Evangelical leaders, Kennedy unite on immigration reform
By Robert Marus
Published April 2, 2007
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A bipartisan array of Congress members and evangelical leaders exhorted their colleagues March 29 on the moral necessity of immigration reform.
Leaders from across the ideological spectrum -- from Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land -- held a Capitol Hill press conference to call on Congress and President Bush to institute immigration reform. They said any such reform should both secure American borders and treat justly the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.
"At the bottom of this whole debate and discussion, this is a moral issue -- a moral question, deeply moral," said Kennedy, who called the Capitol Hill press conference and who has led a long fight for immigration reform.
"One of my very favorite provisions in the Bible is Matthew 25, when the good question that is put by the Lord is, 'What have you done for the least of these?'" Kennedy said, noting that Jesus calls his followers to aid "the stranger." He also noted passages in the Old Testament law in which God commanded ancient Hebrews to welcome "aliens among you."
Congress took up immigration-reform legislation last year, but it became bogged down from internal struggles in the then-Republican majority. The party was torn between anti-immigration hardliners and those, including President Bush, who wanted more comprehensive reform. The comprehensive reform would have included opportunities for undocumented workers in the United States to earn permanent status and start the process toward citizenship.
Some conservatives have objected to such provisions in Bush's plan. They call such plans "amnesty" for illegals.
But Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told reporters that such terminology clouds the debate.
"The idea that you would call having to learn to read and write and speak English and you would have to go through a series of processes … to earn legal status and citizenship -- it does great harm to the English language to call that 'amnesty,'" he said.
Legislators at the press conference expressed hope that a reform bill will make it through the new Congress.
Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have introduced a bipartisan bill in the House. Kennedy said he believes the Senate will take up similar legislation when the chamber returns from its Easter recess.
Graham, who is Southern Baptist, told reporters Congress is closer than he's ever seen to passing immigration reform. "I am more encouraged than I ever have been on this particular issue that the Congress is coming together, with help from the administration, to create some legislation that will make America safe [and] secure, and we can still say at the end of the day that we're America," he said.
"There is a way to hold people accountable for breaking the law and still have a just result," he said. "Because if the law doesn't render justice, what good is it?"
The Gutierrez-Flake bill is known as the "Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007," or the STRIVE Act. It is H.R. 1645.
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