Evangelical bid for immigration reform


In these early days of 2013, a strong and diverse group of evangelical leaders is renewing a commitment to immigration reform that honors the God-given dignity of every individual.

This moment offers Congress and President Barack Obama an unusual opportunity to come together and reform our immigration process in a way that honors the values of freedom and hard work that all Americans share. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that our conversation about immigration must change.

We are glad to see our political leaders catch up to the American people, including evangelicals. For too long, we have watched as families have been separated and our communities have frayed. Now, united, we urge our political leaders to set aside differences and create an immigration process that strengthens our communities and benefits all Americans.

We are bringing our message to Washington — and to our congregations — with the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge, which launched Monday. The challenge takes its name directly from Matthew 25:35, which records Jesus as saying that by welcoming a stranger, we may be welcoming him.

We are inviting believers, including members of Congress, to read short passages of Scripture that reveal God’s heart for immigrants each day for 40 days. The challenge also encourages us to pray for immigrants in our communities.

This effort builds on a National Strategy Session in Washington last month and letters evangelical leaders sent to the president and congressional leaders after the election. In both, we have urged our political leaders to introduce common-sense, common-ground legislation within 92 days of the president’s Inauguration — 92 because the Hebrew word “ger,” which means stranger or immigrant, appears in the Old Testament 92 times.

We also continue to work across the country to educate and mobilize fellow evangelical Christians to support just immigration laws. Support for reform is growing in our churches, denominations, campuses and communities.

The harmony among evangelical leaders across the spectrum is unprecedented, and it did not start with the November election. In June, we convened the Evangelical Immigration Table and issued a statement of principles for immigration reform, signed by more than 150 prominent evangelical leaders.

Even as momentum continues to build, we know that our work is only beginning; initiatives by both parties to improve our immigration policies have stalled in years past. But we are firm in our commitment to an immigration system that respects human dignity and upholds the rule of law, that keeps families together and strengthens our economy, that recognizes our tradition as an inclusive nation of immigrants.

In short, we recognize that our country’s strength lies in our ability to work hard and work together to build our communities and our economy, no matter where we are born. Yes, our immigration process must guarantee secure national borders and ensure fairness to taxpayers. But it also must establish legalization and/or a road map to citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.

The president promised reform during his campaign, named it as a priority in his election night acceptance speech and has spoken strongly about it since then. On both sides of the aisle, members of Congress also recognize that they have an urgent need and a rare opportunity to improve our immigration policies. We will support them as they work to meet these challenges and answer their constituents’ call for change.

On Election Day, 65 percent of voters, including 51 percent of Republicans, said they favor a chance at legal status for most immigrants in the U.S. who lack documentation. Leaders in Congress must recognize that better immigration policy is not a Latino or immigrant issue but an American challenge.

Accordingly, immigration reform must not be a Republican or Democratic cause but a bipartisan one.

Our immigration system can and must work, whether a family has been here for generations or is new to this country — and even for those who still hope to come to this land of opportunity, as long as they are willing to work hard and contribute to their community.

Only when our immigration process reflects these values of family, love, hard work, freedom and liberty will our country move forward and fulfill its promise. A united front of evangelicals stands ready to welcome the stranger — and to support legislation that reflects our Christian values and builds this common good.

Stephan Bauman is president and CEO of World Relief. The Rev. Gabriel Salguero is president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

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