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Evangelical leaders call for prayers after Florida school shooting

Several evangelical leaders have called for prayers after the mass shooting at a Florida high school that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen people.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nikolas Cruz, 19, gunned down students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, killing at least 17 and injuring dozens of others.

Evangelical leaders immediately called for prayers following the incident, with some expressing grief over the prevalence of school shootings in the U.S.

“Let every American stop what he or she is doing, and call out to God on behalf of all America’s students, that God would spare our nation of ever again having to mourn such a senseless loss of life at our children’s schools,” said Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Pastor Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, pointed out that the latest incident in Florida came only three weeks after a school shooting in Kentucky.

“Students should never be afraid to step onto their school’s campus, and parents should never have to see images of their children fleeing the scene of a shooting on the news,” Laurie said, according to Charisma.

“Let us pray for God’s comfort for all the victims and let us never grow tired of praying that these types of mass shootings will one day soon come to an end in America,” he continued.

Evangelist Franklin Graham took to Facebook on Wednesday to ask Christians to pray for the students, staff and families affected by the latest mass shooting and urged them to include law enforcement and first responders in their prayers as well.

Cruz, who was armed with at least one AR-15 rifle and “multiple magazines,” was reportedly a former student at the school but had been expelled for unknown “disciplinary reasons” last year.

The authorities are now investigating whether the suspect may have pulled the fire alarm to draw more people out into the halls before he opened fire.

Some students said they thought that they heard the fire alarm go off right before the first shots were fired and many were in the process of evacuating. Many students were said to be confused as a fire drill had already taken place earlier that day.

The police who arrived at the scene had learned that the gunman tried to conceal himself among the hundreds of students fleeing the school. The gunman was arrested about an hour after the shooting broke out when he was cornered by the police in a nearby neighborhood.

On Thursday, officials announced that Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

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This Is the Fastest-Growing Segment of Christianity in America – The Answer May Surprise You

While Congress has yet to decide the future of the country’s illegal immigrants, some say they are critical to the survival of Christianity in America.

“Every denomination is experiencing explosive growth within the Latino church and the immigrant church at large. It’s been this way now for several decades,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told CBN News. “This is a perpetual revival, if you will, and it’s not going to cease and it’s growing and we thank God for it.”

Rodriguez says Americans can fulfill the great commission by ministering to their immigrant neighbors next door.

“For so many years we thought that harvest was over international waters. But we’re seeing that same harvest taking place right here in the United States,” he explained.

The Fairmeadows Baptist Church in Duncanville, Texas has grown exponentially since it started evangelizing in the local immigrant community.

What started out as a church with little more than a dozen members has quickly grown to 80 members after opening its doors to the large Hispanic immigrant community nearby. Today, the church is home to a Hispanic congregation called Erez Baptist Church, which boasts a vibrant youth music group and sponsors missionary work in Brazil.

“Everything we do is about making disciples,” Rodriguez told NPR. He founded the Erez Baptist congregation in December 2016,

This comes at a time when Americans are increasingly turning away from religion. In fact, illegal immigrants are starting to make disciples of Americans.

“There was a time when immigrant churches were meeting in the basements or the Sunday school rooms of primarily Anglo churches, but now they own church properties and they start English ministries. There’s a reverse missions approach,” Rodriguez said.

While this is good news for a number of immigrant church leaders, Rodriguez argues mass deportations and bad U.S. immigration policy could jeopardize the future of Christianity in America.

“You could cripple the North American church,” he said. “I think there’s spiritual implications to the policy behind it because I see this large revival, this large growth of the church, and if there was mass deportation you could cause the closure of immigrant churches throughout the country.”

“I mean, imagine the spiritual implications. Christianity would immediately go into decline,” he continued.

Rodrigeuz urged American believers to see immigration beyond just a mere political issue, but a spiritual issue.

“We need to see this through the eyes of Jesus,” he said. “I can’t speak for all 14 million undocumented immigrants, but there’s a large majority who are coming to the feet of Christ and they want to do things right.”

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Florida school shooting: America must ‘call on the Lord’ after 17 killed in deadly attack

At least 17 people are dead in yet another horrific school shooting in the US after a teenage gunman opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 assault rifle.

The suspect has been named as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former pupil who was expelled from the school. It is the 18th school shooting incident in 2018 alone and the deadliest since 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook school in 2012.

