Rev. Sam Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, put out a statement on Thursday calling the proposed immigration legislation endorsed last week by the Trump administration “a positive development in that it highlights our desperate need for an immigration overhaul.” In contrast, the bill, which would cut legal immigration in half, was slammed by many Latino leaders, conservative and liberal, while being praised by anti-immigration groups.
The mixed message is classic for Rodriguez, who while he says he has “many disagreements with the current proposal,” put a positive enough spin on it that the Trump-boosting website Charisma could headline its story, “Samuel Rodriguez Praises Chance for ‘God-Fearing Immigrant Families’ to Enter US” and lead with him calling the legislation a “hopeful step.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Rodriguez was initially quite critical of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. But after Trump’s big meeting with Religious Right leaders last June, Rodriguez went on the Christian Broadcasting Network to praise Trump for his “very well-defined, articulated commitment to religious liberty and life, the Supreme Court especially.”
Rodriguez ended up telling Latino Christians that getting conservative, anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court was more important than anything else. And he promoted the Religious Right’s campaign message that a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean the end of religious freedom, warning a voter discouraged about the choice of candidates that “staying home may very well jeopardize my ability as a pastor to reach the people with the loving gospel of Jesus Christ.” Rodriguez was rewarded by being invited to pray at Trump’s inauguration.
While portraying himself as nonpartisan, Rodriguez has taped a video ad for the Republican National Committee’s faith outreach program. He is both a promoter of the LIBRE initiative, a conservative Latino outreach group backed by the Koch brothers, saying that right-wing economic policies are biblical, and an active member of the Religious Right political movement, lending his voice to anti-abortion and anti-LGBT campaigns.
But it’s not so easy for Rodriguez to try to convince more Hispanic voters to support conservative candidates when Republicans are actively attacking immigrants. Rodriguez has urged Republicans to take a more compassionate stance on immigration and support comprehensive immigration reform that protects families. He has also told white evangelicals that they should welcome Christian immigrants from Latin America because they will help save Christianity in the U.S.
During the past two weeks, Rodriguez has been openly critical of the detention by ICE of Rodriguez’s fellow Assembly of God pastor Noe Carias, who is facing deportation. Rodriguez wrote in Charisma that Carias is “the opposite” of the violent criminals, drug dealers, human traffickers and gang members that Trump said he would be deporting.
Rodriguez also mentioned Carias in his statement last week:
While I have many disagreements with the current proposal, I am hopeful it will spur Congress to act with urgency to pass comprehensive immigration reform. As the NHCLC has long advocated, any legislation that has a realistic chance of garnering bipartisan support must not only address future legal immigrants and guest workers, but must also provide permanent legal protection for DREAMers and other hardworking, God fearing immigrant families whose lives are already inextricably linked to America – such as Pastor Noe Carias. Any proposal that does one without the other, falls well short of the goal.