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Immigration News: Conservatives Back ReformKent Paterson Special to Salem-News.com
Changing social, economic and political realities underpin the participation of conservative and evangelical forces in immigration issues.
(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) - A different twist was added to the turbulent immigration reform debate this week. In a conference call with reporters, a network of conservative political activists and evangelical church leaders announced a campaign to push for the legalization of millions of undocumented people in the United States.
“From reading the news, you’d think all conservatives are against the issue, but we know different,” said moderator Juan Hernandez.
A well-known pundit with a political foot on both sides of the border, Hernandez has served as an adviser to prominent political figures in both Mexico and the United States, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox and Arizona Senator John McCain. A dual citizen of the US and Mexico, Hernandez headed up the Office of Mexicans Abroad in Fox’s cabinet.
Joining Hernandez in a call for immigration reform were leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and World Relief, among others. Church leaders cited the Bible and pertinent scriptural passages about migrants as principal reasons Christians should get behind an immigration reform that balances humanitarian action with upholding the rule of law.
“We must not forget that Jesus himself was an immigrant, along with Joseph and Mary,” said Rev. Jim Tolle, senior pastor of Los Angeles’ Church on the Way. According to Tolle, his church serves more than 10,000 Latinos, the majority of them undocumented immigrants.
For Tolle, US society is abandoning millions of people who have contributed to modern consumer lifestyles through their hard work of producing food, clothing and other goods. Giving immigrants a “sociological lift” is a Biblical principle, Tolle maintained.
Noel Castellanos, chief executive officer of the Christian Community Development Association, said a delegation sponsored by his group to the US-Mexico border opened eyes and left participants with a “new perspective.
“We are calling for a bi-partisan approach to fixing our immigration system, for the sake of families and children,” Castellanos said.
The conservative-evangelical alliance is promoting a new immigration policy that focuses on border security, family unity and an earned path to legalization. Several presenters were careful during the phone conference to add they do not advocate a blanket amnesty for undocumented persons.
In 2009, the National Association of Evangelicals passed a resolution on immigration, which is posted on the group’s website at Nae.net. Parallel to but separate from the conservative-evangelical pro-immigrant initiative, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is supporting a major campaign for immigration reform.
Author Jenny Hwang, a staff member of the World Relief service organization, agreed with Hernandez that a political window for immigration reform is rapidly closing and fast action is needed this year. Hwang said pro-immigrant conservative activists are attempting to convince a second Republican senator to get behind the Schumer-Graham reform blueprint and turn it into a bill for Congress. Hwang said activists will specifically target Republican Senators Judd Gregg, Richard Lugar, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, among others.
While not entirely new, the involvement of conservative Latino and evangelical leaders in the immigration debate puts additional pressure on Congress and the President to take up the issue this year. The movement from the right also offers a counterweight to anti-legalization forces within the Republican Party during a crucial Congressional election year.
Changing social, economic and political realities underpin the participation of conservative and evangelical forces in immigration issues. In recent decades, evangelical faiths have attracted large numbers of followers in Latin America and other parts of the developing world. The churches have also gained an increasing foothold among Latino and Asian communities in the United States.
Politically, the US Latino and Asian electorates will grow only more important in the coming years. Given demographic trends, any political force that ignores this reality, especially the Republican Party, could face a cold future in the electoral ice box.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said more than 25,000 churches had thrown their weight behind a movement for life, family and justice. The religious leader insisted a contradiction exists between professing support for family values and deporting people.
Ultimately, Rodriguez said, President Obama will be the pivotal figure in determining whether immigration reform comes to pass this year, a time when the legislative agenda is packed with a host of testy issues like the nomination for a new Supreme Court justice and financial reform.
But Obama’s Lazarus-like ability to resurrect and win health insurance legislation, whether for good or for bad, showed the President possesses the gumption get things done, Rodriguez observed. “(Obama) has the moral responsibility as President to push immigration reform in 2010,” he contended.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico
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