Evangelical leaders supporting immigration reform praised the new set of principles on immigration reform released by House Republicans after their winter meeting.
"By supporting immigration reform, the GOP stands poised to reconcile Abraham Lincoln's justice agenda with Ronald Reagan's optimism," Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said Friday on a conference call with reporters. "Accordingly, here's our message to the Republican members of Congress advancing this just cause – you are not alone."
House Republicans released the statement, "Standards for Immigration Reform," late Wednesday. While most of the standards were consistent with existing Republican bills, the part of the statement dealing with what to do about current unauthorized immigrants took many by surprise. While the principles said there should be no "special path to citizenship," it did support a path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants.
The statement says that, under the legislation they plan to pass, current unauthorized immigrants "could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program."
The path to legal status cannot happen, the statement added, without "enforcement triggers" that ensure immigration laws are enforced.
House Republicans who support these reforms could face primary challenges from Republicans opposed to a path to legal status. If that happens, Rodriguez added, evangelical Christians across the nation stand ready and willing to help those who are backing reform.
"Those Republican legislators who are driven by conviction and not by political expediency, will receive the support of a very strong evangelical constituency that stands mobilized in support of comprehensive immigration reform," he said. "So you will see, in districts where Republicans ... stand challenged by those who oppose immigration reform, you will see evangelicals mobilized in support of candidates that lift up the values of faith, family and freedom, which includes comprehensive immigration reform."
Rodriguez is a member of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical leaders and organizations that has been pushing Congress to reform the current immigration system based upon a set of six principles.
"You won't see evangelicals on the sidelines," Rodriguez added. "You will see evangelicals supporting members of Congress who support comprehensive immigration reform."
On Thursday, the EIT announced its support for the House Republican reform proposals. EIT leaders hail from the left and right of the political spectrum, including leaders of Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners and the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
"America has waited a long time for Republicans and Democrats to get together on long overdue reform of our immigration laws. Let's pray that they'll do the right thing in 2014," Leith Anderson, president of National Association of Evangelicals, said in a statement.