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Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Will Tear Us Apart

MANDEL NGAN—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama meets with business leaders on immigration reform on June 24, 2013 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

Russell Moore is President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Acting unilaterally threatens an emerging consensus

I disagree with President Barack Obama’s decision to act unilaterally on immigration policy. I am for immigration reform, for all sorts of reasons that I have outlined elsewhere. The system we have is incoherent and unjust. I have worked hard to try to see the system changed, and will continue to do so. It’s because of my support for immigrants and for immigration reform that I think President Obama’s executive actions are the wrong way to go.

On more than one occasion, I asked President Obama not to turn immigration reform into a red state/blue state issue. People across the political spectrum support fixing this system, and it shouldn’t be a partisan wedge issue. I also asked him not to act unilaterally, but to work for consensus through the legislative process. To his credit, he did just that for a long while, and the Republican Congress took no action. He also told me, and others, that his patience was not endless on this.

Now the President says that he is out of patience and that he will use executive authority to achieve some of the goals of immigration reform. We can debate whether the President has the authority to undertake these actions unilaterally, but, regardless, this is an unwise and counterproductive move.

Yes, the Republican House has done nothing—up to this point. I am as frustrated with that as anyone. But as we all know, there is a new reality in Washington, with Republicans now the majority in both houses of Congress. The Republicans have said that they want to demonstrate that they can govern, and that they want to find areas where they can work together with the White House. Why not give them the opportunity to do so?

Over the past several years, a remarkable consensus has emerged on immigration reform, uniting the left, right and center. I am often in meetings in which those of us at the table can agree on almost literally nothing else. The business community, agriculture, law enforcement, religious constituencies and immigrant advocacy groups have come to this question with unique but overlapping points of concern. There are few Americans who think the system works as it is, and there is little support for deporting 11 million people from this country. This consensus is one to cultivate, not to tear apart.

Acting unilaterally threatens that consensus, and is the wrong thing to do. 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. My hope is that the Republicans in Congress will not allow the President’s actions here to be a pretext for remaning in the rut of the status quo. Too many people are harmed by this broken system, many of them our brothers and sisters in Christ. The lives of immigrant families, made in the image of God, are too important for political gamesmanship.

More importantly, I pray that our churches will transcend all of this posing and maneuvering that we see in Washington. Whatever our agreements and disagreements on immigration policy, we as the Body of Christ are those who see every human life as reflecting the image of God. Immigrant communities are a great blessing not only to this country, but to our churches. Many of the most anointed churches in evangelism and ministry are led by immigrants to this country.

Whatever our political disagreements, we ought to continue to stand with them, and to see to it that the immigrants among us are welcomed and loved. Whatever happens in the White House, our churches must press on with ministry and mission.

Russell Moore is President of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral concerns and public policy entity of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Prior to his election in 2013, Moore served as provost and dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also taught theology and ethics. Moore is the author of several books, includingAdopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches and Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ. A native Mississippian, he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.

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