The Common Good

Is Immigration Reform Dead? Not If Evangelicals Can Do Anything About It

Source: The Atlantic
Date: July 18, 2013

At a time when many believe the influence of faith is waning in American life, the White House's top second-term legislative priorities -- immigration reform, gun control, climate-change legislation, nuclear non-proliferation -- all depend on an active religious lobby. On immigration progressives and Democratic strategists embrace, to a striking degree, the central role evangelicals will have to play in any successful attempt at reform.

Evangelicals are no fringe demographic. They account for about a quarter of the American population and are increasingly diverse racially, ethnically, and geographically. Though they generally lean conservative for theological and cultural reasons, there are evangelicals across the political spectrum. By definition, evangelicalism -- like faith in general -- defies political categories.

This is clear when you look at the Evangelical Immigration Table. The EIT represents organizations ranging from the Rev. Jim Wallis' progressive-leaning Sojourners group to the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The EIT also includes the National Association of Evangelicals, the moderate umbrella organization for evangelical denominations and churches; Bread for the World, a leading evangelical anti-hunger organization; the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, a moderate-to-progressive evangelical coalition led by the Rev. Gabriel Salguero; Liberty University Law School Dean Mat Staver; top denominational heads; seminary presidents; and dozens of other national figures.

These groups did not always support immigration reform. Samuel Rodriguez told me that in 2005, the evangelical support of immigration reform consisted mostly of Hispanic evangelicals. After that effort failed in 2006, Hispanic and other pro-reform evangelicals began to build support across the evangelical community. Now, says Rodriguez, evangelicals of all races are no longer the tail of pro-reform forces -- they are leading the effort.