Rev. Samuel Rodriguez meets with House Speaker, Republican Leaders and White House to push for a Just Immigration
[Episcopal News Service -- Washington, D.C.] The unusual alliance among Evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants pushing Congress and the Obama administration for comprehensive immigration reform has social-science researchers scratching their heads. "The cause of immigration reform has given rise to one of the broadest alliances of religious groups ever assembled in our history – it cuts across left and right, it cuts across denominations and traditions, it cuts across theological orientations, said E.J. Dionne Jr., a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank. As part of its attempt to understand the alliance and its potential political force, Brookings June 15 held a two-part panel event, "Religious Activism and the Debate over Immigration Reform," at its Dupont Circle headquarters. Co-moderated by Dionne and William Galston, another Brookings senior fellow, with an introduction by Sojourners President and CEO Jim Wallis, the event addressed the questions: Why are religious groups so united on the question of immigration reform? How has their activism affected the debate on Capitol Hill? And what does this tell us about the role of faith in affecting debates over policy and building political coalitions? Participants included Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, an Evangelical and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Focused on reform The interfaith Christian alliance, experts and panelists agree, has played an important role in keeping immigration reform on Congress's 2010 agenda in an increasingly polarized political environment and an important mid-term election year. Based on his interfaith participation in meetings with elected leaders and administration officials, where leaders representing the National Association of Evangelicals and theNational Council of Churches uncharacteristically have stood side-by-side, Wallis said, "If there is any constituency that can break this issue out of the fray, it would be bipartisan pressure on both sides from the faith community." In his opening remarks, he described the nation's approach to immigration as a decades-long "bipartisan failure" in which two signs have hung at the border: "No Trespass" and "Help Wanted." Those signs, he said, have placed a vulnerable population at risk. Because of them, the faith community has responded clearly by saying that "'enforcement without reform is cruel, enforcement without compassion is immoral, enforcement [that] breaks up families is unacceptable to us, enforcement that makes Christian ministry illegal' – and the Arizona law makes Christian ministry illegal – and pastors feel that and know that, and have said, 'We will disobey these laws.' "And when that happens, you have a force to be reckoned with." In April, Arizona passed the nation's toughest immigration law, aimed at identifying and deporting illegal immigrants. Scheduled to become effective July 29, the law mobilized thereligious community, and some civil and human rights organizations organized a state boycott. Arizona is home to an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants, ranking third in its population of undocumented immigrants behind California and Texas. (The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has confirmed it will meet as scheduled in Phoenix Sept. 15-21 and had added a pre-meeting trip to the Arizona-Mexico border.) Latinos represent the fastest-growing demographic for Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. This fact was not lost on the first panel, which featured Jefferts Schori, Rodriguez and Appleby discussing how religious activism has shaped immigration reform. "The faith community,” Rodriquez said, "really stands poised to increase what I call prophetic presence by leading a movement, a movement in favor of the church, a movement reminding Americans, particularly those of faith, that deportation of those who are Christian … may actually result in the deportation of the Christian faith." 'Political failure' The presiding bishop called Arizona's immigration law "the most recent expression of our national political failure." "The current crisis of immigration policy in these United States stems primarily from economic and resource imbalances and an exodus from poorer nations unable to sustain adequate opportunities for growing populations," Jefferts Schori said. "That imbalance is complicated by violence (both terrorism and the drug trade) as well as currently reduced employment opportunities within the United States." "Most Americans recognize the failure of our current migration policies,” she said, "but there is a wide range of preferred solutions or appropriate political responses." Jefferts Schori talked about the Episcopal Church's history of involvement with refugees and migrants, dating back to the 1940s advent of Episcopal Migration Ministries, and the church's repeated calls, rooted in theology, for comprehensive and fair immigration reform. "That theology begins in the biblical charge to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself," she said. "The alien or foreigner is among the neighbors to be regarded with love and justice. Hebrew Scripture repeatedly directs the faithful to 'care for the alien and sojourner in your midst,'" she said. "'You shall love the stranger, for you were also a stranger in the land of Egypt' [Deuteronomy 10:19]. That sense of having the shared experience of migration and being a foreigner opens us up to the shared reality of all humanity and motivates us to find all sorts of partners who also understand that shared reality. It is a central way in which the religious motivation engages the political. "Theological responses to issues of migration are also based in Jesus' mandate to care for the 'least of