Dan Gilgoff reports that efforts are underway to get religious conservatives on board efforts to reform the nation’s immigration laws:
Many of the same faith-based groups attacking Obama and the Democrats over healthcare reform’s abortion provisions, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are poised to become major players in the president’s coming push for comprehensive immigration reform, which would include a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants. “There is a strong biblical teaching about showing hospitality to the stranger and the alien,” says [Galen Carey, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals.]
The shift follows an intensive effort by Latino evangelical leaders to lobby their white evangelical counterparts. “My stump speech is that this is not amnesty and that this is a biblical issue,” says the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “If you are a devout follower of Christ, you have to support immigration reform.” In the years since the last national debate on immigration reform, Rodriguez has met with white evangelical opinion makers like NAE President Leith Anderson and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. “This is the same constituency Glenn Beck is appealing to,” says Rodriguez.
White evangelical leaders have also been influenced by their increasingly Latino congregations. Though nearly 70 percent of Hispanics in the United States are Roman Catholic, Hispanic evangelicals and Pentecostals are among the nation’s fastest-growing religious groups. And politically speaking, conservative evangelical activists see Hispanics, who are generally conservative on issues like abortion and gay marriage, as potential allies. “The only thing that can turn them against us is if they are made to feel unwelcome in social conservative circles,” says Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy chief.
In an attempt to get Christian-right groups to back comprehensive immigration reform, Rodriguez is working with the dean of the Liberty University’s Law School, founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, on an immigration summit for conservatives. “The conservative wing of the Republican Party has to understand that it’s impossible to win a national election without Hispanics,” says Rodriguez. “And it’s impossible to win Hispanics without immigration reform.”
Frankly, I don’t see that any of these developments will do much to influence the overall right-wing opposition to immigration reform, or move the Religious Right at all.
Richard Land has long been something of an outlier on this issue and the recent National Association of Evangelicals’ unanimous resolution backing comprehensive immigration reform is already being attacked by Religious Right groups like the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which blasted the NAE for “adopting political stances in God’s name and without consideration for their own churches’ members.”
The one interesting thing is Rodriguez’s plans to host an immigration summit with Mat Staver, dean of the Liberty Law School, as both are members of the Freedom Federation, the new right-wing supergroup.
As we pointed out last month, Rodriguez recently began pushing to ensure that healthcare reform contained coverage for those in the country illegally, which is a position that would not go over well with several other members of the Freedom Federation.
If Staver and Rodriguez do start pushing for immigration reform, one would expect that such an effort would ultimately create a lot of tension within the Freedom Federation coalition itself, which could end up undermining the coalition’s very reason for existing, considering that it was created specifically in order to unify the Religious Right.