Three were shot dead outside the school when the attack began at 14.30 local time (19.30GMT) before the attacker went inside the building and killed another 12, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters. Another two later died in hospital. Some victims are still being identified and three people remain in a critical condition while three others are in stable condition.

‘It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,’ Sheriff Israel tweeted later.

President Trump offered his ‘prayers and condolences’ and tweeted that ‘no child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school’.

Evangelical leaders also expressed their horror in the aftermath of the shooting. Out of Trump’s primary evangelical advisers, no one raised the question of whether tighter gun laws might have prevented the attack.

Paula White, who pastors New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, and is Trump’s closest spiritual adviser, said it was ‘horrifying’ to see another school shooting.

‘As a mother and a grandmother, I grieve for the victims who have had their lives and futures stolen from them, and for the families who are left to cope with the aftermath of this terrible tragedy,’ she said in a statement. ‘We pray that God would be close to the brokenhearted, as He promises us in scripture He will be, and that the community of Parkland will be comforted in their time of need.’

Dr Ronnie Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said America must ‘call on the Lord’ in response.

‘Let us pray for the victims of this terrible attack and their families the way we would like others to pray for us,’ he said in a statement. ‘It’s in times like these when we need God’s presence and comfort the most. May God be with all of us and our nation.’

Rev Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said he was ‘heartbroken and deeply troubled’ for America in the wake of the attack.

‘Let every American stop what he or she is doing, and call out to God on behalf of all of America’s students, that God would spare our nation of ever again having to mourn such a senseless loss of life at our children’s schools,’ he said.

The attack is the 18th on or around school premises so far in 2018 alone, according to research by by Everytown for Gun Safety, and the sixth school shooting incident in 2018 that has either wounded or killed students.

One student, Bailey Vosberg, said: ‘I heard what sounded like fireworks and I looked at my friend and he asked me if I heard that.’

He added, according to the BBC: ‘Immediately, I knew. I didn’t say anything to him, I just hopped over the fence and I went straight to the road that our school is located on – and as I got there there was just Swat cars and police units, police vehicles just flying by, helicopters over the top of us.’

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Western Massachusetts community donates $100,000 toward Puerto Rico hurricane relief

SPRINGFIELD — After months of fundraisers and community events, 10 organizations in Puerto Rico will receive $100,000 in donations raised in Western Massachusetts.

The Western Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico coalition, which came together after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September, announced Monday night that the money will be sent out to organizations immediately.

“When we all came together the first call to action was to do a collection of donations because people just wanted to give,” said Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, an executive committee member for the coalition. “We mobilized over 300 volunteers to collect, sort and transfer items to Puerto Rico.”

Lugo-DeJesus credited the mayors of Springfield, Holyoke and Westfield, who came together to open donation centers, mobilize city departments to help families arriving to the region from Puerto Rico. Representatives from service organizations in all three cities became part of the coalition as well.

The effort raised $180,000, with $80,000 going to the welcome centers in Springfield and Holyoke working with the hundreds of families that have arrived in the region since the hurricane. An additional $1,600 will go to the Family Resource Center in Springfield run by the Gandara Center.

The largest donation came from the tenants at Chestnut Towers, who raised $14,772 with the help of Related Companies, a New York City real estate company which manages the property.

“There was a lot of organizations small and big that put together fundraisers and events that made this a success,” said Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez.

Gomez and Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin listed the ten organizations that were selected after a vetting process. The following organizations will receive $10,000 each:

  • Taller Salud: Provides medical support for chronic patients and emotional support for their caregivers in Loiza, on the island’s northeastern coast.
  • Programa de Educacion Comunal de Entrega y Servicio:Provides relief and reconstruction efforts for homes devastated by Hurricane Maria.
  • Convoy of Hope: Funds will be used toward debris removal and structural repairs for those most impacted by the hurricane.
  • Sociedad Pro Hospital del Nino: Directs needs of children at the hospital.
  • Proyecto Matria Inc.: Payment of teachers and psychologists for Casa Solidaria Matria.
  • CDPEC, Inc. : Will provide funds for Mutual Aid Center of Caguas which is helping people in the region with food, construction materials, health equipment  and more.
  • National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference: To assist Puerto Rico chapter of the organization working to rebuild 3,000 churches on the island.
  • Brigada Solidaria del Oeste: The brigade is working with local organizations in boththe mountain and west regions of the island to provide materials, informational sessions and small loans to help get the residents back on their feet.
  • Para La Naturaleza: The funds will be used toward distributing 150 environmentally friendly home emergency kits, including a solar lantern, mosquito nets and portable water filtration devices.
  • Asociacion Recreativa Educativa y Comunal del Barrio Marinana Inc. will use the funds to launch a solar-powered community laundromat, a reading corner and coffee shop in an abandoned school that is not expected to have power for several more months.

