"The momentum is in the right direction," Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke said.
"I believe we are going to see our country deal in a humane way with the question of the folks who are here illegally, but we do still have a lot of work to do at the grassroots level," Duke said to a group of attendees at Q 2012, an annual conference that brings together Christians to focus on cultural renewal.
Evangelical Christians need to inform their members of Congress that they care about comprehensive immigration reform in addition to such issues as abortion, Duke said.
"What we have to do is get enough folks in their districts and in their states to say, 'This matters also. We want you to take a position on this too, and this is the position we want you to take,'" he said.
Some agreement exists between those who support comprehensive immigration reform and those who want to deport all illegal immigrants, Duke told the briefing attendees.
"here is some common ground when you begin to talk about the impact on folks who have been here for a long time," he said. "And I think that's a starting point ... for us to begin to talk about the question of the impact people when you drive them out of, in many cases, the only place they know and the only ... situation they have where they can actually make a living."
Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The resolution urged the government to make a priority of securing the nation's borders and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. After securing the borders, the resolution also requested that public officials establish "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." The resolution specified it was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
Duke, at the April 12 briefing, said most Southern Baptists agree that "it is not Christian -- not to mention it is not humane -- to try to drive 10 to 12 million people out of the country."
Southern Baptists "are in a very good position on this," he said. "We continue to advocate for immigration reform. We're going to be ramping up our efforts at the grassroots level as well, because it's clear nothing's going to happen in Washington, D.C., until the country demands it."
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said an interesting shift has occurred in the debate.
"The story for so many years has been about the conflicts around immigration reform, about one side versus another," Noorani said during the briefing. "Now the story is, 'Okay, how do we get this solved, and how do we piece together the votes and the policy that will get a bill to the president's desk?'"
He continued, "I think that conservatives are realizing that in order to compete for not only Hispanic voters but also non-Hispanic voters, they have to put forward a compassionate position on the need for immigration reform. I think your liberal politicians are realizing they just can't play politics anymore, that they have to reach across the aisle and say, 'Okay, how are we going to fix this problem?'"
Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, said the politics of the issue keeps it alive for some members of Congress.
"ome people want to have the issue more than the result," Carey said. "So, they want to have this issue so that they can beat up on the other party and say, 'See those guys -- they hate you.' But if the problem were solved, then the issue would go away, and they don't want that either."
Noorani would not totally rule out passage of immigration reform this year, "but I think the chances are pretty slim," he said. "But there's a lot of important work that needs to take place in 2012."
For several years, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commmission has supported the same type of comprehensive immigration reform advocated in the 2011 convention resolution. A paper written by Duke and ERLC President Richard Land on the fundamentals of "just immigration reform" can be accessed at http://erlc.com/article/just-immigration-reform-foundational-principles.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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