these' – the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, unemployed, oppressed and imprisoned,” she said. "Anyone experiencing those realities is alienated from the state of healed and whole reality that we speak of as the kingdom of God – that ancient prophetic vision of a world of justice and peace often called shalom. Those who experience such alienation are also migrants, sojourners in search of healing and wholeness." (Most recently in July 2009, the Episcopal Church's General Convention passed Resolution B006, which called for an end to local enforcement of immigration law and a return of such enforcement to federal agencies. In 2006, the convention passed Resolution A017, committing the church to welcome strangers "as a matter of Christian responsibility, to advocate for their well-being and protection and to urge its members to resist legislation and actions which violate our fundamental beliefs as Christians.”) Appleby spoke about the Roman Catholic Church’s long immigrant history. When explaining the church's involvement in immigration issues, he said, he often reminds church members that Jesus was both an immigrant and a migrant. "[I]n Catholic teaching, in the face of the migrant, we see the face of Christ, and so we need to welcome him," Appleby said, adding that immigrants are inherent in the Catholic Church's identity in the United States. "The Catholic Church has grown, pretty much parallel with the country, in terms of immigration over the last 200 years,” he said. "We have welcomed waves of immigrants who have been Catholic, Irish, Italian, those from Eastern Europe, and now those from Latin America." Latino immigrants can be found in every facet of Catholic life: in churches, schools, hospitals and asking for help from social-service agencies, he said, noting that the church is responding to their needs and, in doing so, working to change the "broken” immigration system. "We've been criticized, of course, for being in this because we want more Catholics in the pews," Appleby said. "Well, the reality is, they're already here. They are already there, and we are trying to respond to their needs within the confines of the law … it’s not lost on us that they are Catholic; 60 percent of migrants coming are Catholic." "Of course we have always followed the theme of 'need not creed,' and would continue to do that even if the migrants weren't predominantly Catholic," he added. Pew-leadership divide During the question-and-answer times following this panel and a second one exploring the connection among ethnicity, religiosity and partisanship, the fact that popular sentiment in America favors the Arizona law by 60 percent and the "view from the pew" diverges somewhat from that of religious leadership, across denominations, was discussed. The answers, the panelists agreed, lie somewhere within lack of education, fear and message delivery. Appleby said he viewed Americans' support for the Arizona law as showing their frustration with the nation's immigration policy. The Catholic Church's own polls show that church members favor a legal path to immigration, he said. "Congress has not stepped up to the plate on the issue and needs to do so, and people are frustrated," Appleby said. The church must do a better job of educating people, especially those in the middle who may be ambivalent, on the issue, he added. People often retreat to their worst sensibilities when they feel threatened, and this debate has evoked threat, said Jefferts Schori. "The reality, however, is that as much as the United States thinks it's a Christian nation, there is a large segment of the population who are not affiliated with any religious tradition, particularly in the West." Rodriguez asked: "How can a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values support slavery, and how did we tolerate segregation for so long?" "There is this threat imbedded in our DNA that really prompts and provokes those committed to faith to push back," he continued. "There is a disconnect between the pulpit and the pew. I believe the majority of faith leaders in this nation are in support of immigration reform … but the pew is completely disconnected. The pew is still listening to the demagoguery from political pundits, certain cable-news networks … and in light of our current economy … it's looking at the immigrant and the 'other.'" It took years, Rodriguez said, to convince Evangelicals to support immigration reform. Arizona, Wallis said, is now to Hispanic clergy what Selma, Alabama, was to African-American clergy in the 1960s. Should the Christian coalition hold strong, Rodriguez said, he expects to see its focus disseminate to the grassroots. And evidence indicates that may already be happening. During the second panel discussion, Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, presented data from a national survey showing 2-to-1 support for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform from across the religious landscape, including among white evangelical Protestants. "This of course doesn't mean there is unanimity, and there is certainly a vocal minority of opposition, but it is clear that there is strong majority support for comprehensive immigration reform," said Jones, in a follow-up e-mail. "We also found strong support for a common set of values that Americans across the board say should serve as moral guides for reform, such as respecting the dignity of each person and keeping families together." The second panel, which looked at the connection among ethnicity, religiosity and partisanship, also included David Leal, associate professor of government at the University of Texas, and Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. Listen to the full audio of the event here. CHRISTIANITY TODAY Faith-Based Fracas From the White House to the courthouse, the battle escalates over whether Christian groups have the right to employ only Christians. Bobby Ross Jr. | posted 6/16/2010 08:30AM When Sylvia Spencer applied at World Vision's U.S. headquarters near Seattle in 1995, she described herself as a committed Christian. Asked on an employment form why she wanted to work for the international humanitarian aid organization, Spencer wrote, "Because I would love to work for an organization dedicated to carrying on the Lord's work!" Another World Vision employee, Vicki Hulse, mentioned her 15 years as a Christian in a résumé attachment when she applied a few years later. "I recently moved to this area and would very much like to find a place of employment with a Christian organization where I could be of value," Hulse wrote. Both women signed statements affirming their Christian faith and devoted a decade to World Vision, which serves impoverished children and families in more than 100 countries. But in November 2006, they and colleague Ted Youngberg were fired. Their offense, as determined by a corporate investigation: The three did not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and a member of the Trinity. "They are deeply religious Christians," said Judith Lonnquist, a Seattle attorney who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on their behalf. "They just don't have the same beliefs that World Vision espouses." That is the problem, said Steve McFarland, chief legal officer for World Vision. "The employees were discharged because they no longer met an essential job prerequisite: that they genuinely affirm their belief in a statement of orthodox Christian faith as understood by the World Vision board." He said that if World Vision loses the federal discrimination suit, the consequences will be wide-ranging. "This would be a seismic disruption to religious freedom in the U.S., not to mention to the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of the government." World Vision U.S. has become one of the nation's largest faith-based charitable organizations. In 1947, founder Bob Pierce became World Vision's first child sponsor. He started sending $5 a month to a Chinese girl rejected by her family after Pierce shared the gospel with her and she became a Christian. Six decades later, World Vision U.S. has 1,200 employees and a budget that topped $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2009. About $344 million—29 percent of the total—came in the form of taxpayer funds. And to some people, that's a dilemma. Setting Policy In most cases, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits private employers from hiring and firing based on religious beliefs. But a 1972 congressional amendment established that churches and religious associations could use faith-based criteria in hiring. That's true even for a position with no inherently religious duties, such as a receptionist, said Ira "Chip" Lupu, a church-state scholar and law professor at the George Washington University Law School. But can religious groups that receive federal money to provide social services (such as job training or drug treatment counseling) consider a potential employee's religion when making hiring decisions? Lupu said that's the question of the hour. Some people believe that "hiring on the basis of religion is discriminatory and that the government should never subsidize such discrimination," Lupu said in a church-state primer that he shared with Christianity Today. Others, including many faith-based groups, argue that religion must be taken into account "to maintain the distinctive character and nature of [a group's] religious mission." L. Martin Nussbaum, a Colorado attorney who defends religious organizations, said the phrase "receive federal funding" is confusing, as it gives the impression that the government provides grants or subsidies to faith-based groups. Such payments to faith-based social service agencies "[are] actually payments under a contract for delivery of services," Nussbaum said. "There is nothing in the Constitution that requires a ministry to give up its freedom to staff itself with like-minded employees of faith merely because the government is purchasing the agency's services." The issue has a contentious history. Under the Clinton administration, the Department of Health and Human Services was allowed to contract with religious groups. President George W. Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to encourage faith organizations, including churches, to seek more government social-service contracts. In 2007, the Justice Department produced a memo explicitly exempting World Vision from federal statutes prohibiting faith-based hiring. The memo said the nondiscrimination rules did not apply because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The 1993 act prohibits the federal government from placing "substantial burdens" on religious groups and practices. The 2008 presidential election hinted at the first signs of a reversal of policy. On the campaign trail, Barack Obama indicated that as President he would take a more stringent approach: "If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them—or against the people you hire—on the basis of their religion," Obama said in July 2008. "Federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs." But as President, Obama has yet to push the issue. Despite the White House's silence, armies of activists and religious leaders are waging an escalating battle. The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination sent Obama a letter in February 2010 calling on him to follow through on his campaign promises. Among the coalition's more than two dozen member organizations: the American Jewish Committee, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society. Stanley W. Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, responded with an opposing letter to Obama in early March. It was backed by leaders of organizations such as Evangelicals for Social Action, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Catholic Charities usa, and Agudath Israel of America. "You have rightly called for an 'all hands on deck' approach to meeting the needs of the distressed and marginalized," Carlson-Thies told the President, "an approach that welcomes the contributions of the many faith-based organizations that do so much to help those in need." A Second Front World Relief—a Baltimore-based charity that last year received nearly half of its $61 million annual budget from government funding—made front-page headlines in March 2010. The story broke after the relief and development arm of the National Association of Evangelicals enforced a long-standing policy requiring new employees to sign a statement of faith. "Help wanted, but only Christians need apply," proclaimed the Chicago Tribune. The story focused on several World Relief employees who had quit the refugee resettlement organization's Chicago office over the issue. "World Relief rejects job applicant over his faith," declared The Seattle Times in a similar story. This one looked at a Muslim, Arabic-speaking caseworker who had volunteered at World Relief for six months but learned he did not qualify for full-time employment because he is not a Christian. Until the policy was rejuvenated in December 2009, a former Chicago staff member said, she loved her job. She worked with Christians as well as Buddhists and Muslims. She considered her work a calling. But the new policy struck her as contrary to Jesus' teachings. "I don't think Jesus would discriminate," the former staff member, who asked not to be identified, told CT. For its part, World Relief said it has an established practice of hiring Christians whenever possible while providing services to the vulnerable and needy regardless of ethnicity, beliefs, or gender. Exceptions are made when a non-Christian possesses unique skills critical to accomplishing World Relief's mission, said national spokeswoman Andrea Kaufmann. Even then, the individual must agree to respect World Relief's vision and values and not impair its Christian character and mission. The new emphasis came as a result of an internal process to evaluate and reiterate World Relief's mission and strategy, Kaufmann said. The renewed policy is designed "to ensure that hiring managers understand and have a formal mechanism for what was generally already the practice." "Faith is what makes a faith-based organization what it is," Kaufmann said. Awaiting the Ruling If World Vision loses its employment discrimination lawsuit before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the effects could be significant. In most cases, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from hiring and firing people based on their religious beliefs. In 2008, a federal judge was asked to determine whether World Vision qualified as a "religious association" under Title VII. Applying a nine-factor test, the court ruled in World Vision's favor. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that, much like the American Red Cross, World Vision is a humanitarian organization, not a religious one. "The vast majority of World Vision's services are centered on the distribution of resources and training to the poor, not on the direct inculcation of religious doctrine or propagation of religion," Lonnquist wrote in an appeals brief. But in the defendants' response, attorneys Steven T. O'Ban and Daniel J. Ichinaga said World Vision performs an essential religious mission first modeled by the founder of the Christian faith. "Like many Christian churches from most traditions," they said, "World Vision promotes the Christian faith by trying to meet the profound needs of the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ, and teaches recipients about the God who motivates them to serve others." The plaintiffs—one served as an administrative assistant, one worked in telecommunications, and one coordinated furniture needs—say their central duties were nonreligious in nature. Nonetheless, they said, they always supported the organization's mission and participated in Bible studies and devotionals on the job. Hulse and Spencer even started a small-group Bible study during World Vision's weekly employee chapel session—with a supervisor's permission and no objection from the ministry. But when leadership learned of their beliefs about the divinity of Christ more than two years after the alternative Bible studies began, the three were investigated and fired, the former employees said. Lonnquist told CT, "If Jesus walked the earth today, I think he'd be appalled. To me, 'there are many rooms in my Father's house' means there is room for everyone, whether you're Jewish and you believe in Yahweh, or you're a Muslim and you believe in Allah, or a Native American spiritualist and you believe in a great Buffalo Woman." Attorney Nussbaum sees it differently. He filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit in support of World Vision. He represents the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and other clients with a stake in the case's outcome. Nussbaum's argument: Faith organizations like World Vision believe they are called by God to perform a task. In doing so, these organizations rely on revelation acquired through sacred texts and religious traditions. Nussbaum notes that the core values statement from World Vision says: "We are Christian. We acknowledge one God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Jesus Christ the love, mercy, and grace of God are made known to us and all people. From this overflowing abundance of God's love, we find our call to ministry." The Bottom Line McFarland, World Vision's legal officer, said that if it came to it, World Vision would give up its federal funding before it would change its employment policy. World Vision will continue to hire Christians at all levels because otherwise, "it