The New North Citizens Council was the fiscal agent for the fund, which was opened at Freedom Credit Union.

“This is a community that rallied and came together as one,” said Edward Nunez, assistant vice president of commercial lending for Freedom Credit Union. “As Americans, and make no mistake, we are Americans, one of our greatest attributes and strengths is our resilience. When there is a time of need we come together and rally and that is what this community did for Puerto Rico, time and time again.”

Nelson Roman, executive director of Nueva Esperanza and an executive committee member of the coalition, said the public will be able to see just how much money was raised and where it was spent.

“We have been transparent in this process and when the checks are cut Freedom Credit Union will be making a bank statement available to the public showing every dollar that came into the account and where it went,” he said.

The account at Freedom Credit Union has now been closed and the coalition has voted to disband. Members are asking that any future donations be made directly to local organizations working with families in the region.

Springfield’s welcome centers are the New North Citizens Council and the Family Resource Center, through the Gandara Center. In Holyoke Enlace De Familias is the designated welcome center, but organizations including Nueva Esperanza and New Horizons Family Community Center, Inc. are also assisting families.

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Evangelical Trump Supporter Robert Jeffress Backs Solution for Dreamers as DACA Expires

Dallas megachurch pastor and prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, Robert Jeffress, clarified Monday that he does favor a solution to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation.

“Like nearly every pastor in America, I want to see a solution for children threatened with deportation should Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program be allowed to expire,” Jeffress, the senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas, wrote in a Monday op-ed published by the Religion News Service.

“I believe it is unbiblical to tear apart families and to punish people who are in our country illegally through no fault of their own.”

Jeffress’s op-ed comes as deferred action protection for illegal immigrants brought the U.S. as minors is set to expire on March 5, a deadline set by Trump last year when he rescinded the Obama-era DACA program.

As the deadline approaches, evangelical leaders have ramped up the pressure on Congress to enact legislation that would protect Dreamers.

Just last week, hundreds of evangelical leaders signed onto a letter to Congress and Trump calling for the protection of over 700,000 Dreamers in the U.S.

However, Jeffress was not a signatory of that letter. In his op-ed titled “What would Jesus do? Help the Dreamers and secure the border,” Jeffress stressed that solving the Dreamer problem requires a two-part solution.

“Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible,” Jeffress argued. “In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas. And since Jesus fully affirmed every word of Scripture, we can assume that asking ‘What would Jesus do about immigration?’ is the same as asking ‘What does the Bible really teach about immigration?’

“As evangelicals, we don’t consult pundits, pollsters or prognosticators. We consult the Bible,” he added.

From a border security standpoint, Jeffress contended that it was God who established borders, nations and governments. From the standpoint of caring for Dreamers that are already in the nation, Jeffress states that Jesus commanded everyone to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

“As I write this, citizens of Indianapolis and football fans around the nation are mourning the loss of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson, who was hit and killed by a suspected drunken driver Feb. 4. The driver, Manuel Orrego-Savala, had been deported from our country twice before,” Jeffress explained.

“The way to have demonstrated love for Jackson and his family would have been to have a strong border that kept Orrego-Savala out of our country and off our streets,” he added. “That’s why President Trump is correct in saying that as we have compassion for Dreamers, we should also have compassion for those whose lives have been ruined by the negative consequences of illegal immigration.”

Jeffress joins other evangelical leaders who serve as informal advisors to the Trump administration who have voiced their concern about the future of Dreamers following the March 5 deadline.

Those leaders include National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez and human rights advocate and public relations executive Johnnie Moore.

Moore, a former communications executive at Liberty University, was pressed on why he didn’t sign last week’s letter to Trump and Congress. The letter was signed by people such as Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, author Max Lucado, evangelical writer Ann Voskamp and Bible teacher Beth Moore.

“I didn’t sign the letter because, you know, frankly, I didn’t need to write an open letter. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to express my point of view and actually to express the point of view of a lot of people who signed that letter,” Moore told NPR in an interview. “You know, I think for those of us that are frequently sought-after advisers … it’s not us beating down the door of the White House. We’re not lobbying anyone. It’s that they’re frequently asking us our opinion, and we’ve expressed our opinion on this issue.”

