With the remarkably divisive election, Joe Biden said he wants to unite the nation. Republicans now hold a chance to work with him toward that with sensible solutions for this broken immigration system. One recent survey found over 70 percent of voters, including about half who backed Donald Trump, believe they would like immigrants who live in the country illegally to be offered a chance to become citizens. Biden said he would do that in his first 100 days in office. Republicans must come to the table because it is the right thing to do, and it is in their own interests.
Immigration may not be the most critical issue for many Americans, but it is salient for many Latinos. As the results out in Florida and parts of Texas demonstrate, lots of Latinos will swing for Republicans, who could almost certainly swing a higher share of these voters if their immigration policies reflected the “compassionate conservatism” from George Bush, who won more than 40 percent of Latinos with his second term.
A process for undocumented immigrants to earn legal status could also benefit Republicans among white evangelicals. Most of them supported Trump, but this does not necessarily mean they back all his immigration policies. White evangelicals, like many Americans, were horrified by the separation of families. Tens of thousands have spoken out against all the disregard of human trafficking laws that were meant to protect children. Most want dreamers, who have become members in local churches and communities, to be able to remain in the United States.
Polls have found that most white evangelicals could support a process for undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they reach certain rules. There is reason to think the policies of Trump on this issue cost him white evangelicals with the election. The exit polls suggest that Biden won over four million more white evangelicals than Hillary Clinton. In a swing state like Michigan, where the exit polls suggest Biden won almost 30 percent of white evangelicals, that means over 200,000 voters.
Most white evangelicals still believe in secure borders, and they are wary of anything that is described as amnesty because they place value in the rule of law. But a growing chorus of white evangelicals, including backers of Trump, advocate for immigration reform based on restitution. This lets undocumented immigrants achieve permanent legal status if they pay a significant fine as a penalty for having violated the law.
These immigrants could then become citizens through the same process as any other immigrants, including passing a test of history and language. When combined with secure borders, a national survey found 65 percent of white evangelicals support this idea. That could rise if Republicans led the way. If Republicans want to increase their standing with both Latinos and white evangelicals, they have to work with Biden on this immigration reform in his first 100 days. Democrats have to compromise on a bill with bipartisan support instead of one deal destined to fail.
Biden, who will be our second Catholic president, said he seeks to restore the soul of the United States, which John Kennedy famously described as a nation of immigrants. Republicans and Democrats should work to make it a reality and forge a consensus on this issue that honors the law, keeps families together, and affirms the dignity of all citizens.
Matthew Soerens is the United States director of church mobilization for the nonprofit organization World Relief and the coauthor of “Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.”