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Immigration reform? Think civil rights struggle, and 'keep praying,' Obama says

May 12, 2011|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times
(Chip Somodevilla/EPA )

President Obama mixed faith with immigration on Thursday as he again pushed for immigration reform, which he called a moral imperative that would require a movement to achieve.

Speaking at an annual Latino prayer breakfast in Washington, Obama recalled the pivotal role of churches in helping bring about social change during the American Revolution and the civil-rights struggle in South. He pledged to continuing working with Congress but urged those at the breakfast to build a movement that would force immigration reform on the agenda.

"I’ll keep pushing and working with Congress,” Obama said. “But the only way we are going to get this done is by building a widespread movement for reform. That’s why I’m asking you to keep preaching and persuading your congregations and communities. That’s why I’m asking you to keep on activating, getting involved, mobilizing. That’s why we all need to keep praying.”

Obama has spoken eloquently about religions and his faith in a variety of forums, including a speech as a candidate when he was under fire for derogatory comments made by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, in Chicago. Obama later in the campaign broke with the pastor.

In his speech on Thursday, Obama offered no new policies but used religious metaphors to justify immigration reform, which he has begun to push again recently. Critics view Obama’s efforts, which included a speech this week in Texas, as part of his campaign to woo Latino voters for the 2012 elections. Obama was scheduled to continue his appeals to the Latino community with two television interviews later Thursday.

"Comprehensive reform is not only an economic imperative or a security imperative, it’s also a moral imperative," Obama argued on Thursday.

"So, yes, immigration reform is a moral imperative, and so it’s worth seeking greater understanding from our faith. As it is written in the Book of Deuteronomy, 'Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.' To me, that verse is a call to show empathy to our brothers and our sisters; to try and recognize ourselves in one another," Obama said.

The president called for including immigrants in the national community and praised churches for helping to bring about social change.

"At critical junctures throughout our history, it’s often been men and women of faith who’ve helped to move this country forward,” Obama said. "It was in our Episcopal churches of Boston that our earliest patriots planned our Revolution. It was in the Baptist churches of Montgomery and Selma that the civil-rights movement was born. And it’s in the Catholic and Evangelical and mainline churches of our Southwest and across our entire continent that a new movement for immigration reform is taking shape today."

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