(Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
After emerging from a closed-door meeting with President Obama Friday, evangelical leaders said they were hopeful and optimistic that the president will work with members of Congress to pass immigration reform this year.
Evangelicals were among the 14 leaders from different faiths, including Mormonism and Islam, who met Obama for more than one hour at the White House Friday morning, and urged quick action to pass immigration reform.
"Today's meeting invigorated me with hope and optimism," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said in a statement. "The President's resolve in conjunction with evangelical support facilitate the prescription for a comprehensive resolution addressing America's immigration crisis."
Rodriguez said he was convinced that "with prayer and prophetic activism we will live out Matthew 25 and welcome the stranger in the name of Jesus." He added that collective commitment to incorporate a pathway to citizenship as an integral part of any legislative solution secures a complete integration process. "Both the President and faith leaders understand that citizenship must be earned yet denying it will create a two tier society attempting to live one dream; the American dream," he said.
Rodriguez and other evangelical leaders met Obama at a time when bipartisan groups of lawmakers are drawing up an immigration reform legislation. Senior White House aides Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Muñoz were also present in the meeting.
Stephan Bauman, president of World Relief, also applauded Obama for his "genuine commitment" to immigration reform. "I believe the President understands the moral implications of not fixing our broken system and also the ongoing challenges that many undocumented immigrants face in our country today," he said in a statement after meeting Obama. "As an organization that has been empowering local churches in the United States to serve immigrants in our communities, we feel encouraged that the President is committed to working with Members of Congress to pass immigration reform this year."
Obama has indicated that immigration reform is a top priority for his second term.
In a statement about Friday's meeting, the White House said, "The President and the leaders discussed the pillars the President has put forward for reform, including that any bill must include a pathway to earned citizenship, as well as measures to crack down on employers who game the system and exploit both American and immigrant workers, continuing to strengthen our border security, and strengthening the legal immigration system for families, employers, and workers."
Bauman said the evangelical faith leaders specifically encouraged the president to consider the implications of passage of reform and to partner with faith-based organizations in helping immigrants in the integration process, specifically by providing immigrant legal service, and English and civics classes.
As a member of the Evangelical Immigration Table, World Relief runs the "I Was a Stranger" Challenge to mobilize evangelicals on the issue of immigration. It encourages individuals, students, pastors, and legislators to go back to the root of their faith and have Scripture inform their attitudes toward immigrants and immigration policy.
The president and lawmakers have said they want a bill to pass Congress this summer.
Obama noted during the meeting that there is good progress being made by a bipartisan group in the Senate, but urged the leaders to continue to make this important issue a priority. "The President and the leaders agreed that the diversity of faith communities represented around the table was indicative of the growing consensus across America in support of fixing the broken immigration system," the White House said.
Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for Public Policy and Research for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, joined other faith leaders in expressing optimism about the passing of a bill soon.
"I was very encouraged by the immigration reform meeting with the President today," Duke said in a statement. "He spoke clearly about his desire to see us achieve passage of legislation this year. While many details remain to be worked out, the big pieces are in place. Secure borders, workplace enforcement, legal status for undocumented immigrants who qualify, and a citizenship process for those who desire to be U.S. citizens are all within reach."
The Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners, a Christian social justice group, commented, "President Obama made clear how high a priority immigration reform is for him and the White House and that the involvement of the faith community will be an integral part of ensuring it passes."
Jose Gomez, Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the church's committee on migration, said, "We agree with the president and bipartisan Senate leaders who are stressing the importance of a path to citizenship for the undocumented. We should not sanction a permanent underclass in our society."