Last week I wrote a post based on Dan Gilgoff’s article about efforts by Mat Staver and Samuel Rodriguez to moderate the Religious Right’s position on immigration reform, noting that both were members of the Freedom Federation, which contains groups like the Eagle Forum who have been vehemently opposed to such reform in the past.
Now, Gilgoff has followed-up on this topic and appears as if Staver truly intends to try and get the Freedom Federation and its members to change their position on this issue:
“There was this rhetoric in the last immigration debate that was, frankly, harsh,” says Mathew Staver, dean of the law school at Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. “We need to understand that we are still a nation of immigrants, and we need to bring people out of the shadows and make them legal.”
Staver, who is leading the effort to bring conservative evangelicals and other religious conservatives on board for comprehensive immigration reform, says he’s motivated by biblical principles regarding the treatment of foreigners and by a desire to build bridges between the “pro-family” movement and growing ethnic constituencies. But the campaign may wind up dividing religious conservatives, some of whom helped lead the charge against George W. Bush’s failed attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.
Now, Staver is trying to build support among Freedom Federation members for comprehensive immigration reform. Part of his goal is to bring Hispanics into the conservative Christian political fold. “The future of the conservative movement is at stake in the debate about immigration reform,” says the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who has been helping Staver lobby conservative evangelical leaders on immigration.
At a recent coalition meeting in Washington, Staver had former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee discuss his immigration views, which have been criticized as soft by many conservatives, with dozens of representatives from religious conservative groups. “Huckabee was attacked in the presidential race because he didn’t want to remove educational benefits for the children of illegal immigrants,” Staver says. “But that’s a biblical concept—you don’t punish the child for what his parents did.”
And it looks like Staver has his work cut out for him, as the Eagle Forum says it’s not budging while other members are still making up their minds:
“Many of our members oppose comprehensive amnesty because of their faith,” says Colleeen Holmes, executive director of Eagle Forum, the conservative group founded by Phyllis Schlafly. “But this is really about conservatism versus liberalism, and conservatism says you need rule of law.” The Eagle Forum opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants … Some Freedom Federation members, however—like Eagle Forum—remain strongly opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. Others, like Family Research Council Action, are still determining their position.
Considering that many members of the Freedom Federation have openly opposed efforts at immigration reform in the past, Staver’s effort to push this issue could end up causing a rift in the movement that, ironically, the Freedom Federation was created in order to heal.