Last month, Moore, Rodriguez and other Trump evangelical advisors met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrat members of Congress to discuss Dreamers.

Evangelical leaders expressed hope when President Donald Trump issued an immigration proposal that would given legal status and work permits to as many as 1.8 million Dreamers and tightened border security.

On Sunday, a group of Republican senators unveiled an immigration framework that resembles the Trump proposal. According to CNN, the bill is not expected to receive the required 60 votes to advance in the Senate because Democrats have objected to cuts to family migration and also have problems with the ending of the diversity visa.

“My concern is that there are certain members of the Democratic Party that despite their rhetoric, they care more about opposing the president than they do getting this done,” Moore told The Christian Post last week. “We worked really hard to have conversations on both sides of the aisle and I can tell you that far more Republicans are returning our phone calls than Democrats as it relates to Dreamers. There are some politically motivated Democrats that would be more than happy for that deadline to pass and there not to be a solution so that they can go into the 2018 midterm elections blaming the president.”

Trump again urged Congress to pass a DACA compromise bill in a Tuesday morning tweet.

“Negotiations on DACA have begun. Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th,” he wrote.

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Some Christian Leaders Say Deportations Would Jeopardize Their Churches

Both the challenges and opportunities of U.S. Christianity are evident at Fairmeadows Baptist Church in Duncanville, Texas, just south of Dallas.

On some Sundays, services at the church draw as few as a dozen worshippers, most of them white.

For the past year, however, the church has also been home to a largely Hispanic tenant congregation that calls itself Erez Baptist, and in that incarnation the church is thriving. The average Sunday attendance is around 80, and the congregation has a youth music group and already sponsors a missionary in Brazil.

“Everything we do is about making disciples,” says the Rev. Roland Rodriguez, who founded the Erez congregation in December 2016.

The contrast between the two congregations is emblematic of broader changes in U.S. Christianity. With the number of Americans who do not attend church or identify with any organized religion increasing, immigrants are accounting for a larger share of the Christian population.

“This is the fastest-growing element of American Christianity, across the board,” says the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “[Whether in] Catholicism, evangelicalism, mainline denominations, if you’re a follower of Christ, you want to embrace the immigrants.”

The increased dependence on immigrants to fill U.S. church pews means that Christian leaders have a big stake in the current debate over immigration policy. While many cite the biblical instruction to welcome the stranger, some have a more existential concern for supporting a generous approach: Without immigrants, they fear the U.S. Christian church may not survive in its current form.

“Mass deportation of current immigrants would do nothing less than cripple American Christianity for generations to come,” says Samuel Rodriguez, who prayed at President Trump’s inauguration. “If you deport the immigrants, you are deporting the future of Christianity.”

According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, one-fourth of all U.S. Catholics are immigrants. An estimated 40 percent of Eastern Orthodox Christians in the United States were born outside the country. Even the Episcopal church, one of the whitest and most traditional of the Christian denominations in the United States, is seeing an influx of immigrant worshippers.

The concern over immigrant Christians is especially acute among evangelicals, who place great importance on “church planting,” the establishment of new congregations from scratch. For Roland Rodriguez, the founder of Erez Baptist, it’s a specialty. Over the past 20 years, he has founded or “planted” more than a dozen new congregations in Texas. With that experience, he is now director of Hispanic Ministries for the Texas Baptist Convention.

“The convention is not asking me, ‘You have to plant churches,’ ” Rodriguez says. “I do it because it’s my calling.”

Over the years, he has established a routine, which he now follows carefully.

“No. 1, find my core group — two, three families,” he says. He then trains them in church leadership and looks for a place to hold worship services, prayer groups and other activities. And then he sets out to raise some money.

“To plant a church, you need funding,” he says. “You need resources.”

Having put Erez Baptist on relatively firm footing, Rodriguez (no relation to Samuel Rodriguez) is already preparing to plant another church.

Now 52, Rodriguez and his parents arrived in the United States from Mexico in the early 1980s without permanent visas and won legal residency status only as a result of the amnesty provisions in the 1986 immigration reform. Now working almost exclusively with immigrants, Rodriguez thinks their experience coming to the country leaves them especially open to the evangelical Christian message.

“When they come and see that somebody is lending a hand when they need it the most, they become very receptive to the Gospel,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for us not just to tell them about Christ but show them.”

