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Originally printed in the The Washington Times, May 8, 2007 By Sean Lengell

WASHINGTON-A new Christian group touting liberal immigration reform has begun an extensive nationwide advertising campaign, days before Capitol Hill lawmakers are expected to begin debate on proposed changes to U.S. immigration laws.

Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a collection of more than 100 evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Hispanic and black religious and social-service groups and activists, began running full-page advertisements yesterday in Roll Call and Congress Daily legislative publications.

The ads ask Congress to “enact policies that guarantee humanitarian border enforcement, family-reunification efforts, opportunities for employment and an earned path to citizenship.”

The group says it initially will focus much of its efforts in five states — Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania — and will spread its message through local newspaper and radio advertisements, letter-writing to lawmakers and newspapers, telephone calls and public meetings. The group also promises hundreds of lobbying visits to members of Congress by the August recess.

“We are coming together today because the Bible tells us again and again about the need to care for the stranger in our midst,” said Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourners, an evangelical Christian ministry and key member of the coalition.

The coalition’s platform, which includes an option for illegal residents to become citizens and a guest-worker program that includes “legal avenues” for workers to bring their families, is similar to legislation backed by Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who has accused Republicans of stalling on the immigration debate, has said he will use a parliamentary maneuver on the Senate floor Wednesday to force a debate on the immigration matter on Monday.

Meanwhile, a negotiating team of Democrats led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts is working with the Bush administration and top Republicans to reach a “comprehensive” bill that is expected to include provisions derided by many Republicans as amnesty.

But the longer the negotiations drag on, the more Democratic leaders fear the White House will push for a more restrictive immigration bill.

The Christian group — which includes the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, the Presbyterian Church USA’s Washington office, National Ministries of the American Baptist Churches USA and Network, a national Catholic social-justice lobby — says it isn’t advocating for a total open-border policy and says some border enforcement is necessary.

“Yes, there is a problem at the borders, so let’s fix it, but with compassion and humane policies,” Mr. Wallis said. “I have yet to hear of any hotel cleaning woman from Mexico who has turned into a suicide bomber.”

The group declined to say how much the campaign will cost. The Horace Hagedorn Foundation, a New York philanthropic organization, is a significant contributor, group spokesman Adam Taylor said. Mr. Taylor declined to name any other funding sources.

The coalition says it will continue its campaign until the issues they are promoting become law.

“As Americans, we must reject xenophobia and discrimination,” said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “At the end of the day, how we deal with immigrants is a diagnostic of the spiritual health of our nation.”