As Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivered his remarks during the opening of this year’s Values Voter Summit (VVS), he was interrupted nearly a dozen times by immigration activists in the crowd questioning his stance on immigration reform. As he has in previous instances, Cruz dodged the activists’ inquiries, instead responding with platitudes about the freedom of speech and the greatness of America. The crowd of self-described “values voters” boisterously accepted that with standing ovations and chants of “U-S-A.” Cruz and the crowd’s dismissal of the activists were indicative of a larger effort at VVS to ignore the issue of immigration – something which seemingly contradicts the VVS’ stated aim of “standing for faith, family, and opportunity for all.”
Current immigration policy is one of the greatest threats to family unity in the country today. According to the Immigration Policy Center, over 200,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children were deported between 2010 and 2012. Due to these deportations “the family unit,” which VVS organizers and attendees taut as being such a vital part of a prosperous society, “undergoes a traumatic shift” drastically affecting the lives of all family members.
In addition to Cruz, others that have voiced opposition to immigration reform legislation include Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN). The Heritage Foundation, whose widely-panned study on immigration’s financial effects that was upheld and promoted by the anti-immigrant movement, were one of the primary sponsors of this year’s VVS. Legislators that have supported aspects of reform include Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke at the summit, but did not mention immigration once.
Additionally, nativist representatives from the organized Islamophobia movement including Frank Gaffney, Nonie Darwish, and Erick Stakelbeck appeared on a panel discussing the “common enemies” the United States and Israel face. (A hint: it is Muslims).
Given American conservatives’ vehement displeasure with so many other aspects of American politics currently, immigration was unlikely to be a featured issue at this year’s VVS. The Family Research Council (FRC), the primary sponsor and organizer of VVS, does little in regards to immigration, but maintains ties to anti-immigrant and white nationalist groups. Instead, FRC’s agenda focuses on the importance of religion in society – often using it as a means to demonize LGBT individuals and communities. Indeed, a straw poll taken during the summit revealed that the three most important issues to attendees are the protection of religious liberty, the outlawing of abortion, and the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Immigration, however, was virtually ignored. Outside of the questions raised by activists during Ted Cruz’s speech, the issue was only raised again very briefly during a breakout session discussing how conservatives could improve outreach and messaging to Hispanic voters.
Even at the said panel, immigration was only brought up during the question and answer portion when an audience member decried the use of the term “undocumented” as politically correct. The panel’s moderator responded, by simply claiming that immigration is not a “high priority” among Hispanic voters. Instead, asserting that the family is much more important.
The connection between immigration and family unity cannot be ignored, however. With so many families disrupted by current immigration policy, FRC and other VVS organizers should recognize – as other faith-based organizations and leaders have – the importance of this issue and advocate for reform accordingly.