would start down a slippery slope that would soon dilute and divert World Vision's mission, character, and witness," he said in an e-mail. "The receptionist may not determine policy, but he or she is the hand or foot of the body of Christ that is World Vision." Attorney Lonnquist said she's confident that the plaintiffs can prevail in the Ninth Circuit. She's less certain of how the high court might rule. Church-state scholar Lupu said the Ninth Circuit sometimes produces liberal panels and liberal results, but not always. "If World Vision loses in the Ninth Circuit, the chances of Supreme Court review are high," he said, "and I think World Vision would win if the case goes that far." CATHOLIC REVIEW Faith groups across the spectrum taking up call for immigration reform By Patricia Zapor Catholic News Service WASHINGTON – Across the faith spectrum this year, from the Sojourners to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptists, prayer, education and advocacy are being taken up for the cause of immigration reform. Arizona’s passage in April of a law making it a crime to be in the state without immigration documents has spurred a range of actions by churches, including some that decided to move their conventions out of the state and others that are holding weeks-long prayer vigils. Still others are steering clear of commenting on the law, but have stepped up their activities in support of national immigration reform legislation. In early June, the superiors of each of the nine U.S. Jesuit conferences sent a letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress pressing for immediate reform. “With the new Arizona law, there is a real risk that life on our national borders will become subject to a patchwork of state responses,” said Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, in a statement accompanying the letter. “Congress is faced with both a constitutional and a moral imperative to act.” The letter lists many of the same key elements espoused by other supporters of comprehensive reform: – A path to legalization for the estimated 12 million people in the country who lack legal immigration status. Most advocates say this path should include payment of any owed back taxes and a fine and waiting in line for permanent residency behind immigrants with legal status. – A legal immigration structure that allows immigrants to fill gaps in the labor market without taking jobs from U.S. citizens. – A better system for family reunification to replace one that currently means most families have to wait many years to bring in spouses or children, leading many to resort to entering the country without permission. The Jesuits’ letter also listed the need for “due process and humane enforcement of our immigration laws,” and “development assistance and fair competition with developing countries” among their priorities. A week later, leaders of nine major conservative evangelical churches or institutions at a press conference in the Capitol made a similar call to action by Congress, with an added emphasis on tying such steps as legalization to prerequisites to control illegal traffic across the Mexican border. Quoting Old and New Testament Scripture and noting that President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., along with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., led the charge for comprehensive reform four years ago, speakers from Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform echoed many of the Jesuits’ points. “What do you do with the 12 million or more individuals living here in shadows?” asked Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. “You combine Leviticus 19, to be compassionate to the alien in your midst, with Romans 13, the rule of law. You can’t deport all of them. It’s not practical, it’s not moral, and I don’t believe it’s biblical either.” Catholic, Lutheran and other churches have long been at the forefront of both providing social and legal services to immigrants and working for reform of laws to make legal migration easier. In the last few rounds with Congress in trying to get a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed, more faith groups have joined the effort, many following the lead of evangelicals such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. At the evangelicals’ press conference, Rev. Rodriguez said evangelicals are increasingly united in support of immigration reform. The National Association of Evangelicals in 2009 issued a statement that combined scriptural calls to treat strangers well with “national realities” in urging an immigration policy that “is considerate of immigrants who are already here and who may arrive in the future” and that promotes national security and general welfare, he noted. “I think we’re building a lot of support in the pew,” Rev. Rodriguez said. “The influence of talk radio hosts and others in the media who oppose immigration reform is diminishing in light of the evangelical leaders who have stood up on the issue.” Meanwhile, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition has organized a national solidarity vigil and fast, running from June 6 to July 28, the date Arizona’s legislation is scheduled to take effect. The coalition’s members include Lutheran, Mennonite, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh and Unitarian groups as well as Franciscans, Jesuits, Sisters of Mercy, Pax Christi USA and Network, a Catholic social justice lobby. A website, changetakesfaith.org, gives a state-by-state schedule for prayer and vigil activities led by faith communities. Each week, assigned states will have volunteers scheduled for constant prayer and at least one public prayer event, focused on standing “with our immigrant brothers and sisters and stand(ing) against those who seek to divide our communities and distract from the real solution to our broken immigration system: comprehensive