As evangelical leaders push for immigration reform, they prove yet again that politics makes strange bedfellows.
The typically conservative group is allying with President Obama and congressional Democrats through a broad coalition called the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT). Supporters of the EIT include Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Matthew Staver of Liberty University, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and more than 100 heads of evangelical denominations, colleges, and organizations. Together, they have endorsed a statement calling for a bipartisan solution that, among other things, respects human dignity, protects the unity of families, secures our national borders, and establishes a pathway toward citizenship for those who desire it.
Many commentators believe this effort may create a tipping point on immigration. Evangelicals are able to speak about the issue in moral terms by using religious language, and as an important part of the conservative base, they can pressure Republican opposition in ways few other groups can.
As William McKenzie of The Dallas Morning News writes, “Evangelicals hold the key to re-creating our immigration system.”
Yet despite the broad support from such an influential faction of American Christians, the road to immigration reform is still a long one. Though a reform bill passed in the Senate with 68 votes, passage in the House seems less than likely. GOP leaders have publicly criticized the bill, and Speaker Boehner says he won’t pass it without a majority of the Republican caucus. Additionally, he says they will write their own bill rather than accept the Senate’s. In short, it may be a while before an immigration bill becomes law.
So what gives?
As it turns out, the evangelical movement on immigration has been mostly top-down and not bottom-up. It has failed to do the difficult work of convincing and mobilizing (or at least neutralizing) the millions of evangelical churchgoers and voters. As The New York Times reports, while “no prominent pastor has spoken out against the immigration (reform) effort … accord has been less broad among the faithful.”