President Obama took on the thorny issue of immigration in a televised address to the nation Thursday, taking a multi-pronged approach that, depending on their situation, allows those who came to the U.S. illegally to either stay or be deported.
The reforms Obama outlined in his speech, including deporting unauthorized immigrants with a criminal background and giving temporary legal status to immigrants who have stayed in the U.S. for more than five years, are parents to American children or brought to the country by their parents, have divided the country across political, ethnic and socio-economic lines. That includes the Christian community.
"If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes - you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation," Obama said. "You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
However, the president also outlined some limitations to his immigration reform plan, which he will attempt to enforce with an executive order.
"This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently," Obama added. "It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive - only Congress can do that. All we're saying is we're not going to deport you."
According to Christian Today, the reforms proposed by the president will affect more than 4 million people, many of them with a Latin American heritage. While Christians on all sides of the U.S. immigration debate want a fair deal for the people here illegally, there is mixed reaction on Obama's decision to bypass Congress.
Many church groups have welcomed Obama's attempt at immigration reform, including the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), which claims to have a membership of 100 million people and represents more than 40,000 Latino evangelical churches in the U.S.
NHCLC president Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, who leans Republican, wants immigration reform and backs the move from Obama. Although Rodriguez says it's not the "preferable delivery mechanism," the action does address a humanitarian crisis within the U.S.
"This merciful action takes place because for years our government, under the leadership of both parties, failed miserably as it pertains to immigration," Rodriguez said. "For years, our elected officials sacrificed lives on the altar of political expediency. For years, rhetorical articulation fell short of redemptive action. For years, we as a nation stood by while families experienced separation, children suffered and national unity lay shattered."
Rodriguez added that his organization is "committed to both Christian compassion and the rule of law," urging Obama to work with Congress to pass legislation to tackle the problem.
Other Christians want the rule of law to be enforced on this issue instead of hashing out in the political arena. In a press release on Christian News Wire, Institute on Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley argued that Christians should affirm that concept, warning that there could be unintended consequences if the president goes it alone on illegal immigration.
"Even if mass legalization were a just cause, Christian teaching always warns of unintended consequences," Tooley said. "What if executive amnesty poisons American political life and precludes future lawful legislation on immigration? What if subsequent congressional action defunds or effectively neutralizes executive amnesty? What if the courts after prolonged litigation ultimately rule against executive amnesty?"
Tooley also warned that unauthorized immigrants could be "left in further limbo and become hapless pawns in national, political and ultimately judicial conflict."
In an editorial for Time Magazine, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, also wants immigration reform. However, he thinks that the president's executive actions take the wrong approach on immigration.
"Even those who support broad executive action (including many friends of mine) acknowledge that the actions won't solve the problem, only a legislative solution will," Moore wrote. "My hope is that the Republicans in Congress will not allow the President's actions here to be a pretext for remaining in the rut of the status quo."
Moore acknowledged that "too many people are harmed by this broken system," adding that the lives of immigrants and their families "are too important for political gamesmanship."
The Republicans have expressed displeasure at the president's approach to immigration reform.
"By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.