Hours after Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration bill dropped early Wednesday, evangelical leaders from across the country gathered at the Capitol to raise their voices for comprehensive immigration reform.
In the last two years, evangelicals have been a growing voice in the debate over immigration reform, hoping their votes — traditionally a bastion of conservative politics but recently broadening their engagement to gun violence prevention, poverty, and climate change — hold clout on the Hill when it comes to immigration reform.
The Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical leaders from across the political spectrum, gathered hundreds of people from 25 states for a day of action on the Hill. At the morning press conference, the Table representatives did not explicitly endorse or critique the Senate’s new bill. Instead, leaders pledged to "come alongside" any bill that supported their unified set of principals, namely immigration reform that: protects the unity of the immediate family; respects the rule of law; guarantees national security borders; and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify.
Launched in January 2011, the EIT has been instrumental in building a biblically based movement toward a just and merciful immigration system. In addition to issuing what several leaders called their “moral template” for reform last July, the Table also launched the “I Was a Stranger” challenge, a 40-day commitment praying through 40 verses from the Bible on immigration. They also issued a letter urging the president and Senate and House leaders to address comprehensive immigration within the first 92 days of 2013 — a challenge, named for the 92 times the word “immigrant” is used in the Old Testament — on which the Senate has delivered.
Helping to kick off the day of action, Reverend Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, assured those listening on the Hill that the evangelicals gathered in Washington represent the "broadest group of evangelicals.” This coalition is notable as demographics and changing social sentiments continue to diversify the evangelical community. Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, agreed, noting there are five thousand southern baptists and nine million Latino evangelicals — suggesting a significant demographic shift in the "lived experience" of immigration in evangelical churches.
The action included a worship service, Hill visits, and regular "prayer walks" to House and Senate buildings, Departments and Bureaus.
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Catherine Woodiwiss is Associate Web Editor with Sojourners.