Many Hispanic immigrants come from a Catholic background, and Catholic parishes in Texas and across the country have also welcomed the newcomers.

“In times of crisis, we become much more acutely aware of our needs, and immigration is a time of crisis,” says Bishop Michael Olson, who heads the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas. “When coming to a new nation, it is very important and critical that people find safety and something familiar so they can encounter God and their neighbor.”

But if immigrants need churches, it’s also true that churches need immigrants.

Not surprisingly, the prospect of increased immigration restriction can be unsettling to Christian leaders. The Trump administration is ending large parts of the temporary protected status program, which has offered temporary residence to people fleeing violence or natural disaster. The termination of the program will affect more than 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador and other troubled countries.

In addition, the failure by the White House and Congress to agree on a way to protect the “DREAMer” immigrants who have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could mean that at least 700,000 people could face deportation. And Trump also wants to step up efforts to find and deport other immigrants who have arrived in the country illegally.

“If you round people up and get mass deportations, combined with TPS expiration and no DACA deal, it would have a massive, massive immediate impact,” says the Rev. Tim Holland, who leads a nondenominational bilingual church in Grapevine, Texas.

Holland’s church actually has two congregations: one for English speakers, organized as LifeChurch, and one for Spanish speakers, organized as Mundo de Fe. The combined membership is about 3,000, but Holland says only about 400 come for the weekly English services.

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White House floats an offer to keep legal immigration at 1 million per year instead of cutting it

As the Senate prepares to begin a free-wheeling debate over immigration next week, White House officials have begun floating a possible compromise idea — a pledge to maintain legal immigration at current levels, about 1.1 million people a year, for more than a decade.

President Trump has proposed a series of measures, including restrictions on family unification, which he calls “chain migration,” and an end to the visa lottery, that critics say ultimately could cut legal immigration to America by 40% or more.

But a White House official said Saturday that the Trump administration is working with allies in the Senate on a proposal that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million people who were brought to the country illegally as children, and that would clear the backlog of nearly 4 million sponsored relatives who currently are waiting for green cards.

The combined effort, officials said, would effectively make up for the cuts in other immigration categories for about 13 years, the official said. After that, if Congress takes no additional action to add or expand visa categories, the total number of people allowed to resettle in the U.S. each year likely would decline by hundreds of thousands.

The outline began emerging early this week when John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security, met with a half a dozen or so Latino Republicans at the White House and said the administration was prepared to ensure that overall immigration levels would remain steady.

The shift shows the White House is feeling out the contours of a possible compromise as lawmakers prepare for marathon immigration debates on the Senate floor next week over how to protect from deportation — and possibly provide legal status for — the estimated 1.8 million people brought to the country illegally as children.

About 800,000 of them were given protection from deportation by the Obama administration under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. But the Trump administration abruptly ended the program in September and set a six-month cut-off date for renewal applications.

A federal judge has suspended that March 5 deadline, but the White House has used the so-called Dreamers as a bargaining chip in Congress for its own immigration priorities, including cuts to legal immigration.

Democratic demands to protect the Dreamers led to a three-day government shutdown during the congressional budget showdown last month, and an epic eight-hour speech on the House floor this week by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Both efforts failed to get DACA in the spending packages.

On Saturday, Trump accused the Democrats of trying to politicize the Dreamers’ plight ahead of the midterm election in November.

“Republicans want to fix DACA far more than the Democrats do,” he tweeted. Democrats “only want to use it as a campaign issue.”

Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), have signaled privately to the White House they are willing to negotiate Trump’s demand for $25 billion as part of a broader immigration package that would include help for the Dreamers.

The money would go into a “trust fund” for walls or fences on the southern border, as well as other border security purposes.

The hardest sell for Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates has been Trump’s insistence on limiting the types of family members that U.S. citizens and permanent residents can help resettle in the U.S., and what happens to those who already have applied.

Deriding the program as “chain migration,” Trump says only sponsors’ spouses and non-adult children should be admitted. People now can sponsor parents and, in some cases, siblings and adult children.

However, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, an evangelical Christian pastor based in Sacramento who is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said he’s been assured repeatedly by the White House that overall legal immigration levels would not be cut under Trump’s plan.

“That number is not being played with at all whatsoever,” said Rodriguez, one of the Latino conservatives who attended the hour-long meeting Tuesday with Kelly and Nielsen.

Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, also attended the meeting in the Roosevelt Room. He said the White House appeared to be making a “serious effort” to find common ground on immigration.

“Democrats are fabricating reasons not to address the framework or to talk to Republicans,” Aguilar said. “Both sides are going to have to accept things they don’t like.”

Aguilar said he left the meeting believing the White House would support ways to speed up approvals of the nearly 4 million parents, siblings and other relatives who have applied for permanent residency and are in long backlogs.

Another Latino in the meeting, Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative, a free-market group aimed at Latinos and bankrolled by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, said he was reassured by the meeting and felt the White House was open to negotiating.

“We don’t want to see arbitrary cuts to legal immigration,” Garza said.

Critics already are lining up. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates restricting immigration, said he would oppose a White House deal to keep legal immigration at current levels for more than a decade, calling it “a reversal” of Trump’s previous proposals.

“This argument that our economy and our success requires mass immigration is absurd,” Krikorian said.

In Congress, bipartisan groups are seeking to develop legislation as the Senate prepares for a rare open debate on immigration next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to take a House bill, strip its contents, and in a step not seen in modern times, open the floor for amendments to fill the bill. The White House is working with senators to craft an amendment that addresses all Trump’s requirements.

“It will be an opportunity for 1,000 flowers to bloom,” McConnell told reporters this week, oddly echoing the phrase Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung used in 1956 to encourage criticism of the Communist Party before he violently purged the critics who stepped forward.

The debate will be “fair to everyone,” McConnell said. “And in the Senate, on those rare occasions when we have these open debates, whoever gets to 60 wins.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 ranking Democrat in the Senate, said McConnell has guaranteed “a fair and open process for senators to finally act to protect Dreamers.”

Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are coauthors of the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a path to legal status for Dreamers. Democrats essentially want Trump to accept that legislation, which could be introduced for an up or down vote next week.

To get debate started, McConnell may allow the introduction of a narrow amendment that extends the DACA program by three years, and see how many votes that can get.

The future also is uncertain for the diversity visa lottery, which admits about 50,000 immigrants a year, mostly from Eastern Europe and Africa, and is geared toward countries that don’t send many immigrants to the U.S. Trump has insisted the lottery be eliminated.

Democrats in the past were open to changing that system. But after Trump reportedly complained of immigrants coming from “shithole countries” in Africa and elsewhere, several Democratic lawmakers, including the Congressional Black Caucus, balked at ending the lottery completely.

Lawmakers are looking at other ways to keep legal immigration steady, including increasing skills-based immigration categories.

One possibility would be to resurrect a proposal made by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) during an immigration reform push in 2013 that ultimately failed. It would have more than tripled the number of work visas for foreign tech workers to about 180,000 per year.

Even if the Senate pieces together an immigration bill, any proposal to create legal status for immigrants in the country illegally will meet resistance in the GOP-led House. In 2013, the last time a major bipartisan immigration bill passed the Senate, it never even got to a vote in the House.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) promised Thursday to allow an immigration bill come to a vote this time.

“To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not,” Ryan said. “We will bring a solution to the floor, one that the president will sign.”

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Evangelical Leaders Be part of Forces To Urge Safety For Dreamers And Refugees

One hundred evangelical leaders have signed a letter urging President and members of to protect , and .

The letter, spearheaded by the evangelical organization World Relief, was . It was supported by leaders from across the nation and from different streams of evangelicalism, including Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ; Jen Hatmaker, the ; and , president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

An  had received more than 1,400 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

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Max Lucado, Beth Moore, and Hundreds of Evangelicals Call for Immigration Reform … Again

This time last year, just weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, evangelical leaders spoke out in an unprecedented way against his temporary refugee ban with hundreds signing on to an open letter published in the Washington Post.

Rallied by World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the group took out another full-page ad in the newspaper to bring up multiple concerns related to immigration policy in 2018. (The ad appears at the end of this post.)

Yet again, the list contains both vocal advocates as well as pastors not typically known for speaking out on political matters, topped by influential voices like pastor and devotional author Max Lucado, Bible teacher Beth Moore, and Village Church pastor Matt Chandler.

“As Christian leaders, we have a commitment to caring for the vulnerable in our churches while also supporting just, compassionate and welcoming policies toward refugees and other immigrants,” the letter opens, going on to request legal protection for the Dreamers who entered the US as children, an increase in the admittance of refugees and persecuted Christians, and quicker priority for immigrants seeking to reunite with their families.

