"If they feel the border can be secured, and they're confident that it has been, they're prepared to do something for the 11 million folks who are here. They want to make sure that we don't do this again. And they don't trust the administration to do it," Barrett Duke told a Washington, D.C., audience regarding the viewpoint of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals on immigration reform.
Duke offered his analysis in the midst of an August congressional recess that divides Senate passage of reform legislation from possible House of Representatives action this fall. Senators approved a comprehensive bill in June, but House leaders have said their chamber will consider its own legislation.
The Senate-passed measure grants the verification of border security requirements -- and the authority to waive the requirements in some cases -- to the secretary of Homeland Security. That is a problem for many evangelicals and other concerned citizens.
The House has "to figure out a way to get it out of the hands" of the administration, Duke said at an Aug. 12 panel discussion at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center. He recommended Congress "set up a quasi-federal corporation whose job is to build the infrastructure" at the border. Congress, not the administration, would sign off on its implementation, he said.
"Somehow they have to create a break between where the administration is and getting that done," said Duke, vice president for public policy at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "hat's the biggest hurdle right now."
The ERLC is focusing on congressional districts in its efforts on behalf of legislation that includes security at the border and in the workplace, as well as a path toward citizenship for those who qualify and are willing to pay fines and to meet other requirements.
"hether or not we're going to get the votes in the House really depends on the local activity, not so much the activity" in Washington, Duke said.
The ERLC will concentrate on "helping congressmen hear from their districts, churches, people in their districts, so that they understand there is a group of people within their own districts who care about" the issue, he said.
In addition to its own efforts, the ERLC works for broad immigration reform as part of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical leaders. EIT announced Aug. 20 its latest radio efforts to influence members of Congress. The coalition launched more than $400,000 in ad buys in 56 congressional districts across 14 states.
In a phone conference call, Duke told reporters, "The rule of law and love of neighbor are both necessary values for any civilized people. They don't have to be competing values."
Other Southern Baptists speaking on the conference call were Felix Cabrera, Hispanic pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City; Stan Coffey, pastor of The Church at Quail Creek in Amarillo, Texas; and Bob Lowman, executive director of Metrolina Baptist Association in Charlotte, N.C.
The ERLC and EIT have promoted principles for immigration reform, but neither has endorsed any specific legislation.
The "active engagement of the evangelical community" has been "the main game-changer" between this year's stronger immigration reform effort and the most recent serious attempt in 2006, Duke told the audience at the Aug. 12 panel discussion.
Though the ERLC backed immigration reform in 2006, Duke said, "Most Southern Baptists at that point really hadn't thought very much about the issue of immigration reform. In fact, most of what they thought about it was negative.... The biggest difference then between 2006 and now is about seven years of reflection and the opportunity then for Southern Baptists and most evangelicals to begin to think about the issue of immigration reform, not only through the lens of the rule of law but also through a biblical lens and a humanitarian lens."
Immigration reform also has become a personal matter as Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have evangelized immigrants in their communities, Duke said.
"More and more of them are in our churches, and our pastors and our congregants are getting to know them," he said. "Once you begin to get to know a people, you no longer think of them as the other, those people out there. You have a more personal understanding of them, and it becomes personal for you. And as they've begun to reflect on these immigrants as people ..., they've begun to change their understanding of this issue to the point where it's no longer just a rule of law question. It's also a biblical, humanitarian question."
In 2011, messengers to the 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 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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