Joe Garofoli - San Franciso Chronicle
Richard Land endorsed Mitt Romney
, opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and is a leader in one of the nation's largest organizations of Southern Baptists.
But on Tuesday he and other conservative Christians - as well as antitax leader Grover Norquist
- will be in Washington to lobby for a major goal of President Obama's
second term: opening the path to citizenship for immigrants.
It's the right thing to do from a moral perspective, say Land and other evangelical Christian leaders. But after Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote, Land, a onetime PresidentGeorge W. Bush
federal appointee, acknowledged the political rationale behind backing immigration reform: "It's called reality."
Conservative evangelical Christians are a rock-solid part of the GOP political base, so when they talk, Republicans listen. Many have long advocated some kind of reform, but when they gather Tuesday as part of a bipartisan national strategy session sponsored by the National Immigration Forum
, they will have the ear of Republican lawmakers as at no time in the past 25 years.
And while Democrats
may loathe their conservative positions on other social issues, analysts say liberals must hold their noses and hope evangelicals can persuade the GOP to support reform.
"Republican operatives and elected officials on the Hill have got to listen and say this is not a marginalized portion of our base, this is
our base," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
, a Sacramento pastor who is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Rodriguez spoke at Obama's 2009 inauguration and discussed immigration issues with Romney campaign strategists.
Joining Rodriguez and Land on Tuesday will be Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel
, a conservative organization that traditionally spends this time of year fighting against an alleged "War on Christmas."
"Having him there is a game-changer," Rodriguez said. "If the John Boehners and the Marco Rubios of the world ignore the Mat Stavers of the world, the Republican Party
will be so marginalized that it won't even be a viable opposition. They'll be like the Republican Party of the state of California."
Hope at local level
Grassroots immigrant activists hope conservative evangelical support in Washington eventually will lead to legislation that will trickle down to places like the immigrant-heavy Monument Boulevard neighborhood in suburban Concord.
There, the Rev. Pat Noonan
, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor who has worked with more than a dozen congregations in the neighborhood for nine years, is hopeful for a law that will allow undocumented workers around Monument the chance to become citizens.
"The significant thing," Noonan said of the higher profile of evangelicals, "is that if we approach this from a biblical perspective, I hope we will all start to see immigrants as human beings."
Republicans have made some efforts at immigration reform since election day.
Last week, two soon-to-be-retiring GOP senators - Kay Bailey Hutchison
of Texas and Jon Kyl
of Arizona - proposed legislation that would grant legal standing but not citizenship to undocumented immigrants under 28 years old who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents when they were young.
They called it the Achieve Act, a belated answer to the Democrat-sponsored Development, Relief and Education
for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act.
But unlike the DREAM Act, the GOP bill did not offer undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship - the key provision to Latino voters, polls say.
Without that, few expect it to go anywhere with Democratic lawmakers. Even Rodriguez said he won't support any measure that doesn't include a pathway to citizenship.
On Friday, the Republican-led House passed a bill that would make it easier for foreign students graduating with advanced science and math degrees to get green cards. But Democrats in the Senate are unlikely to support it, calling it a piecemeal approach to immigration reform.
Lesser issue with GOP
Still, others doubt how much influence evangelicals will have on Republican lawmakers. While immigration is an important issue, for most it doesn't trump the economy, abortion or same-sex marriage.
Besides, Romney received 79 percent of the vote of white evangelicals, according to a nonpartisan Pew Research analysis of exit polls - 9 points higher than Sen. John McCain
in 2008 - while holding an immigration position that Land called "despicable."
"Would they really not vote for a Republican?" said Gary Segura
, a Stanford University
political science professor and co-founder of the Latino Decisions polling firm.
Still, Segura said vocal evangelical support could provide political cover for GOP lawmakers. "They could say that they were listening to one part of the conservative base that wanted" immigration reform, he said.
Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention
's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
, hopes that evangelical support will at least change the often harsh tone conservatives used during the presidential campaign. Land said Republicans began to lose the 2012 presidential race on Sept. 12, 2011, when a conservative primary debate audience booed Texas Gov. Rick Perry
for supporting in-state tuition for the children of undocumented workers in his home state.
Republicans "don't only need to pass immigration reform," Land said, "they need to embrace it."
READ MORE: http://www.sfgate.com/politics/joegarofoli/article/Evangelicals-may-boost-immigration-shift-4085865.php#ixzz2EJiBtxP0