HOUSTON (BP) -- To receive an award for working on behalf of immigration reform proved a double blessing for Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke.
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) presented the inaugural Robert Gittelson Immigration Advocacy Award to Duke April 29 during its national convention in Houston.
"It was a tremendous honor to receive an award named after my good friend Robert Gittelson," Duke told Baptist Press. "That honor was multiplied many fold because it was given to me by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. I appreciate Samuel Rodriguez and all the good men and women of the NHCLC. It is a pleasure working with them."
Duke has advocated for a just immigration reform plan for years in his role as vice president for public policy and research with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Rodriguez, the NHCLC's president, presented Duke with the award, which was named in memory of another persistent advocate for immigration reform.
Gittelson, 54, died in August after years of traveling from California to Washington, D.C., to promote a legislative solution to the country's illegal immigration problem. He formed an organization, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and served as the NHCLC's vice president for government affairs.
Rodriguez commended both Gittelson and Duke for their work on behalf of an issue that is a priority for the NHCLC, the country's largest Hispanic evangelical organization.
"Robert Gittelson was a tireless advocate on comprehensive immigration reform, always thinking about the political ramifications, the moral consequences and the personal stories surrounding this vital issue," Rodriguez said in a written statement for BP.
"Barrett Duke, through his work at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has championed these same ideals and worked to educate others on the need for comprehensive immigration policy that offers dignity, compassion and shows respect for the law."
Duke received the award at a time when immigration reform has taken a backseat to other issues. Though widespread agreement exists that America's immigration system is badly damaged, resolving the problem has escaped lawmakers so far. The system and its enforcement have resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.
He has not given up hope that Congress and the White House will craft a solution, Duke said.
"I believe immigration reform is still possible, even in our nation's divided capital," he told BP.
He looks forward to continuing to partner with the NHCLC "to finally bring our country to resolve our national immigration dilemma," Duke said. "The ERLC will continue to do its part, along with many other like-minded organizations to achieve this worthy goal."
Duke served as a panelist during a discussion on immigration reform at the three-day NHCLC event. ERLC President Russell Moore also spoke at the convention.
The ERLC has called for reform that would provide border and workplace security; uphold the rule of law; respect family unity; and establish a path to legal status to those who want to live in this country permanently and are willing to pay penalties and meet the requirements.
In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested that public officials establish after securing the borders "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
In the last congressional session, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration legislation, which the ERLC said needed some repair work. The House of Representatives refused to vote on the Senate bill, choosing to address the issue in piecemeal measures that did not become law.
President Obama issued executive orders in November over the House leadership's protests. Those orders included most controversially a plan to protect an estimated five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. That order applied to illegal immigrants who had been in the country for more than five years and are parents of either U.S. citizens or "lawful permanent residents." Those who qualify are required to register, pass criminal and national security background checks, and pay taxes, according to the White House.