February 6, 2013
By ANNA PALMER
The usual suspects pushing immigration reform have a new ally in the fight this time — the religious right.
Christian conservatives, who stayed on the sidelines in 2006 or opposed reform outright, have sprung into action for the cause.
They’re talking to their congregations from the pulpit. They’re urging lawmakers in private meetings to support reform. And they’re even calling for change publicly.
The efforts have dramatically changed the dynamics of the debate, so much so that Republicans anxious to vote yes on a deal might have the political cover to do it.
“I think it is night and day, particularly among social conservatives,” Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed told POLITICO of the support for immigration reform.
Reed’s group released a letter Tuesday that outlines broad goals for reform, like keeping families together, reforming the visa system and securing the border.
High profile leaders are also weighing in. Mathew Staver, vice president of Liberty University, the college started by former TV minister Jerry Falwell, is on board. Focus on the Family, which for years has focused on issues like opposing abortion rights and gay marriage, is supporting immigration reform for the first time in its history — even using its radio broadcast that reaches millions to push its message.
“The issues had been so demagogued for the last five or six years, it was hopeless to get seriously into this,” said Tom Minnery or Focus on the Family. “It seems the time is better. The time has changed…That’s why we’ve become more active.”
Social conservatives are directly targeting GOP offices and trying to show that they can give cover to lawmakers in the South, West and Midwest, who are worried about facing retaliation at the ballot box in 2014.
“Many of the most hostile critics got beat, a fact not lost on the other House members,” said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, referring to Republicans who have lost their seats since 2006. “I think there’s a bigger coalition in the House for immigration reform than people think.”
While many of the groups have put together a broad framework of what they support, it’s unclear if the unity will withstand what could turn into an all-out political brawl — especially on tenuous subjects like border enforcement, citizenship and including immigration rights for gays and lesbians.
But for now, many involved in the movement say it is more about raising visibility with social conservatives.
Nearly a dozen groups, including Bread for the World, Esperanza, Christian Community Development Association and the National Association of Evangelicals, have launched a 40-day “I was a stranger” campaign asking parishioners to read a bible verse dealing with immigrants each day.
“We’ve moved beyond the religious leadership in our country on the evangelical side to begin influencing more of the pews,” said Noel Castellanos of CCDA. “We need to inform them and expose them the way we did with our pastors.”