Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The August Recess | Faithful support of immigration and a robust international affairs budget

It’s now the August recess, a good time for our elected officials to hear from people of faith. If you’re reading this, I know you are committed on some level or another to work for the good of your neighbor, especially those who are marginalized or vulnerable. In order to do that well, you need to think not only about how to help the powerless, but also how to impact and change the minds of the powerful.

So far this year I’ve made a couple of trips to Washington D.C., advocating on biblical and Christian grounds for sustained global poverty relief, humane immigration policies, and robust refugee admission levels.

Some of these meetings have gone remarkably. We discover shared commitments and values. Other meetings are more dispiriting. You meet, take a photo, smile, then discover the politician was hard at work drafting legislation that directly undermines or even attacks the very work in which you are engaged.

Consider Senator Tom Cotton’s dangerous and harmful RAISE Act. Like the equally troubling activism of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who has threatened legal action if the Trump administration does not phase out DACA, it appears Cotton’s legislation is designed primarily to score political points. 

If the RAISE Act or the DACA lawsuit are political feints, then I’m calling on Cotton and all politicians to act with greater integrity. Please do not play with the lives of refugees and immigrants to score political points. Instead, say what you mean, and do the moral and right thing. Follow that direct command of Jesus: “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).

If Cotton’s RAISE Act is not a feint, then it is even more unconscionable, because much of it is basically lifted from resources like FAIR, short for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group (https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/federation-american-immigration-reform). It’s intentionally racist policy posing as economic self-interest.

Tom Cotton erroneously believe that lower skilled immigration has a dampening effect on the United States economy, especially wages for working class people. The basic facts stand opposed to this belief. Overall, low-skilled immigration has a net impact on wages closer to zero. Low skilled immigration has a positive impact on the rest of the economy, especially in the long-term (https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/us/politics/legal-immigration-jobs-economy.html?emc=edit_th_20170804&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=41461160&referer). 

Immigrants either perform the undesirable work which opens up business and more jobs for Americans, or they start new businesses that create jobs for Americans (http://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/does-immigration-create-jobs). Immigrants lead to an increase of jobs and a decrease in crime. These are the basic facts, and the fact that Tom Cotton refuses to acknowledge them, or even offers alternative facts, is indication the extent to which he is operating out of ideology rather than reality, serving his own political expediency rather than the needs of his constituents or the best interests of immigrant families.

My own faith community strongly opposes the RAISE Act, which it considers a dangerous and harmful piece of legislation. Linda Hartke, the CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, writes, “While everyone agrees that our immigration system is in desperate need of reform, this bill only causes more harm. This piece of legislation would separate hundreds of thousands of family members from their loved ones here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Further, in a rush to score political points, this bill foolishly disregards the countless contributions that refugees and immigrants bring to our state and local economies.”

If we turn to the international affairs budget, here we can find widespread bipartisan and interfaith support, all united against the Trump administration’s budget proposal. Even a politician like Mitch McConnell came out in support of poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance. A majority of our elected officials know that at a time of rising needs around the world, it is unconscionable to consider the Administration’s proposed budget, which slashes the International Affairs Budget by 32% and within that, humanitarian and development assistance by 44%.

We also know the world stands on the brink of an unprecedented four famines in 2017. In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, severe food insecurity currently affects approximately 30 million people, according to humanitarian organization Oxfam, including 10 million who face emergency and famine conditions. At the moment, the world (also) faces a record 65 million refugees globally due to conflict, persecution, and disaster. Millions are in need of humanitarian assistance, and the scale of this crisis continues to outweigh the planned response. At a time of rising needs, any cuts to foreign aid is immoral, short-sighted and costly – both to people in crisis and to the US international standing in the world.

Given that the International Affairs Budget is just $.006 of the federal budget dollar, a country whose religious traditions encourage a tithe is instead giving foreign assistance that amounts to a rounding error rather than a tithe. 

If Tom Cotton values working people, immigrants, and Arkansans, he should do at least the following. First, he should roll back his RAISE Act campaign, and expressly recognize that it caters to the worst kind of xenophobia that energizes some of our national politics. It inaccurately scapegoats immigrants as having a negative impact on our economy, when in fact "40 percent of Fortune 500 businesses were started by immigrants and their children, "many of whom did not speak English or came here as refugees.” (https://www.wired.com/story/raise-act-tech-immigration-policy/).

Second, he would listen to faith voices and immigrant voices in his own state. If he has read this column, he’s heard one faith voice. Local immigration groups say putting a focus on skills and not families isn't a good representation of American values, especially not Northwest Arkansan values. Mireya Reith, Founding Executive Director of  Arkansas United Community Coalition, says, Not only is this bill completely out of line with our economic needs in Arkansas, but also shows that Arkansas has no idea who the immigrants are in this state.” (http://www.nwahomepage.com/news/knwa/immigration-groups-upset-by-potus-support-of-legislation/781706507)

If Senator Cotton wants to lead our nation in a focus on family-values, faith, and economic prosperity, he would find ways to work across the aisle to actually reform our broken immigration system. There are ways, given our wealth and size and gifts, to resettle many more refugees than he is proposing, offer a path to citizenship for many different kinds of immigrants and their families, and provide the kind of poverty-focused aid internationally that benefits our national security interests and brings much needed relief in globally perilous times. Xenophobic policies appeal instead to the selfish side of our nature, rather than the generosity of faith, spirit and purpose that makes our nation great. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Clint, for pulling together all the data. America is great because it welcomed non-English speaking immigrants fleeing war and famine by giving them opportunity and homesteads. It's the secret to our greatness. The RAISE Act diminishes the national soul, harms the economy and threatens our future. That's what happens when we reject the true American values.