Can religion bridge the divide over immigration policy?

Joseph Castleberry, president of Northwest University, in an interview with Spanish-language KNTS Radio Luz in Seattle (Courtesy photo by Chuck Olmstead)
Joseph Castleberry, president of Northwest University, in an interview with Spanish-language KNTS Radio Luz in Seattle (Courtesy photo by Chuck Olmstead)

We’re living in a country of uncompromising division. It seems that just about every issue demands alignment with a political party or ideology — and none more than immigration.

But local conservative leader Joseph Castleberry disagrees.

Castleberry is president of Northwest University, a private Christian college in Kirkland. An evangelical and a Republican, he also identifies as “pro-immigration” and thinks more religious conservatives should do the same.

“The most-often repeated ethical injunction in the Old Testament is the injunction to be kind and to be just with immigrants,” says Castleberry. “In the New Testament, there are many scriptures that call on us to be hospitable to foreigners and strangers.”

What’s more, immigrants are the source of a “red-hot religious revival” in Christian communities in America, says Castleberry, who wrote about this phenomenon in his recent book “The New Pilgrims: How Immigrants are Renewing America’s Faith and Values.”

But he says religion isn’t the only reason conservatives should soften their stance toward immigrants — including undocumented immigrants — and support comprehensive immigration reform.

He says immigrants provide needed labor in our state. They also pay taxes, create jobs through entrepreneurship and represent billions of dollars in spending power. And research released this week by the New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition of business leaders and politicians for comprehensive immigration reform, agrees.

The report, “Map the Impact,” explores the economic role of immigrants across the United States. It confirms that Washington state boasts the 10th-largest immigrant population in the country, and that our region benefits from their contributions in sectors such as technology, agriculture, service, education and tourism.

“Republicans, naturally, normally, would be pro-immigration because of the economic benefits,” says Castleberry, who believes this natural alliance has been further obscured by a bitter election year.

In an attempt to start a dialogue exploring those similarities, Northwest University is hosting a symposium Friday, Feb. 24, titled “Immigration in Uncertain Times: Goals for a New Immigration System.” The event brings together immigration experts from around our region and Mexico.

“Not everyone will be happy. But there needs to be a rational process for providing for our labor needs and providing a safe haven for people who literally are fleeing for their lives.”

Jorge Madrazo is an organizer of and speaker at the symposium. He’s a former attorney general of Mexico and current director of a local satellite of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He says his first concern is preserving the civil rights of Mexicans living in the United States and planning for how Mexico might respond to mass deportations.

“Unfortunately, our people are living in fear. Children not going to school; people of faith are not going to church,” says Madrazo, explaining the community impact of threatened deportations. He hopes Friday’s event will help provide a road map for moving forward.

“What is our common ground? Do we have common ground?” he asks, urgency in his voice. “Can we work to realize that common ground?”

Castleberry believes we can, and he spends much of his time propagating that belief on conservative talk-radio shows around the country.

He is a proponent of an expanded guest-worker program to help meet labor needs in sectors like agriculture, as well as the legalization of undocumented people already the U.S. and expanded quotas to allow more people to enter legally.

But Castleberry says compromise is the key to moving forward on immigration reform.

To that end, he says he supports increased border security, believes undocumented immigrants should pay a “fine” that covers the cost of their legalization and agrees that immigrants who are violent felons should be deported (though he disagrees with the deportation of people guilty of minor infractions).

“Not everyone will be happy,” says Castleberry, referencing the compromise required to reach a new agreement about immigration. “But there needs to be a rational process for providing for our labor needs and providing a safe haven for people who literally are fleeing for their lives.”

So is compromise possible in today’s political climate?

“It’s a complex problem, but we’re Americans,” says Castleberry with a smile. “We’re problem-solvers.”

Let’s hope that’s enough common ground to get us started.

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Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.
Sarah Stuteville

1 Comment

  1. I have a boyfriend we have been together eight years an we where planning on getting married before all this came out he had went to jail but it wonted a felony i really think the one only had a felony should stay but he doesn’t have papers an we was going to start also before all this it’s just not far for us am a u.s.a an i was born hear we can’t help who we fall in love with an i can’t lose this man i really love in my life.he works really hard to help me when i need anything hes there for me when am sick he there for me he dose everthing for me an i couldn’t just let him be taking out of my life he’s my soulmate.

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