About 200 evangelical leaders, including many megachurch pastors from around the country, descended on Washington, D.C., May 3 for two days of intense lobbying of Congress on the issue of immigration reform.
The faith-based blitz was coordinated by the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, the Evangelical Immigration Table, and the Alliance for a New Immigration Consensus, whose combined memberships represent dozens of Christian, business, education and civic groups united in support of strong border protections and more compassionate treatment of Dreamers, migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers.
The two-day push is designed to inspire passage of “bipartisan, commonsense” reforms “which are needed urgently to fix our broken immigration system and bring relief to those whose status is in limbo and to bring greater security to our nation,” said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the NAE.
To pitch immigration as a “pro-life” issue, Carey capitalized on Politico’s exclusive May 3 report about a leaked Supreme Court brief that indicates the court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We believe that all people are made in the image of God and have inherent human dignity, both those who are born and the unborn,” he said. “And the same impetus for protecting the unborn is what brings us together today to talk about the need to protect and welcome immigrants and refugees who are coming to our country and to receive them with the love of Christ.”
The two-day blitz includes virtual and in-person meetings with U.S. senators and their staffs, organizers explained in a news release. “These evangelicals’ advocacy is happening at a moment when key senators from both parties are reportedly meeting to forge bipartisan solutions to key immigration policy issues such as the pending legal challenge facing beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and high levels of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The ministers also are equipped with recent polling by the National Immigration Forum finding that 89% of evangelical voters — including 81% of white evangelicals — support for citizenship for Dreamers, protections for migrant agricultural workers and improved border security and management.
Derwin Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, S.C., followed Carey’s news conference remarks with a plea that legislators consider the example of Jesus when formulating their views on immigration reform.
“As the pastor of a multiethnic church where we have every swirl of color and ethnicity, Jesus not only forgives sins but he gives us a family with different colors of skin. And a lot of our family are immigrants — they are refugees, they are asylum seekers. They want to be a part of this incredible nation called America,” said Gray, author of How to Heal Our Racial Divide.
Gray said he came to Washington this week to push for citizenship for Dreamers and better treatment for refugees and other immigrants.
“We want to see people who are made in the image of God be treated with dignity, with decency, with honor, with respect. Our prayer and our hope is that there would be smart, reasonable immigration reform that not only secures our borders, but also secures the dignity and worth of human beings.”
Kathryn Freeman, Texas advocacy mobilizer for World Relief, said she intends to advocate for Dreamers during her time on Capitol Hill.
“Dreamers are valuable to our Texas economy but more than that, they are valuable to our churches. These are young men and women who have served their country and are making positive contributions to our churches. They are Sunday school teachers, they are youth leaders, and we’re concerned that they might not be able to stay in the country they love — the only place that they have ever known,” said Freeman, former public policy director for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
“So, we are here asking Congress to act on a bipartisan basis to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers to show them … if we have disagreements on other political issues, we can agree that Dreamers deserve a place in our country and they deserve a place in our churches.”
Reid Kapple said his appeal to senators will focus not just on Dreamers but also on providing paths to citizenship for Afghan refugees.
“While I am thankful for the immediacy of bringing these evacuees here to the United States, what it has actually done is put them in this very unfortunate and ultimately unhelpful status as parolees,” said Kapple, campus pastor at Christ Community Church in Olathe, Kan.
Kapple said his multi-campus church has been collaborating with other organizations in the Kansas City metropolitan area to find jobs, housing and other services for hundreds of Afghans who have settled in the area. But time is running out for many of them.
“That status only has a two-year shelf life to it,” he said. “As of this day, there is no action by Congress to provide a permanent, clear path forward for these new neighbors of ours.”
Christian faith should compel support for immigration reform, he added. “It is imperative that we make movement here, not only because this is an extrinsic good for these Afghan refugees and neighbors, but an intrinsic good that allows us to continue to live out who we are as a nation of immigrants and a nation of welcome and hospitality.”
Baptist minister Manuel Mendoza said the Bible must be the starting place for consideration of immigration reform.
“I think many Christians would be surprised at the amount of times God uses the word ‘sojourner’ or ‘stranger’ through the Old Testament. … There are countless other examples of where God has blessed people who have been welcoming to the stranger,” said Mendoza, pastor of the Spanish-language congregation at Morningside Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C.
The reforms he and others are seeking from Congress will directly impact many members of his own congregation, he said.
“What I hope to accomplish is to let my voice be heard for those who have no voice at this time. I want to speak out for those who are building homes or cleaning them. I want to speak out for those who are picking our food or preparing our food. I want to speak out for those who are sometimes lost in the shadows or neglected. I came so that I may encourage and embolden our lawmakers to help raise up and be that voice to be able to enact charitable and compassionate immigration reform.”