! The writing’s on the wall. The House is going to pass this next.”
But the at House, it was pretty amazing. The speaker John Boehner, had a press conference: “We’re going to advance this. We’re going to make this happen.” Then a week later, he flipped it: “It’s not going to happen.” The pushback was from those in the Republican party that really saw this as an issue that will jeopardize some of their primary elections.
Congress sacrificed millions of lives on the altar of political expediency, particularly the House of Representatives. It is morally reprehensible. It’s wrong. It’s wrong for Republicans or Democrats to play politics with human lives.
No one here is advancing or championing the cause of amnesty. Every single person have stated, “Let’s secure the borders. Let’s stop illegal immigration. We don’t want amnesty. We want to deport those that are involved in gangs, those that are involved in criminal activity. Let’s deport them. But let’s integrate the God-fearing, hard-working, family-loving individuals.”
Yes, they come into this country illegally, but they are self-protecting, self-sustaining, they’re not living off government entitlement. They love God, they love family. They’ve been working hard. Then we have the audacity of trying to deport them, after we basically exploit them for cheap labor? It’s morally reprehensible, and I do believe we can do better.
You’ve spent time with the President. This might be a difficult question to answer: Is your impression of him, particularly as it pertains to this issue, that he has a genuine concern about keeping these families together, beyond just how politically advantageous it is?
Let me preface by saying the following, and maybe stating the obvious: Every Republican or Democratic president in history has made the decision with a certain degree of political motivation. It would be naive for us to say President Obama has acted exclusively, 100 percent with the moral imperative for the cause.
That’s not to say that President Obama is not likewise motivated with a definitive conviction. I do believe that President Obama cares and acted on conviction as it pertains to immigration reform.
I’ve sat down with the man. I’ve had face-to-face conversations with President Obama on this issue. I know his heart is torn on this.
If he really wanted to make a political gesture in an outreach to the Latino community, he would have done a 12-million comprehensive move: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re here, unless you’re a gangbanger or involved in criminal activity, welcome to America for the next two to three years,” and from there we’ll integrate you even more.” He could have done that, but he didn’t.
He could have extended it or made it permanent saying, “You’ll never be deported for the rest of your living days.” He did not.
It’s a temporary reprieve. So he could have acted in a way in which would be a more defined political gesture. I do believe this was an act of compassion and mercy. Again, it’s not my preferable modus operandi, but I do believe it was an act of compassion and mercy.
The outcome is here we have 5 million individuals that God loves, that I love, that are created in the image of God. I don’t endorse what they did by coming here illegally. But I endorse them. I endorse who they are in the heart of God. I love these individuals. I pastor them. And I’m a pastor, first and foremost. And I want them reached and I want them healthy, I want them holy and I want them healed.
From your observation, how can Christians improve and elevate the dialog surrounding the issue of immigration that encompasses a biblical worldview and not just a political one?
I would encourage every Christian to make the following statement: "On the issue of immigration, I will not view it or address it via the lens of my political affiliation. I will not view this issue as a Democrat or a Republican. I will view it primarily as a Christ- follower, as a child of the living God."
The moment every Christian makes that statement, the optics will change. The lenses will change. And we’re going to begin with the following: I begin by recognizing that citizens and undocumented both carry the image of God, the Imago Dei. Now let’s have a conversation. Now that I know that they carry the image of God, let’s have a conversation.