Washington -- Evangelical Christians are pulling together to advocate for action on immigration reform by the end of the year -- and their influence could be substantial.
The Evangelical Immigration Table's “Pray4Reform: Gathered Together in Jesus' Name” campaign running from Oct. 12 through Oct. 20. includes more than 300 events in 40 states where members of the faith are praying for reform. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a coalition of evangelical Christian groups including World Relief, Bread for the World, and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.
While many Americans who back changes in the immigration law do so for economic or political reasons, the Evangelical Immigration Table does not support any specific legislation or political party. Rather the group favors a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers for moral reasons.
“There is overwhelming evidence in scripture for hospitality and for welcoming the stranger,” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero who leads the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, a moderate-to-progressive evangelical organization. “The word stranger appears 92 times in the Old Testament and states 'Welcome the stranger because you were once a stranger.'”
A Senate-approved immigration bill stalled in House of Representatives passage earlier this year. Unrest in Syria, the roll out of Obamacare and the partial government shutdown have all overshadowed immigration reform efforts.
But in light of the renewed push for reform in 2013 the personal is becoming political for some Christians. Many Evangelical church members and leaders plan to come to Washington for a two-day event on Oct 28-29 to lobby lawmakers and hold a news conference.
Jenny Yang, vice president of World Relief, said Evangelicals have come out of the woodwork because they don't want to miss an opportunity at a time when urgent change is needed.
“We've never advocated to a specific bill, but there are basic principles that we support,” Yang said.
Those principles include offering aid to people in need, keeping families together and welcoming those who are new to the county. But both Yang and Rev. Salguero understand that merging political and personal beliefs is unusual evangelicals.
While not every evangelical in the United States supports immigration reform, a CBS poll conducted in July showed that three out of four evangelicals favor reform efforts.
“We know it's a win-win,” Salguero said. “Ours in the moral argument, but we know there is overwhelmingly evidence that there is an economic need for it”
The Senate-passed bill would overhaul the immigration system, allowing some of the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to eventually achieve citizenship, provided they pay taxes and learn English. Many economists argue this will boost the U.S. economy and add jobs.
William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinks Evangelical backing for support for immigration reform is important. Galston reasoned that the mainly Republican group in the House -- those most resistant to changes benefiting the undocumented -- might also be the most responsive to the Evangelical movement.
“If Evangelical leaders walked the halls of Congress and knocked on the doors of Southern Republicans, they won't be turned away,” Galston said.
Yang said Evangelicals held over 100 meetings with members of both parties during reform-related events this past summer. October's events in Washington will focus on meeting with even more members of Congress.
“For members who do take their faith very seriously, we are trying to reach out to them, and say have you considered this issue through the lens of your faith?” Yang questioned.
The role of faith in legislative matters is woven into the history of the United States.
“The separation of church and state is one thing, but the separation of religion and politics is another," Galston said. “This is nothing new.”
While the push for immigration reform is intensifying, time is dwindling to get it passed by the end of the calendar year.
“Every day that we don't see legislation, there is a cost to an action,” Yang said.
While the question of when immigration reform will pass lingers, Brookings senior fellow Galston says the Evangelicals are showing a real sign of commitment.
“They are not going to give this up without a fight,” he said. “These are some tough, experienced people, so stay tuned.”