Also listed among the hundred-plus initial signatories are Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, Willow Creek’s Bill and Lynne Hybels, and Christianity Today president Harold Smith. More than 1,300 Christian supporters have signed the letter online.

“We believe we represent a convergence of evangelical belief that care for [refugees] is a central part of our Christian faith,” said Jenny Yang, the vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief.

As CT reported last month, when several Trump faith advisers met with Nancy Pelosi, evangelicals are mostly eager to find a solution for the young immigrants once protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program:

Nearly 70 percent of evangelicals believe Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the country, with 49 percent supporting a path to citizenship and 20 percent believing they should become legal residents but not citizens, Politico/Morning Consult found. (Overall, 75 percent of registered voters want the Dreamers to stay.)

“Our prayer is that these young people would be allowed to continue contributing to our society without fear of deportation,” the February 7 letter stated.

The DACA phase-out begins in just less than a month, leaving advocates to push for a Congressional fix before then. Among the 700,000 or so Dreamers are plenty of young church leaders, students at Christian colleges, and even members of World Relief’s own staff.

“This is a unique moment that we’re standing in. There’s a deadline and a requirement to act on a certain issue,” said Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, an evangelical who spoke to some of the letter’s signatories at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday.

“What I’m encouraging my colleagues to do is not stop the work… For these families that are waiting for the moment, they need to know what is the decision and what is the law.”

Fellow legislator Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, referred to the ongoing debate over immigration in Congress as “a unique opportunity for us to carry out our moral and ethical responsibilities at the same time as we carry out our legal and political responsibilities.” He told evangelical leaders, “If there was ever a time for prayer it’s in the next 24 hours.”

Evangelicals have been speaking up for Dreamers in particular since the fall. Dozens of evangelical and Southern Baptist leaders gathered by Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president Russell Moore signed onto a statement including positions like:

  • “We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit.”
  • “We believe we should welcome Dreamers of good moral character and who are working hard to contribute to our country.”
  • “We believe our government should provide a pathway to permanent legal status and/or citizenship for eligible Dreamers.”

Moore repeated his concern for this group of young immigrants on Wednesday, saying, “As Christians, dreamers are not some abstract category for us. Dreamers are teaching Sunday school … Dreamers are leading churches. When we see Dreamers in jeopardy, we see all of us in jeopardy.”

Shirley V. Hoogstra spoke as president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

“We love our DACA students. These students are courageous, they are brave, and they are resilient,” she said. “These students deserve an opportunity to pursue an education without fear of deportation.”

Today’s letter also provided an update on the flow of refugees into the US, which fell from 96,874 in 2016 to 33,368 in 2017.

The number of Christian refugees from Iraq, Iran, and Syria—which have long rankedamong the top countries for Christian persecution—has dropped by 60 percent over that period. (Last year, Pew Research Center found that Christians still outpace Muslims—or any other religion—among refugees to the US.)

“Over the past decade, more of those admitted to the US have been Christians than those of any other faith background, so the dramatic reduction in refugee arrivals this year means far fewer persecuted Christians will have the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety in the US,” World Relief president Scott Arbeiter said last summer.

Based on the arrivals so far, 2018 is on track to bring in the lowest number of refugees since the resettlement program was formalized in 1980.

“This, at a time when there are more refugees in the world than ever before in recorded history,” the letter said. “Our prayer is that the U.S. would continue to be a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution.”

The cap for the 2018 fiscal year, as established by the Trump administration, is 45,000, and some predict arrivals won’t even make it close to that. Last year, refugee resettlement agencies reached the 50,000 cap in mid-July, a couple months before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

Anticipating the drop, World Relief closed five offices and laid off 140 staff members in the wake of last year’s refugee ban, which ended up disputed back and forth in the courts. The organization has not been forced to make further cuts since.

The organization’s director of church mobilization, Matthew Soerens, wrote last week in The New York Times:

The past year has been a disaster for refugees and for those of us who are deeply concerned — many because of the convictions of our faith — with their well-being. But, because of my Christian faith, I also believe that people can repent, turning from a wrong direction and moving in the right way.

It’s not too late for our leaders to examine the facts, apply the values of the faith traditions that inspire many Americans’ concern for refugees, and change course.

As the Trump administration has shifted policies on undocumented immigrants and individuals with temporary protected status (TPS), putting more individuals at risk of deportation, Christians have quickly brought up the dilemma of mixed-status families, whose children are US citizens but parents are not.

