More than 150 leaders of major evangelical Christian groups have signed a statement urging Congress to step up efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, a significant break away from the conservative party's typically harsh stance on the issue.
As the face of America changes, so does the evangelical cohort, which is now faced with reconciling its traditionally conservative political viewpoint with a congregation that is increasingly filled with Hispanic followers.
Together, the leaders have formed the “Evangelical Immigration Table,” a coalition that is calling for a faith-based approach to immigration reform, specifically by allowing illegal immigrants a path to legal status while being mindful of national security and fairness to American taxpayers, the Baptist Press reports.
The coalition comes on the heels of an increasingly partisan election season, in which Latino evangelicals have become torn, writes Maribel Hastings, a senior adviser at America's Voice Education Fund and a National Journal/The Next America contributor.
Latino evangelicals don’t agree with President Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage or his administration’s deportation record. They also aren’t enthused by Republican contender Mitt Romney’s campaign thus far, including his “self-deportation” gaffe and strong opposition to the Dream Act.
“We’re in this moment where the Latino evangelical is a classic swing voter, and is putting serious thought into which of the two parties will do the right thing, across the whole platform. We don’t vote on just one issue. We have a broad platform, and that’s what will be determined in November,” Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, told Hastings.
Hispanics now account for 7.5 million of the 82 million evangelicals in the country, according to The New York Times, and they’re also the fastest-growing group, much like trends seen with general population growth.
With recent polls showing that the Hispanic voting bloc is mainly concerned with the economy and jobs, like other Americans, immigration reform may not have to be a talking point for either candidate.
Consider Romney’s more recent attempts to win over the crucial constituency. His campaign released Spanish-language ads blaming Obama for the dismal May jobs report that put Hispanic unemployment at a soaring 11 percent--3 percentage points higher than the national average.
In return, pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA partnered with the Service Employees International Union to release Spanish-language ads that painted a portrait of Romney as out of touch with the unemployed and poor, hinting at his record with Bain Capital.
In spite of overwhelming concerns about the economy and the workforce, it’s becoming clear that immigration reform, which Obama promised in 2008--and many complain that he failed to realize--is still a viable linchpin for this year as conversations on the issue continue to arise.
With such large voting blocs divided on the issues, it’s difficult to tell which way they’ll turn in November.
“We’ve been talking with Republicans and Democrats alike about our platform and our interest in immigration reform. What matters to us isn’t supporting a candidate, but getting the candidates to support our platform,” Salguero told Hastings.