Bryan Fischer
My immigration debate with Mat Staver
By Bryan Fischer
July 12, 2010

I devoted the final hour of my program Friday to a lively discussion with Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, over the evangelical approach to immigration. The debate can be viewed by going to our Facebook page (American Family Radio — Focal Point) or by going to

Mat is the author of a high-profile position paper on the evangelical approach to immigration reform, which you can read here. This position statement was signed by such evangelical luminaries as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Lou Engle of The Call, and Ken Blackwell.

Mat and I agree that a double-layer security fence should be built along the entire southern border, and that this should be a first priority. So on that very, very significant point we are in complete harmony.

However, Mat disagrees with the Arizona law, on the grounds that immigration should exclusively be a federal matter, while I support the Arizona law completely. I pointed out that the Arizona law is patterned after federal law (word for word in significant portions), and is even more restrictive than federal law since federal law — upheld by the Supreme Court — allows immigration officials to check anyone's immigration status at any time, with or without probable cause. In Arizona, an illegal has to break a law first, and then give law enforcement some reason to suspect he is in the country illegally, before his status can be checked. There is nothing remotely racist about the Arizona law, since its implementation is based on conduct, not skin color.

Plus federal law actually requires local law enforcement to cooperate with federal authorities in enforcing immigration law, something sanctuary cities flatly refuse to do. If the federal government should be suing anyone, it should be sanctuary cities. If creating your own immigration policy is a bad thing, consistency demands that these evangelicals press the federal government to sue every sanctuary city in the land.

Arizona officials are not in fact usurping federal authority on immigration. They simply turn over any illegals they detain to federal authorities. Arizona hasn't deported anyone. That's the job of the federal government, and Arizona hands illegals over to the proper authorities for prosecution and deportation, just as the law requires.

A second area of disagreement is over what should be done with the 12-20 million illegals already in the country. Mat believes that those who have not committed crimes in America should be given the option to pursue a path to citizenship. While he took issue with me for charging that he is advocating a "guaranteed" path to citizenship, I don't see any other way around it. He wants, as a matter of policy, for illegals to be given access to this path if they choose it. That sounds like a guaranteed path to me.

I believe, on the other hand, that illegals in country should be dealt with through attrition. No one I know of is seriously advocating that we make an attempt to round up all 12-20 million illegals in a giant sweep.

I suggest we task all government agencies — whether law enforcement, schools, public hospitals, welfare agencies, etc. — with verifying legal residency before any benefits are disbursed. Illegals will be repatriated slowly and steadily as they initiate contact with government agencies.

The illegals who remain will soon be the most law-abiding residents we have, since they will know that any contact with law enforcement will result in a free trip to their country of origin.

And they will immediately stop being a drain on taxpayer resources, since they will know that any attempt to cash in on government programs could result in repatriation. I pointed out in my conversation with Mat that Arizona taxpayers have to cough up $2.7 billion a year to cover the cost of the illegal alien problem, for things such as law enforcement, education, welfare, and health care. If you are an Arizona taxpayer, what is remotely fair or compassionate about that?

And the taxpayer drain is the least of their worries. They must deal daily with home invasions, trespassing, destruction of property, car thefts, drug trafficking, human trafficking, kidnapping and violence connected with illegal immigration. As Pinal County Paul Babeu has pointed out, crime is "off the charts" in his jurisdiction due to illegal immigration.

I challenged Mat on his contention that illegals are "forced to live in the shadows." My point is that no one is forcing them to do anything. They are here by choice. If they'd like to come out of the shadows, they can return to their homeland and get in line like everybody else.

Mat argues that some are here who didn't knowingly break the law when they came. My response is that the mere fact that they are "living in the shadows" means they know what they are doing is wrong. [As Jesus said, "For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed" (John 3:20).]

I continue to believe, even after my discussion with Mat, that the approach that he and other evangelicals are recommending rewards law-breaking. Rather than being sent home as the law requires, Mat and other evangelicals want them to be put on a path that leads to citizenship and all of its amazing privileges if they simply jump through enough hoops (fines, back taxes, English acquisition, etc.).

This will do severe damage, in my judgment, to the fundamental American principle that we are a nation of laws, not men, and that all of us are equal before the law. All of us must be held equally accountable for breaking the law. My evangelical friends, I'm afraid, in their attempt to be compassionate toward law-breakers, are actually recommending a path that will corrode one of the foundational planks of the American experiment.

And here's another factor, although this did not come up in our conversation. Let's assume Mat's policy suggestion is adopted. Can you imagine the stampede across our borders once residents of other countries find out that there is a guaranteed path to citizenship if they can sneak across our border in time? We would be overrun with a veritable tsunami of illegal aliens.

Mat did say in our conversation that illegal aliens who break our laws should be deported. But illegal aliens are by definition lawbreakers. In fact, their very first act on American soil was to break the law. Consistency on his part, in my judgment, would dictate that they be returned to their country of origin as a simple matter of justice and upholding the law.

Mat and his evangelical friends don't want to break up families. Neither do I. These well-meaning evangelicals believe we should do this by allowing entire families to stay even if only one of them has the legal right to be here. I believe, in contrast, that we should repatriate entire families to keep husbands together with wives and children together with parents.

If a family member has the legal right to stay in the United States, and decides to exercise that right, then the family itself and not the United States government will be breaking up that family. Our bias will be to keep families intact and together. If a family chooses to break itself up, it can do so, but the hands and conscience of America will remain clean.

Evangelicals are fond of quoting Leviticus 19:33: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong." They seem to believe that enforcing the law is somehow to do them wrong, that that represents mistreatment in some way. But we are doing no wrong to a shoplifter when we prosecute him for theft. We're simply holding him accountable for his actions, which is a good thing, not a bad thing. We are not mistreating illegal aliens in any way, shape or form when we enforce our immigration laws. It's a simple matter of accountability and upholding the rule of law.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez argues that conservatives will lose the Hispanic vote if they do not put illegals on a path to citizenship. My response to this is quite simple: what good are a few votes if you lose your country to get them?

© Bryan Fischer


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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