Dr. Carlos Campo, a longtime conservative Christian and the newly appointed president of Ashland University, in Ashland, Ohio, is a proud fighter for immigration reform. Every significant facet of his life — from his family, to his career, to his faith —has reinforced the need to treat this country’s newcomers with justice and compassion. It’s a moral imperative, Dr. Campo says, that trumps politics.
Dr. Campo’s father immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1940. “My father’s family lived under the terrible constraints of the Castro regime,” he says. “Many of the people he loved were imprisoned for civil rights issues.” And so, like many immigrants who come to America for a better life, the patriotism of Dr. Campo’s father “outstrips many folks born in the U.S.”
It’s a moral imperative that trumps politics.
“He saw and realized the preciousness of what he had that we often take for granted as Americans,” Dr. Campo says. And it’s not just the older immigrant generation that feels this national pride. Before his appointment at Ashland, Dr. Campo was the president of Regent University, the Virginia-based evangelical institution founded by Pat Robertson. “As an educator, I see how many of these [immigrant] students possess qualities that I saw in my own dad and family members. I see how they are often stymied by impediments that seem artificial.”
For example, between 2005 and 2008, Dr. Campo served as the chief academic officer at the College of Southern Nevada. During his tenure there, he initiated Jump Start, a concurrent enrollment program for high school students that has not only increased graduation rates among Hispanic students at dozens of schools in the state but that also offers college scholarships so they can become teachers. “But when it came to [applying to college], they hit an artificial wall because they were undocumented,” says Dr. Campo. Again and again, “we saw the devastating impact of the intersection between the law and students’ dreams.”
This is precisely why Dr. Campo, a political conservative, lobbied congress in 2010 with the group Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Six years later, the group no longer exists, but many of its members continue to call for comprehensive change. For Dr. Campo, reform means securing U.S. borders and pulling people in from the shadows. “By a certain date you will have to register, knowing that if you’re not a felon and meet certain other criteria you’ll have a pathway to legal status.” The goal, he says, “is to return these people to a sense of life that is humane.”
Today, Dr. Campo conducts this work through the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “In the Judeo-Christian ethos, you’re always welcoming of the stranger,” Dr. Campo says. “There’s a moral imperative about how one treats the other.” This is especially true in America, he says, because we invited so many of these undocumented workers here in the first place. “There’s a shared and mutual responsibility for these people being in our country undocumented,” he says. In previous decades, “the authorities understood that they were the workforce we needed to keep the strawberry prices low. When you benefit from the force that you’re winking at as they cross the border, you can’t suddenly change the rules 10 or 20 years later.”
But Dr. Campo says that even new undocumented arrivals deserve to be treated with dignity. “Jesus asked others to ‘forgive our trespasses,’ but this seems to be one trespass that Americans won’t forgive,” he says. “We have a mandate from God to forgive trespassers. That’s not a feel-good statement. That’s a justice statement.”