“He has staked out a position of leadership,” said Rev. Luis Cortes Jr., head of Esperanza, a Hispanic faith-based evangelical network. Cortes met Thursday with Rubio and separately with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, before going to the White House gathering.
Cortes said he’s encouraged because Republicans are bending on “earned” citizenship while Democrats are open to guest worker programs their union allies opposed before. “In the past it was very hard to get people to talk,” he said. “For the first time I’m enthusiastic because everyone is willing to have a conversation.”
The evangelical approach lines up with the bipartisan framework Rubio and seven other senators released late last month.
“It should include appropriate penalties, waiting periods, background checks, evidence of moral character and a commitment to full participation in American society through learning English,” Mathew Staver, chairman of the conservative Liberty Counsel, wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Times on Tuesday, when a House committee began debate on immigration.
“Yet for our hardworking, undocumented neighbors who aspire to be fully American, it must end with citizenship — not a permanent second-class status. Such a path also reconciles the rule of law in Matthew 25, where the Bible teaches us that by welcoming a stranger, we may be welcoming Jesus: ’I was a stranger and you invited me in.’ Whatever we do for the least among us, he teaches, we do for him.”
The House hearing underscored wariness many Republicans have toward granting citizenship to law breakers and the challenge in the weeks to come. Still, the tone of the discussion was starkly different from past years — a reflection of the GOP’s dismal performance among Hispanic voters last election, but also evangelical sway.
“You hear less of the accusatory things,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who is pushing for comprehensive reform. “The faith community just reminds everybody that you have to follow the rule of law but don’t forget this is not cattle. It’s what do we do with 10 or 12 million human beings.”
Evangelical churches reflect the changing face of the country, with their numbers swelling with Hispanics. There are now about 500,000 Hispanic Southern Baptists and about 40 percent are undocumented, according to Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
While those people arrived illegally, or overstayed visas, Land said the United States is also to blame for lax enforcement and not meeting labor demands.
“We’ve had two signs at the border for the last quarter century. One of them says ’No trespassing.’ The other says ’Help wanted.’ ”
Contact Alex Leary at email@example.com.