Supporting immigration reform can help candidates from both parties as they seek the Latino vote, says a study. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Bipartisan group of Evangelical leaders calls for immigration reform

Evangelical leaders and activists have been pushing for immigration reform since early summer. Now they’re not just urging Washington for immigration reform, they want it in the first 92 days of President Obama‘s second term.

The Evangelical Immigration Table — a group of 150 evangelical leaders who joined together in June of this year — released open letters to President Obama, the House and the Senate urging them to take action on immigration policy in the new administration’s first 92 days.

“This is not a Latino issue, this is an American issue,” says Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, who was there with several other prominent evangelical leaders. “We want leaders in Washington to put aside political rhetoric and partisanship,” Rev. Salguero added.

The evangelical leaders said this push for immigration reform has nothing to do with politics, but rather biblical teachings. Evangelical leaders say that the bible instructs followers to help strangers from another land; how one treats a stranger is how one would treat Jesus, according to their teachings.

“How we tackle immigration reform reflects the character of our entire nation,” said Dr. Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. In Dr. Duke’s opinion, the issue of immigration isn’t just a political, economic or moral issue, but one that could bring the country together. After all, he notes, immigration has bridged the gap between these 150 evangelical leaders.

“We didn’t all vote the same way on election day,” Dr. Duke says, “yet we share core values in how our nation should work. [Immigrants] are worthy of respect and dignity regardless of their country of origin.”

RELATED: Latino Catholics strongly back Obama, evangelicals more divided

Earlier this year, the Evangelical Immigration Table met with President Obama’s staff and Florida Senator Marco Rubio to discuss reform. They were spurred to action by Mitt Romney’s speech at the National Association of Latino and Elected Officials (NALEO), which briefly addressed the issue of immigration.

Since that meeting, the group claims they have been given a “friendly listen” by leaders in Congress, but given “minimal commitments.”

Coalition leaders now think the time is right for reform and note that there has been change on both sides of the aisle, an opening that could lead to a solution.

“The country is hungry to see something positive come from politics,” says Jim Wallis, President and CEO of the Sojourners.  Immigration reform is for the common good, Wallis says, adding, “the country will be very relieved to see politicians that are bipartisan and come together.”

RELATED: Immigration a top topic for Latinos when deciding their vote

Despite their optimism, coalition leaders know there will still be hurdles. In their opinion, this will include addressing border security for the Republican party and bringing immigrants to legal status.

An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants have become an essential part of American society, the faith leaders argued. They also believe that immigration rips families apart when relatives are deported, which goes against a family’s right to stay together. The evangelical leaders are calling for a faith-based solution to help strangers in need.

The desire to help “strangers” is what gave the Evangelical Immigration Table their deadline; the word “ger” which means “stranger” appears in the bible’s Old Testament 92 times, giving Washington 92 days to make a change.

When asked about opposition in their own religious community, leaders like Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, argued that despite differences many pastors and church leaders are studying the bible and getting on board with immigration reform.  He says, “It’s the 21st century and our laws are 20th century. It’s time to catch up.”

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