ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 28: A supporter of Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) waits for his arrival outside Centro de la Familia evangelical church January 28, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. Gingrich and fellow candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are furiously campaigning across Florida before next Tuesday's GOP primary. Gingrich predicted Saturday, "If we win Florida, I will be the nominee." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)2012 Getty Images
Evangelical leaders were all hands on deck Wednesday in the capital in a show of support for the Senate immigration reform bill.
In what they called an “Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action on Immigration Reform,” the leaders had plans to meet with roughly 80 members of Congress and their staff to urge their support for one of the most emotionally-charged aspects of reform plans – a path to legalization for the millions of undocumented immigrants.
Wednesday’s activism by the leaders is just the latest in recent years, as evangelical pastors have commanded a larger role in the debate about immigration reform. Latino evangelical pastors have helped build support among non-Latino faith leaders for a pathway to legalization.
And they have run a pro-reform ad campaign on Christian radio stations in Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Colorado and North Carolina. Earlier this year, Latino evangelical pastors were among a group of faith leaders who met with President Obama at the White House to discuss immigration.
“The time for immigration reform is now,” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, or NaLEC, in a statement released Wednesday. “NaLEC remains hopeful that we will cross this rubicon with strong bi-partisan support. Now is the time for courageous leadership. The 7.8 million Hispanic evangelicals are looking to see real leadership not partisanship on immigration reform.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has been on the front lines of fighting for a pathway to legalization, in 2010 went to churches all over the country to build support for the DREAM Act, a measure that gives undocumented immigrants who came as minors a chance to legalize their status.
Gutierrez and other DREAM Act supporters argued that these immigrants should not be punished for the actions of their parents.
The measure passed in the House in late 2010, but not in the Senate.
Evangelical pastors say their congregations include many undocumented immigrants, and that they have witnessed their struggles first-hand. They see immigration as a biblical, moral issue.
“Religious organizations have been calling for repairs to America’s broken immigration system for decades,” said a report by the Center for American Progress. “Faith groups, after all, are the so-called spiritual first responders to those affected by immigration issues. When members of congregations or communities are deported, detained, or torn from their families, faith leaders and their organizations are often the ones left with the painful task of helping those left behind pick up the pieces.”
Many opponents of a pathway to legalization see it as “amnesty,” a reward for lawbreakers, and argue that it would send a message that U.S. immigration laws do not need to be respected.
Supporters of legalization for the undocumented – and supporters now include many conservatives once deadset against breaks for those here illegally – say the 11 million people here without documents are not going to return to their homeland, and that there is no way to find and deport them all.
One of these supporters, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is part of the bipartisan group in the chamber who drafted the immigration reform bill unveiled on Wednesday, stressed that the measure does not offer amnesty because the undocumented would have to pay penalties and go through a series of steps before they can qualify for permanent residency.
“The biblical mandate is clear that we are to love and care for the poor, orphaned, widowed and strangers; namely immigrants,” said Kenton Beshore, senior pastor of the Mariners Church in California, in a statement. “For over 25 years, our church has cared for those on the margins of our society. It was through our work in one of the most impacted cities, west of the Mississippi, that we came face to face with the effects of our broken immigration system.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente