March 11, 2013
By: Lauren Fox
Comprehensive immigration reform has become the clarion call of the GOP intelligentsia.
Without it, Republican strategists worry the party's political future is on the line.
In 2004, Republicans lagged 18 points behind Democrats in securing the Latino vote. Eight years later, the GOP lost by 44 percent among one of the fastest-growing constituencies in the country.
But while nationally, immigration reform may be a path for Republicans to regain a fraction of the Latino vote, immigration reform is not a key issue for all Republican member of congress back home; in fact, for some it may be a liability.
According to the Wall Street Journal, roughly 60 percent of GOP congressional districts have fewer than 10 percent Hispanic voters. That is where the religious right hopes to step in.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition released a framework they say is consistent with biblical teaching in February outlining support for immigration legislation that includes earned legal status and family reunification.
And other Evangelical groups like the Southern Baptist Convention, in association with the Evangelical Immigration Table, are fighting on Sundays from the pulpit, through mass mailings and on TV to convince some of the most conservative factions of voters in the country that comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legal residency or citizenship, is a moral imperative. And, of course, that makes good political sense.
If you want the conservative movement to be a national movement that can win elections, it is going to have to include Hispanics," says Richard Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. "Hispanic voters are culturally more conservative unless they are driven away by [charged] language. They are family oriented, religiously oriented, culturally oriented toward conservative values."
NumbersUSA, an immigration group that supports fewer immigrants, says that the grassroots movement hasn't been a major player in convincing voters to support comprehensive immigration reform.
"The leaders in the church support comprehensive immigration reform, but the people in the pews just don't," says Rosemary Jenks, the director of government relations for NumbersUSA. "The evangelical leaders have formed an immigration round table, but there is no indication that they are succeeding in convincing their membership to go along with them."
Meanwhile, Land says the Evangelical Immigration Table's goal is to protect members of Congress who pursue comprehensive immigration reform from a primary challenge. For example, the group is expected to air an ad this week in South Carolina advocating for policies supported by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. While the ad won't mention Graham by name, it will address policies he created as part of the "gang of eight," which is slated to release legislation on comprehensive immigration reform in April after the Easter break.
"These guys want to know they are not going to get a primary challenge on this issue," Land says. "The other side has gone after Lindsey Graham so we are going to be defending his work."
Republican strategist Brad Bailey, founder of Texas Immigration Solutions, says the evangelical movement on immigration will be a critical component of convincing one of the most conservative factions of the Republican Party to get behind comprehensive reform.
"The evangelical voices represent the ultimate grassroots piece. Making the case in church will change the minds of voters in some of the most conservative districts," Bailey says. "Everyone is looking at their home districts to see what they can support, but when the churches are advocating to the base, that is a game changer."
The Faith and Freedom Coalition says that if some kind of comprehensive immigration reform passes out of the Senate this summer that they will consider including it in their voter education program leading into the 2014 election.
"For those who have a faith-based perspective, it goes along with Christian principles. For your average voter who is in the pews, that will resonate with them," says Gary Marx, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalitions.
Land says that evangelical groups have seen a lot of growth and success in the last few years, but there is still work to be done.
"The support for immigration reform has been met by critical mass," Land says. "But we will continue to come together and call on our membership to reach out to their congressmen and their senators and tell them to support comprehensive immigration reform."