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Evangelical group calls for bipartisan, ‘humane’ immigration reform

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WASHINGTON – Representatives of nine Christian organizations said Tuesday they have banded together to promote “humane and bipartisan” U.S. immigration reform policy.

The leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table did not mention or endorse any specific public policies, but laid out six principles of reform that they hope will guide national leaders. They said more than 150 religious leaders have signed on to their statement.

“We must begin to work toward a balanced solution to this immigration crisis, a solution that is both just and compassionate,” said David Fleming, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church near Houston. “And the current immigration system is neither.”

While the group has not taken any policy positions, one religious history professor called it important that such a “remarkably politically diverse” group of churches was taking a stand.

“If they could somehow persuade … the religious right to back a proposal, I think it has a potential to be a significant development,” said Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Dartmouth College.

The principles laid out by the group have the backing of Baptist, evangelical, Hispanic and black congregations, religious schools and seminaries, writers and pastors, among others.

The Evangelical Immigration Table said it wants politicians to pursue immigration reform based on the “Evangelical Statement of Principles of Immigration Reform.” They include respect and dignity for every person, respect for the law, protection of the nuclear family, securing national borders, ensuring fairness to taxpayers, and creating a path toward citizenship.

The group has planned newspaper and radio ads touting the principles.

Carlos Moran, Tennessee director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said after Tuesday’s news conference that the “dysfunction of our current immigration legal system” has left the door open for states like Arizona to pass their own immigration laws.

“Arizona, of course, reflects the concern that many states have: How to deal with an immigration system that is dysfunction and broken,” Moran said. “It’s an example of people wanting to remedy a situation.”

While he said he thinks that Arizona’s path is “probably a little too drastic,” he said such situations also challenge the Evangelical Immigration Table to move more quickly “to do something right.”

Religious groups have been calling on Congress for a long time to pass more humane immigration laws, but the emergence of self-identified conservative religious groups is fairly new, said an official of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic-rights advocacy group.

“We welcome the incursion of … groups who describe themselves as more conservative,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and civic engagement for La Raza.

She credited their interest to a realization that the way the country is handling immigration “really violates fundamental religious teaching and family values.”

She said the debate, particularly in Arizona, has shifted “to close the space where the actual majority of the people stand.”

“The more groups coming to the table and pushing forward with that, will drown out the more radical voices that have been allowed to speak freely,” Martinez said.