immigration reform.” Some churches are changing meeting plans. The board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association voted in May to cancel plans to hold its 2012 general assembly in Phoenix as a sign of solidarity with the people likely to be targeted for enforcement of the new law. The board noted that cancelling arrangements might run the association as much as $617,000, and that member congregations had offered to put up shares of the cost. In explaining the board’s vote, a report on the association’s website said: “We concluded that a values-first decision would make meeting in a location where Unitarian Universalists would be potentially subject to hostile, dangerous, and undignified treatment intolerable. “By the same token, our solidarity with those standing on the side of love within the state requires that pulling the (general assembly) from Phoenix represents a deeper, not lesser, engagement with the vitally important witness against such hateful legislation,” it said. ScienceBlogs Evangelicals Bail on Immigration Plan Posted on: June 13, 2010 9:23 AM, by Ed Brayton A few weeks ago I reported on a surprisingly rational statement about immigration reform signed by many prominent religious right leaders, one that endorsed a path to citizenship for those already here illegally. But now it appears that those leaders are willing to sacrifice that rational goal on the altar of anti-gay bigotry. In a new statement, those religious right leaders oppose a bill submitted by Sen. Chuck Schumer because it includes equality for gay and straight couples on the issue of allowing their partners to come to America. "A flawed immigration policy and the failure of the federal government to enforce existing immigration laws pose serious threats to our national security and domestic tranquility," said Mathew Staver, Founder & Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "Any potential consensus for key aspects of immigration may quickly be set back by partisan politics and special interests," Staver continued. Senator Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) proposed immigration bill includes a provision for same-sex domestic partners. President Barack Obama supports the objective of this provision, despite the fact that inclusion of domestic partnerships will kill any immigration bill. The provision in Schumer's bill, like the proposed Uniting American Families Act, will treat same-sex domestic partners like spouses in a marriage, thus making way for a foreign same-sex partner to become a legal citizen because of the relationship to a U.S. citizen. Despite the fact that homosexual groups estimate that the domestic partner provision will benefit only about 36,000 people, Sen. Schumer and President Obama still support the measure. The undersigned question whether President Obama and Sen. Schumer are more interested in pandering to special interest groups than they are to the pressing needs of immigration. "Same-sex domestic partnerships will doom any effort for bipartisan support of immigration and will cause religious conservatives to withdraw their support," Staver warned. "If same-sex domestic partnerships are included, the immigration bill will have no chance of passing," Staver said. We call upon the President and Congress to secure our borders, enforce the law, and pass a Just Assimilation Immigration bill. We urge our elected leaders to put the interest of America first and stop the political posturing. The following evangelical leaders affirm this statement on Immigration: Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Dr. Richard Land, President of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel; Hon. Kenneth Blackwell, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on Human Rights; Lou Engle, Co-founder, The Call to Conscience, and more. Their temporary reasonableness just could not overcome their fear and loathing of The Gay. In the end, it's more important for them to do everything they can to hurt gay people and destroy gay relationships than it is support a policy that will help America be more just and safe. BAPTIST PRESS Evangelical leaders: immigration reform bill needed this year By Tom Strode Jun 10, 2010 WASHINGTON (BP)--Both political parties should come together soon to enact a strategy of comprehensive immigration reform that increasingly is being supported by evangelical Christians, leaders from that religious identity said at a June 9 forum on Capitol Hill. Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and other evangelicals called for Congress and President Obama to set aside partisanship and special interests to resolve the controversy and problems of illegal immigration. The immigration crisis "is fanning the flames of hostility and animosity and distrust between various elements in our society, and it is time for our representatives in Congress and our president to put aside partisanship, to put aside narrow political interests and do what is best for the country," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "This just takes national will and insistence that our representatives and our senators and our president do what is in the best interest of the nation," Land said. Both parties have failed on the issue, said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "Democrats are willing to save the auto industry, the housing market, health care and banks but somehow do not find time or the political will to save children from being separated from their parents, securing our borders and integrating 12 million into a legal status that would reconcile our communities," Rodriguez said. The Republican Party "stands at the brink of repeating history by completing a wall, not between Mexico and the United States but between Hispanic Americans and the conservative movement. How ironic," he said. "The group that [President Ronald] Reagan believed would