According to Thursday remarks by Speaker of the House John Boehner and an Evangelical Immigration Table spokesperson interviewed Friday by The Christian Post, immigration reform legislation could still pass Congress this year.
Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, told CP that he was recently in touch with staffers from Boehner's office who said there will be opportunities to take up immigration reform in June and July.
Carey will participate in an EIT event on Tuesday. Over 200 evangelical pastors from 25 states will meet in Washington, D.C., to encourage the House to finish immigration reform this year.
On Thursday, Boehner jokingly teased some of his fellow Republican House members who are reluctant to pass immigration reform at a Middletown Rotary Club meeting in his home district.
He then added, "We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to ... They'll take the path of least resistance."
The EIT event will begin with a press conference followed by a worship service. After that, the pastors will visit congressional offices. They will visit the representatives of their own districts as well as the members who appear undecided on immigration reform, Carey explained. Some of the pastors who are national leaders in their respective denominations will also visit with some of the congresspersons who are members of their denomination.
Rich Nathan, senior pastor at Vineyard Columbus in Ohio, is one of the pastors attending. He spoke to The Christian Post Friday.
Around 2006, Nathan said that he "began to hear from more and more families" in his church who had been separated from other family members through deportation. Vineyard Columbus is a multi-ethnic church with about 8,500 attendees from about 120 countries. Much like the surrounding area, the church also has political diversity, with Republicans, Democrats and independents.
He recalled one Haitian family who was scammed by immigration attorneys, losing $5,000 to one attorney and $3,500 to another. (The current immigration system can be called the "lawyer support act," Nathan says.) While still working out their immigration status with their second attorney, the mother was deported back to Haiti just before the 2010 earthquake. Now, the mother, who was severely injured in the earthquake, cannot get back into the United States and her family cannot visit her in Haiti.
For him, Nathan said, the issue is spiritual and moral, and one of family separation. "The Bible commands us to care for immigrants," he added. He also recommended Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang's 2009 book, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate.
Boehner said early February there would be a delay in immigration reform because many in his caucus did not trust President Barack Obama to enforce an immigration law if they passed it. And in an April 1 interview with CP, Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he did not anticipate passage of an immigration reform bill before the November election.
Carey believes a bill could get passed after the election and before the end of the year, a so-called "lame duck" session, but significant progress would need to be made on the legislation this summer for that to happen.
The current calculations by Republican leaders have more to do with the timing, rather than the substance, of the legislation, Carey added. Do they bring the legislation up for a vote before the election, during a lame-duck session, or in the next Congress?
Some Republican House members and strategists have suggested it would be better to wait until the next Congress because Republicans could win the Senate. In response to that suggestion, Carey said there are some dangers in that strategy. If Republicans win the Senate, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would likely be the next chair of the Judiciary Committee, and he does not appear favorable to immigration reform. Additionally, several members of the Senate could be running for president, which would create a "circus atmosphere," regardless of which party is in control.
Plus, Carey added, waiting hurts those who are already suffering from the current broken system. "There is no policy reason for waiting," he said. "Some people may see political reasons for waiting, that's not my specialty, but it doesn't appear beneficial to anybody."
In CP's interview with Lankford, he said he was opposed to amnesty for current unauthorized immigrants, but that does not mean there would be absolutely no opportunities for citizenship.
When asked about that, Carey said he was "pleased [Lankford] is recognizing that there are good people who are caught in the jaws of bad laws and we need to fix the laws in those cases."
"What's interesting," Carey aded, is Lankford "says there's not much support for amnesty, but amnesty is not on the table. There is no bill that is proposing amnesty that anyone has introduced. ... The options that are on the table, providing a way for the undocumented to earn legal status, that is supported by substantial majorities of every demographic, including Evangelicals."