A group of influential religious leaders is encouraging lawmakers not to change an immigration law that prevents the deportation of illegal migrant children while they await their cases to be heard by immigration courts.
The law, passed in 2008, was intended to protect children from human trafficking. But with the recent influx of children from Central America, Republican lawmakers and the White House have suggested the law needs to change to enable the United States to swiftly deport those who have crossed the border illegally.
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"The [anti-trafficking law] is working according to its design," the religious leaders said in a letter to Congress, according to Politico.
"It should not be changed to address the current temporary situation."
sent Tuesday was signed by the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, Bread for the World, Christian Community Development Association, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, World Vision U.S., and Sojourners.
Their position is aligned with some congressional Democrats, immigrant rights groups, and others who believe the administration should focus instead on the causes of the illegal influx, which they consider a humanitarian crisis.
Specifically, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Senate Democratic leaders, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are all opposed to revisions to the law, according to Politico.
"More robust investment in effectively addressing root causes of migration in Central America and Mexico is also imperative," the religious leaders wrote. "As we pray for these children and also our nation, we are reminded of Matthew 19:13-14 in which Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.'"
Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of the nonprofit aid group, World Relief, said in a statement that "political expediency should not trump good policy."
"Many evangelicals worked hard to support the [law] in 2008 and in 2012," he told Politico. "So to hear about potential rollbacks in protections for unaccompanied children is troubling. Urgent resources are needed to provide care for unaccompanied children, and Congress should support such funding needs without resorting to unnecessary changes in law that will weaken protections for children and be difficult to gain back if passed."
As it stands, Mexican and Canadian illegal immigrants are deported immediately, but for undocumented migrants arriving from other countries, the law stipulates that they cannot be automatically repatriated and they are legally entitled to a court hearing.
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