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Government shutdown shouldn't erase bi-partisan momentum for immigration reform

David Beckett
OPINION: It is time to support reforming an immigration system that is outdated and badly broken. It is critical that immigration reforms further principles of social justice, maintain respect for human dignity and do not discriminate. istockphoto

While observing the aftermath of the first federal government shutdown in 17 years and reading national headlines dominated by Congress’ extreme partisanship, Alaskans should take a moment to reflect on the massive bipartisan victory that was the immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate this past summer.

The historic legislation passed with sweeping bipartisan support: 68-32. The bill was spearheaded by the Senate’s so-called "Gang of Eight," an unlikely coalition of Tea Party favorites (like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham) and liberal progressives (like Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin). Perhaps of most interest to Alaskans, both Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich voted in favor of the legislation -- each fighting hard to include provisions specific to the unique challenges of Alaska industry.

The immigration debate has now moved to the U.S. House of Representatives, where many provisions in the bill are facing tough opposition. In the past, faith organizations have sat on the sidelines as Congress debated immigration policy. But the religious community is a leader in terms of promoting family unity and respecting the rule of law -- so colleagues and I believe it is time to speak out and voice our support in reforming a system that is outdated and badly broken. It is vital to remind Congressman Don Young how important it is to Alaskans that we have comprehensive immigration reform that furthers principles of social justice, maintains respect for human dignity and does not discriminate.

The legislation passed by the Senate provides a path for citizenship for the millions of Americans who live in our country’s shadows. It gives protections for those families and individuals who meet the eligibility requirements, allowing them to work and travel back home -- enhancing their social and economic contributions to society. It will help clear the backlog for green cards and will help enable DREAMERS to attend college. The legislation is tough but fair -- increasing border security and penalizing those who don’t follow the rules but working to keep families together.

The numbers are staggering. Approximately 16.5 million people live in our country in a family with at least one member who is an undocumented immigrant. Alaska is home to countless immigrants and immigrant families, both documented and undocumented. Under our current system, these families can be torn apart -- even if they have been together all of their lives. As Christians, we must question the moral benefit of breaking apart loving and stable families, when there are other moral and common-sense means of addressing the concerns of undocumented residency.

Furthermore, it’s time to open our doors and acknowledge the invaluable contributions to our moral fabric, our economy and our culture that immigrants make. These people are neighbors, friends, and colleagues. They go to school, work, and church and raise their families. It is time to welcome our brothers and sisters and help them work towards a fair path of citizenship.

Religious organizations have an obligation to exemplify the best in our community and to support efforts that move our nation forward towards greater respect for human and family life. The moral case for reform is evident -- and a practical approach to reform is not only achievable but necessary. I am proud to voice my support to Congressman Young -- along with faith leaders, legislators, and community leaders from around Alaska. It’s time to bring about meaningful legislation that will be life-changing for the millions of hardworking immigrants who live in our country and for the many who are hoping to build a better life in right here in Alaska.

David Beckett is superintendent of the United Methodist Church in Alaska. He and his wife, Kim, have lived in Alaska 22 years and have raised four children.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.