WASHINGTON (BP) -- An advertising campaign in South Carolina supporting immigration reform is about more than politics, Southern Baptist leaders say.
The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), a coalition of evangelical Christian leaders, began advertising March 13 on Christian radio stations in South Carolina in an effort to promote congressional passage this year of broad immigration reform legislation. The ad buy is an effort to bolster support from the state's senators and representatives in Congress for such a bill in the face of a competing effort by reform foes.
It has more than politics as a driving force, said Southern Baptists on a March 13 telephone news conference.
"It goes way beyond mere partisanship," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "This is an issue of conviction; it's an issue of values; it's an issue of bringing our biblical values to bear on an issue that's rending the social fabric of the nation."
Trey Doyle, pastor of First Baptist Church in York, S.C., said, "This is about faith for us and putting that faith into action."
The ad -- which features Jim Goodroe, director of missions for the Spartanburg County Baptist Network -- will run on 15 Christian stations over the next two weeks with its cost at five figures, an EIT spokesman said.
NumbersUSA has a $100,000 ad campaign running in the state that criticizes Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for joining seven other senators in promoting a bipartisan immigration reform proposal, according to Bloomberg News Service.
South Carolina is important "because Senator Graham has been part of the group of senators that have courageously been taking this issue on," Land told reporters on the call.
Supporters of immigration reform are grateful for Graham's past and current leadership on the issue, he said. "And we believe that kind of courageous leadership should be supported."
Land also pointed to the significance of Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican from Spartanburg who is chairman of the House of Representatives subcommittee that deals with immigration policy.
"And so just as those who oppose immigration reform have been targeting South Carolina, for the same reasons we are putting these ads in South Carolina," because Graham, Gowdy and other South Carolina members of Congress need to hear from their supporters, he said.
Gowdy is a member of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg.
Goodroe added, "South Carolina is also important because we have so many immigrants, and they play such an important role in our economy and in our civic life."
In the 60-second ad, Goodroe encourages listeners to join an increasing number of Christians who are urging politicians to provide solutions to the immigration problem that "reflect each person's God-given dignity, respect the rule of law, protect family unity, guarantee secure borders, ensure fairness to taxpayers and establish a path toward citizenship."
The growing evangelical effort for reform seeks to address what is widely acknowledged as an immigration system badly in need of repair. The current system has resulted in the presence of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
The proposal by Graham and the other senators would require undocumented immigrants to register with the government -- as well as pass a background check and pay back taxes and a fine -- to gain "probationary legal status." All enforcement provisions must be final before an immigrant on probation can earn a green card and apply for citizenship years later. A commission, which includes governors and attorneys general from Southwestern border states, must make a recommendation about when the security prerequisites are met.
Immigrants on probation will not be able to receive federal benefits and must go to the back of the line for all immigrants, undergo another background check, learn English and civics, and prove they have a history of employment and a current job to seek permanent residency.
Critics have charged the proposal would grant amnesty to those who are in the United States illegally.
Goodroe denied that charge, saying, "mnesty implies no repercussions or obligations or whatever. ... That path to citizenship is tough. There's a lot of things that an individual must do, and that's not an easy path. ... So I think if someone understood that path toward citizenship they would realize that we're not talking about amnesty, but even the path toward citizenship is tough but needs to be fair."
EIT is sponsoring an Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform April 17 in Washington.
Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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