Jenny Yang is the Vice President of Advocacy and Policy for World Relief in Washington, DC. In this role, Jenny works with members of Congress, their staffers and Administration to improve refugee and immigration policy. She also educates and mobilizes Christians across the country to be informed about and ground their response to immigration on Biblical values. She is co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.
KW: In your opinion, what makes immigration a biblical and Christian issue?
JY: Immigration is not a new topic. From Abraham, who left his homeland, to Ruth, who was a foreigner who followed her mother-in-law to glean the fields, to Joseph, a victim of human trafficking, to Paul, who fled persecution and spread the Gospel in the Middle East, you see many Biblical characters who were immigrants whose migration experience deepened their understanding of God. You also see a theme in Scripture that immigrants are of special concern to God. God repeatedly references “ger” or “stranger” in the Old Testament along with widows and orphans who were particularly vulnerable (Deuteronomy 10, Psalm 146, Zechariah 7) and commanded the Israelites to remember that they themselves were aliens too (Exodus 23, Leviticus 19). The theme of hospitality, showing kindness and welcoming the stranger is echoed throughout the New Testament as well (Luke 10, Matthew 25). These principles should inform our response to immigrants, where our posture should be one of welcome and love, not fear and hate, seeing in the stranger an opportunity to welcome Christ Himself (Hebrews 13:2).
KW: In brief, what have been the challenges to current immigration laws in the United States?
JY: Laws are supposed to benefit the common good and the flourishing of society, but our laws have become outdated and are not reflective of our values. Our immigration laws have not changed significantly in over 30 years and were crafted years ago in a completely different context than we have now. One challenge is the inability for many undocumented immigrants to come legally on a visa to work if they so desire. By having more flexible visa avenues through which immigrants can come to the United States, we reduce the incentive for people to want to come to the U.S. illegally. By bringing people out of the shadows, it makes them less prone to human trafficking and allows our enforcement officials to really target those who are here to do us harm, not those who are just here to work.
KW: What does the recent passage of the new Senate legislation on immigration reform mean to the average American?
JY: The Senate bill is a good-faith bipartisan attempt to modernize our immigration laws. The bill does three fundamental things: 1) The bill practically militarizes the border. There will be an additional 17,000 border agents, double layer fencing, drones, and high-technology funneled to the border. Although the U.S. currently spends more on immigration enforcement than on all its other principal criminal federal law enforcement activities combined, the crafters of the bill wanted to assure Americans that they are doing everything to make sure the border is secure. 2) The bill as passed will help the U.S. compete in a global economy by increasing the number of high-skilled visas available. It also makes it easier for those in the low-skilled work force to come to the United States on a new point-based “W” visa. The bill does reduce family-based immigration by eliminating the sibling category for U.S. citizens. Thus in the future, our system will be weighted more towards those who are coming to the U.S. for employment rather than to be with family. 3) I think the most significant piece of the bill is the section that would allow immigrants to register with the government and be in a registered provisional immigrant status for 10 years, during which they have to be employed, law-abiding immigrants. After 10 years and the payment of penalties, and after the Administration reduces the current family-based immigration backlogs and has met specific border security and enforcement criteria, can they be eligible for a green card. The Congressional Budget Office did a cost estimate of the bill and found that the bill would actually decrease the federal deficit by $175 billion over ten years and a net fiscal gain of $1.1 trillion over twenty years.
KW: What challenges still exist moving forward with immigration reform?
JY: We’re only halfway there on immigration reform with the Senate bill. The House still needs to determine when and how it will debate immigration. Thus far, the only bills we’ve seen in the House are piece-meal enforcement-only bills that are drastically different from the Senate bill. It will be hugely important for folks to reach out to their Representative in the House this week, when they’re back in town for recess, because when they get back to Washington, DC, next week, the Republican members, at least, will be meeting on July 10th to talk about a strategy moving forward in the House. As they control the House, they will need to determine if, and when, an immigration bill can move forward in the House.
KW: What are the 2 things most Americans might not know about immigration that might lead them to a more compassionate stance with regard to immigration legislation?
JY: First, people commonly say that their ancestors came the legal way, and the immigrants of today should also come the legal way. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, because if your ancestors came before 1924, there was no illegal way to enter the U.S. There were no visas before that time, so anyone who arrived could stay legally in the U.S. Not all these immigrants were welcome, the German, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Polish and many other groups were castigated and discriminated against because they were thought to be “inassimilable.” We think the immigrants today are different than our ancestors, but often they are not much different than our own relatives who came seeking a better life.
Secondly, I think we tend to point fingers and see immigrants as culprits and law-breakers, when businesses and our own government that enforces the laws have selectively enforced the law for many years. We all benefit from immigration, whether it’s the cheap produce we eat or the values they instill in our country of hard work and family values. What we need is a system that works, is enforceable, and recognizes the benefits of having immigrants in our country.
KW: What are some tangible actions people can take?
JY: World Relief is encouraging people to continue to #Pray4Reform. People can sign up to pray at www.Pray4Reform.org or go to the Evangelical Immigration Table website at www.EvangelicalImmigrationTable.com and take the “I Was A Stranger” Challenge with a bookmark and video. You can also follow me on Twitter at @JennyYangWR for immigration updates as well.