Officials from 10 Evangelical organizations have cited “reduced pushback” against a citizenship pathway for illegal immigrants in their appeal for a new immigration policy.
Central to the Evangelical Immigration Table’s new push was a sense that the legislative landscape had changed, even though control of the two houses of Congress and the presidency remained largely the same as before recent elections.
The group is calling upon President Obama, Senate and House leaders to act on immigration reform legislation in the first 92 days of the new administration. The number 92 was arrived at as the amount of times the Hebrew word “ger” – which conference call organizers translated as “stranger or immigrant” appears in the Bible.
Officials from the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Sojourners addressed reporters during a Tuesday conference call.
“It appears immigration reform is imminent,” predicted NAE President Leith Anderson, who said the momentum was “delightful and somewhat unexpected.”
Sojourners President Jim Wallis identified a change “on both sides of the aisle” while Barrett Duke of the ERLC described a “new opening.”
“Following last week’s election, it is clear we need a new way forward,” asserted Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. Salguero touted an increasing number of Hispanic voters in the electorate and reported a “renewed sense of optimism on this issue” in pushing for the 92-day timetable.
The group outlined six points in their immigration platform, including increased border security. A legal pathway to citizenship for those who have entered or remain in the country illegally was identified as the chief goal, with the other points acknowledged as necessary conditions.
“Our ultimate goal is legal status and citizenship, but some things need to take place before legal status can be achieved,” explained Duke. “We need to address the border security issue.”
Deigning current immigration laws as “twentieth century,” Anderson declared it was “time to catch up” and that immigration reform was a scriptural matter, not a political one.
“The Bible says a lot about how we treat newcomers to the land,” Anderson noted. “The discussion shouldn’t be ‘what should Congress do?’ but ‘What does the Bible teach?’ I am convinced that study will move the conversation forward.”
Anderson was joined in his appraisal by Wallis, who listed immigration reform as “a matter of obedience to Christ, not just a political issue.”
“Jesus tells us very clearly that how we treat the stranger is how we treat him,” Wallis continued. “We have been converted by the Bible to support immigration reform, and by our relationships with brothers and sisters, many of whom are undocumented and are sitting in the pews.”
Members of the Evangelical Immigration Table touted an “ideologically diverse” constituency, with Danny Carroll of NHCLC reporting how “groups that would be inclined to vote Republican are coming onboard with this” and “changing their view.” The support of Christian organizations Focus on the Family and Intervarsity were also spotlighted.
Asked if the officials had received pushback from within their constituencies on immigration reform, the response varied.
“I haven’t felt a lot of pushback within the Evangelical community,” Wallis reported, with Southern Baptist Duke acknowledging “some concern, but less.”
“Yes, there has been pushback, but less,” echoed NAE’s Anderson.
While the respective chiefs of their organizations minimized internal opposition, Anderson touted the “tens of millions” the Evangelical Immigration Table claimed to represent. Organizers noted that the Southern Baptist Convention’s 16 million communicants make it the largest Protestant church in the country, while NAE counts over forty denominations as members.
“You are dealing with millions of people interested in moving immigration reform in a direction that is just,” Duke said. “We are delighted that the national conversation has moved. There is definitely an opening that is bipartisan.”
“I believe Christ is smiling upon this,” Wallis concluded. “The stranger will be welcomed”