Linda Lee Tarver says she and her nine siblings were raised by “very fiscally and socially conservative Christian people,” and Tarver — now the president of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan — says her faith remains the foundation for her political beliefs, including when it comes to immigration. “We’ve been worshipping alongside immigrants all our lives — people from Eritrea and Ethiopia and Guatemala and Cuba — and we’ve worshipped with them, and prayed with them, and cried with them. That’s really the reference point for me,” she says. That’s put a human face on immigration for Tarver, and has shown her the need for a nuanced, sensitive approach to the issue. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to approach this without compassion. Toughness alone is not going to solve this issue.”
Economies grow based on diversity, and immigration, and people coming in and lending their skill set.
For Tarver, compassion means welcoming people who come to the United States from elsewhere, as long as they abide by America’s laws. “Legal immigrants are definitely people who deserve to have a path that’s meaningful, that’s expeditious, and that allows them to experience this American dream,” she says. Many people whom Tarver has met through her church, or worked or studied with, have had visa problems through no fault of their own. More than once, Tarver herself has helped friends contact their congressional representatives to try and jump-start stalled visa-renewal applications. “The process is just too long. It’s definitely a system that needs to be updated for people who choose to make this their permanent home,” she says.
Compassion also means having empathy for people who may not have followed all the rules in coming to the United States — especially those whose undocumented status then makes them vulnerable, such as women who could become victims of human trafficking, Tarver says. She wants immigrants who break laws once in the United States to be deported, and is happy to defer to local leaders on the best way for border states to handle their security. “I don’t disagree with building a wall, I don’t disagree with vetting who comes in, I don’t disagree with getting rid of criminal illegals, I don’t disagree with getting rid of sanctuary cities,” she says. But she also wants undocumented immigrants who haven’t broken criminal laws to be treated with basic decency. “There has to be a degree of compassion for those who come here, in whatever status, who try to do the right thing,” she says.
That might mean giving a path to documented status, and eventual citizenship, to undocumented immigrants who otherwise play by the rules, Tarver says. “Some of the rhetoric, the strong talk about shipping people back, that’s not realistic — not millions of people,” she says. “It’s just not going to happen, so we need to think intelligently, compassionately, and thoroughly about what we can do to help get people out of the shadows.” Tarver is happy that the Trump campaign has kept immigration issues in the spotlight during the presidential campaign, but says that immigration doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. “Immigration reform shouldn’t be a political ploy, or just an attempt to win people’s votes,” she says. “I’m talking about American issues, and our economy, and things that make sense for us and our neighbors. We’re all citizens or residents of this country, and we need a real solution to this.”
Republican Governor Rick Snyder, of Michigan, is on the right track with his own pro-immigration policies, Tarver says, and has done a good job of communicating the benefits legal immigrants bring to the state. “Economies grow based on diversity, and immigration, and people coming in and lending their skill set,” she says. “The people who’ve come here legally have added value for all of us.” That’s a big part of why Tarver wants to see a comprehensive solution to America’s immigration system. Undocumented immigrants who’ve proven themselves law-abiding should be given a chance to unlock their potential and to contribute what they can to the nation. “The potential they have to share their value is muted, for some, by the fact that it’s hard for them to come out of the shadows,” she says.