Hoping to stir more Christians to support immigration reform, a group of evangelicals unleashed radio and newspaper ads aimed at House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday.
The radio and newspaper advertisements are part of the “We’re praying for you, Speaker Boehner” campaign launched by the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable.
Minutes after the evangelicals announced the ads in a conference call with reporters, Boehner declined to commit to a deadline for House legislation on the issue in his weekly news conference.
“I’ve learned a long time ago, from this podium not to make a lot of predictions,” Boehner said when asked whether he’d take up immigration reform next year.
The evangelicals’ ads were launched as young children staged sit-ins at congressional offices at the Capitol in support of immigration reform. Police were called to the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., but the children had meetings with Reps. Scott Tipton, R-Colo. and Michael Grimm, R-NY.
The children delivered Christmas cards to Boehner’s office, slipping them under the door, but police lost patience when the children sang carols with other immigration protesters from Arizona who have been regularly praying outside Boehner’s office in the Longworth building across from the Capitol. Boehner is usually in an office he has in the Capitol.
“This is a place of business and we do not sing in the hallways. Comprende? I’m done,” the officer said based on video captured by the protesters and posted on YouTube.
The evangelicals’ current ad campaign, dubbed “We’re praying for you Speaker Boehner,” is made up of radio ads playing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and throughout North Carolina. Altogether, the ads are playing on 30 Christian radio stations and WTOP in Washington, D.C. A Spanish-language ad is playing in Orange County, Calif. A newspaper ad also ran in the Express newspaper in Washington, D.C.
They have run other ads and have a “Pray for Reform” campaign which has drawn about 200,000 participants who are praying for their members of Congress on the issue.
The evangelicals say their efforts are significant even if some House members do not have a significant Latino electorate in their districts where they will seek re-election next year.
Many districts have very large numbers of evangelical Christians, said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
“The majority of Christians call for immigration reform and are doing it largely out of a biblical concern. I think the members of the House need to hear from constituents that may not be Latino, but are in fact, evangelical Christians who are voting for them or are certainly available to vote for them,” Anderson said.
Dub Karriker, senior pastor at Christian Assembly Church in Durham, N.C., is featured in the North Carolina ad. Local pastors are in other ads for their local markets.
“Please join me in praying for Speaker Boehner and House leadership that God will help them find an immigration solution that reflects biblical values,” Karriker said in the ad.
Karriker said his church started seeing a rapid increase in the Latino population in his city in the 1990s and began a Spanish-speaking congregation. The Latino population is now at 14 percent and “the church that we started has grown to be as large as our original church.” That congregation has provided real-life examples of the problems faced by immigrants, he said.
For example, the Salvadoran husband of a church member, born in the U.S., has been in the U.S. illegally. He tried to apply for citizenship after living here and raising a family and was deported, Karriker said.
He said he belongs to a Durham group of 40 evangelical pastors from black, white, Asian and Latino churches who for years have prayed for the nation and for its leaders and now for Boehner and House members.
“I hope and I trust they will listen to the prayers of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are crying out to God to fix this broken system,” Karriker said.
His church had a learning curve when it first started the Hispanic church, as the reality sunk in that many of the Latino members were not in the country legally. But once relationships were built the problems the people faced changed some minds.
“Understanding the biblical values and the teaching that’s been done from the pulpit and the discussions we’ve had together, both Latino and our original congregation, it has brought a lot of clarity to people,” he said.
Roger Raymer, senior pastor at Lake Ridge Bible Church in Mesquite, Texas, near Dallas, said the evangelical campaign is having an effect on his relatively conservative political and theological congregation.
“As they become acquainted with what God’s word has to say about about immigrants and what our responsibility is as Christians today, I see attitudes changing … much more open, much more compassion, much more ready to not jump to a short-term solution, but to look a little more at solving the complexity of the problem.”
Also this week, more Democratic members are stepping in to take part in a fast that activists started and ended after 21 days and then started again with new fasters. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., began fasting Thursday, taking over for Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., who took over for Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., who took over for a 24-hour fast, for Eliseo Medina, one of the 21-day fasters.
Late Wednesday, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., went on a tirade on the House floor, breaking House decorum, to protest fellow member Garcia being called out of order for recognizing immigrant children in the House gallery who were brought to the country illegally by parents. “You think they want to be spending their time here, Madame Speaker,” Polis screamed.