invigorate the Republican Party via its traditional values of God, family and country today potentially stands rejected by the party of Reagan. The family values party is alienating the most pro-life, pro-family constituency in America. Go figure." While there is disagreement from some, "there is significant agreement" among evangelical and faith-based leaders for comprehensive immigration reform that secures the country's borders and integrates illegal immigrants by providing "a pathway for earned, legal status and/or citizenship for those seeking" it, said Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel. Among white evangelicals, there was "a disconnect between the pulpit and the pew" the last time immigration reform was attempted in Congress in 2006-07, Rodriguez told reporters and others in attendance. Because of the leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals and others, as well as the "just integration strategy" backed by Land and Staver, "I think we're acquiring an incredible amount of support now from those in the pews," Rodriguez said. Talk show radio hosts who oppose comprehensive reform still influence evangelicals, "but I think that number is continuing to diminish in light of very prominent, very respectable leaders rising up in support of immigration reform," Rodriguez said. No one on the eight-member panel mentioned Arizona's law that has put immigration reform in the spotlight since it was enacted in April. The measure requires police to check with the federal government on a person's status if they suspect during a stop, detention or arrest he might be in the country illegally. Critics have charged the law legalizes racial profiling and have called for a variety of boycotts of the state, but Americans have expressed their support for the law in opinion surveys. No legislation to reform immigration is moving in Congress. Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., is seeking support for a proposal he has yet to introduce, and Staver referred June 9 to a version in the House of Representatives. After the mid-day forum, the evangelical leaders met in the afternoon with White House staff and congressional leaders. The group met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the Republican Conference; and Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president. A "special interest issue" that needs to be set aside involves same-sex domestic partners, Staver said at the Capitol Hill forum. Land, Staver and Rodriguez are among evangelical leaders who signed onto a June 4 statement opposing a provision in Schumer's legislative draft that would treat homosexual partners the same as heterosexual married spouses. They would oppose his overall bill if it maintains that section, they said. The measure would enable same-sex partners from overseas to become legal citizens of this country in the same way heterosexual spouses of United States citizens are now able to gain citizenship, according to Liberty Counsel. Land reiterated his call for reform that first secures the country's borders. A part of securing the borders "is a biometric, tamper-proof Social Security card," Land said June 9. He is not recommending a national identity card, Land said. "[T]hat's a smell too much like Big Brother. ... If you had a biometric, tamper-proof Social Security card that every legal worker had to have, citizen or not, then if people managed to get across the border illegally, they wouldn't be able to work," because employers would face stiff penalties for hiring illegal immigrants. After specific standards are met in securing the borders, "we move forward with a period of grace, where people can come forward and register and begin a pathway" to "earned, legal status" for guest workers and citizenship for those who desire it and qualify for it, Land said. A reporter asked if the panelists would say those who are in the United States illegally had committed a crime. "[M]ost of the people in my constituency would say, 'Yes, they've broken the law, and there need to be penalties for that," Land said. "The question is: What are the penalties? And we would argue that there needs to be an earned pathway to legal status that would include paying a fine, agreeing to come forward and register and undergo a background check, and to start taking English classes -- I think every church in America ought to start English classes -- and to take a civics class." Staver provided an answer to a question he raised of what to do with the 12 million or more illegal immigrants in this country. "I think from our perspective you combine Leviticus 19, which is to be compassionate to the alien who is in your midst, with Romans 13, the rule of law," Staver said. "If you just simply deport everybody, it's not practical. Not only is it not practical, it's not moral. And I don't believe that's biblical either." Pastors on the panel cited anecdotes of immigrants from various countries in their churches who have suffered because of the government's flawed system and lawyers or employers who have failed to keep their commitments to those immigrants. Jim Tolle, senior pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif., said a failure to address the issue may produce a subculture in finances, politics, education and public safety. "If we don't do immigration reform, if we don't have the staying power, the actual spiritual or relational or moral convictions, we will contribute to a massive multiplication of a subculture, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots will become the greatest in American history if we do nothing," Tolle said. In 2006, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on immigration that urged increased border security, enforcement of the laws, and judicious and realistic dealings with illegal immigrants, while encouraging Christian outreach to immigrants regardless of their legal status.