Last year, World Relief and other agencies saw a spike in inquiries from Christian immigrants concerned about their status and worried about themselves or family members getting deported. CT reported:

Half of all Latino Christians living in the United States are worried that either they or someone close to them will be deported, the Pew Research Center found. This includes 1 in 3 of those born in the US (including Puerto Rico).

Among Latino Christians, the concerns are highest among green card holders (71% worry about deportation) and undocumented immigrants (68% worry). Even among Hispanic Christians who were born outside of America but have become US citizens, more than half (55%) fear deportation for themselves or someone close to them.

The letter also asks politicians to consider families waiting for reunification, such as refugees or other immigrants applying to enter the US to be with their spouses, parents, or kids.

“God ordained the family as the cornerstone of society, and we believe that our country is stronger when our citizens can be quickly reunited with their close family members,” it said. “For some U.S. citizens, the waiting period can be years or even decades. We pray you will respect the unity of the family.”

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) and an adviser to President Trump, has repeatedly pled for policies that allow families to stay together.

Moore’s statement in October also included the line: “We believe a just government works to maintain the integrity of families.”

CT has recently reported on a ruling on behalf of Indonesian Christians in New Englandwho face deportation, the impact of the end of TPS protections on Salvadoran Christians in the US, and the nomination of an evangelical leader to serve as the next director general of the United Nations’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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Praying, Pleading, for Consensus That Protects Dreamers

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” the Bible tells us. Regrettably, Dreamers throughout the country have lived that experience repeatedly in recent months.

By Rev. Samuel Rodriguez And Abigail Molina

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” the Bible tells us.

Regrettably, Dreamers throughout the country have lived that experience repeatedly in recent months and in new ways in recent days. The creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 was life-changing for hundreds of thousands of young people—but the announcement of its termination last September meant, barring legislative intervention, that they would lose their jobs and potentially even face deportation. Reports of a bipartisan “deal” gave us new hope—only for it to be dashed within hours. We’re fervently praying that our elected officials will come together quickly to find consensus.

We write, respectively, as the leader of a network of more than forty thousand Hispanic evangelical congregations and as a staff member at one of those local churches—World Impact Center – Impacto de Fe in Commerce City, Colorado—whose employment is possible only because of the DACA program.

My (Abigail’s) story is similar in many ways to those of tens of thousands of others within churches that are represented by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC). I arrived in the U.S. on a tourist visa with my family on July 4, 1999. I thought the fireworks were there to welcome us to our new home. But when my family overstayed their visas—a concept I could not understand as a small child—and became undocumented, our life was very challenging. When my friends were applying for driver’s licenses, I discovered I could not. Though I was a strong student, I was ineligible for federal financial aid or for in-state tuition rates, so I could only afford to attend college part-time.

My family and I found strength in our local church, though, and I genuinely believe it came as an answer to the prayers of many in that church and in churches throughout the country that the DACA program came about, allowing me to work lawfully, pay my taxes, pay my way through college, and give back, serving on the staff of a local elementary school and now at my church. I am so incredibly grateful for this country and the many blessings it has offered to me, and I desperately want to be able to continue to contribute. But, without congressional action, I will lose my work authorization next year—a message I conveyed to legislators as I joined a delegation of other Christian Dreamers in Washington, D.C. recently.

I (Samuel) meet young people like Abigail on a regular basis in my role with the NHCLC and within the church that I pastor in Sacramento, California. They want nothing more than to continue to live, work, and contribute, using the gifts that God has given each of them to their fullest potential. Their churches are standing with them in pleading with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come together to pass legislation.

But it’s not just Latino Christians who care about this: a  poll last fall found that more than 70 percent of evangelical Christians of all ethnicities support legislation to allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S. and keep their jobs. More than 60 percent of those who voted for President Trump want these individuals to be able to become U.S. citizens, according to a  Fox News poll. By roughly an eight-to-one margin, a recent  Quinnipiac University poll found, Americans prefer allowing Dreamers to stay to their deportation.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” the author of Proverbs continues, “but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Members of Congress from both parties can come together quickly to resolve their differences, and President Trump can have the opportunity to do something none of his predecessors have been able to do: offer real, permanent hope to young people who are Americans in every way except on paper. In doing so, we promise that they will bear fruit, giving back many times over to this great country.

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