Immigrants hold a banner at a rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall, where… (Michael Nelson / European…)
While the conversation in Washington is dominated by salacious talk of Gen. David Petraeus and the frightening specter of going over the looming "fiscal cliff," evangelical leaders are looking to lead the call for Congress and President Obama to take swift action on immigration reform.
Issuing letters to congressional leaders and Obama on Tuesday, the Evangelical Immigration Table is asking legislators and the White House to make progress within the first 92 days of the next Congress. Specifically, the group is calling for legislation that meets six requirements: respecting individual dignity, protecting family unity, respecting the rule of law, guaranteeing border security, ensuring fairness for taxpayers and establishing a path toward legal status for qualified immigrants.
The significance of the 92-day deadline is tied to the number of times ger, the Hebrew term for "immigrants," is mentioned in the Bible.
Signed by more than 150 evangelical leaders, the letters mark a new emphasis on using evangelical clout to bring about bipartisan immigration reform.
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“This is the 21st century, and our immigration laws are from the 20th century,” Leith Anderson, president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals said. “It’s time to move on.”
As pointed out by Jim Wallis, president and chief executive of the Christian organization Sojourners, the evangelical community is coming to the realization that a sizable number of immigrants are also evangelicals, worshiping in the same churches and living in the same neighborhoods, putting a human face at the lead of a “growing, exciting movement.”
Several leaders involved with the letters pointed to scriptural education within churches and local communities as playing a large role in lessening opposition to reform among a largely conservative group.
Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, called the issue a “moral imperative,” adding that “God often looks at a nation on how it treats the weak and the lost.”
And while there’s still some anxiety, particularly among Southern Baptists, there is a “greater openness to finding a solution,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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But, as stressed by Danny Carroll, immigration spokesperson for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, local movements are just as important to reaching that solution as requests to Washington.
“There is a movement happening on the ground that will force them to the table,” Carroll said, adding, “The country is ahead of Washington on this issue.”
And that movement is giving evangelical leaders hope that their call will be heard amid the partisan clamor that’s all but guaranteed to threaten any sort of large-scale immigration reform.