Immigration Reform According to Ralph Reed’s Bible

Ralph Reed’s op-ed in USA Today is a good example of the limitations of relying on scripture as a guide to and basis for public policy. Many religious advocates for comprehensive immigration reform have invoked the biblical themes of compassion and welcoming strangers in making the case for moving millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. Reed mentions those same themes, while arguing that it’s “a matter of judgment” how to apply them to immigration reform. But he seems more certain about how to apply his interpretation of other biblical themes to very specific policy details:

In Scripture, the obligation to care for the alien carries a corollary responsibility for the immigrant to obey the law and respect national customs. In the Old Testament, immigrants who followed the law shared in the inheritance of Israel. Amnesty violates this principle. Those who have come to the U.S. illegally must reform: Pay fines and back taxes, undergo a criminal check, learn English and wait before they can apply for a green card. Those who entered the country illegally should not be guaranteed a path to citizenship.

In Reed’s hands the Bible is surprisingly detailed in its prescriptions: fines and back taxes, but no path to citizenship. Not surprisingly, Reed’s Bible also seems to line up with current Republican talking points on “securing” the border before other reforms are implemented.

For these recommendations to be effective, we also must secure the border. Enforcement must be a success before anyone in the country illegally applies for a green card. Other measures should include funds for enhanced security along the U.S.-Mexico border. Modernizing the visa system to track those who overstay visas and fully implementing an E-Verify system to verify workers’ identities will further enhance security.

As politicians seek to solve the thorny problem of U.S. immigration policy, they should sit down with the faith community and perhaps open their Bibles.

Well, if politicians are looking to scripture to resolve details over visas, employment verification, and a path to citizenship, they may need to borrow Ralph’s Bible—it seems to contain some supplemental material.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.