Barack Obama met with Hispanic evangelicals in Texas Friday in an effort to court Hispanic voters and address issues affecting the community ahead of the state's primary this week.
Some 150 top Hispanic evangelical pastors gathered at the invitation-only event at the University of Texas-Brownsville in southern Texas to meet and question the Democratic presidential frontrunner on how he will help the Hispanic community, especially on the immigration issue.
The Illinois senator said during his speech that while he understands some Americans fear illegal immigrants will compete with them for low-wage jobs, what he "refuse[s] to accept is the rising current of distrust and even hate that's being directed not just at immigrants, but at all Hispanics."
"We are – each of us – children of God, and the Bible tells us to love all of our neighbors, no matter where we come from or what documents we have," Obama said.
"Our conscience cannot rest so long as there are 12 million undocumented immigrants living as second-class citizens in the United States of America. Do we not remember that we were all strangers in the land of Egypt?" Obama posed.
Obama called for securing the border and giving "undocumented immigrants" a chance to earn citizenship by paying a fine and "waiting in line behind those who came here legally."
"Yes, we are a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of immigrants, and there is no reason we can't reconcile those traditions."
He compared immigration to poverty, saying both were issues of "conscience" and should be dealt as such, according to MSNBC. He also said he believed the United States should help the poor in Mexico through foreign investment to curb immigration to the states.
Hispanics are the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority and a key constituency of the Democratic Party. Texas is known for its huge Latino population which makes up nearly 36 percent of the state.
Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton has long had a large following among Hispanic voters, but most analysts are agreeing that support for Obama among this voting bloc is growing.
A SurveyUSA Election Poll released last week showed Clinton leading Obama among Hispanics by 13 points, down from a week before when the same poll showed her up by 33 points.
"We seem to have consistently made inroads," Obama said referring to the Latino community Friday, according to CBS News.
"Obviously we've got a lot of catching up to do in Texas generally. But we seem to be making progress."
Friday's event was the first time Obama has participated in a forum such as this with Hispanic Evangelicals.
During his speech, the Illinois senator emphasized reconciliation between the black and Hispanic community. He addressed the long-held racial divide between blacks and Latinos in America, who are often competitors for government support, low-wage jobs, and affirmative actions, as well as rivals in inner city gangs.
"Whenever I hear folks talk about the 'brown-black' divide, I remember my days as a community organizer, when I brought African Americans and Hispanics together to fight a rising drop-out rate in our schools," Obama recalled. "I remember my days as a civil rights lawyer, when I worked with my Hispanic brothers and sisters to protect our voting rights.
"And I remember May Day 2006, when I marched shoulder-to-shoulder with the Hispanic community to stand up for comprehensive immigration reform."
He went on to talk about overcoming the divide between Republicans and Democrats and different Christian traditions.
"Whenever I hear folks talk about how we can't come together as Protestants, Catholics and Jews, believers and non-believers alike, I think about the evangelicals I know who may not agree with progressives on every issue, but agree that poverty has no place in a world of plenty, that hate has no place in the hearts of believers, and that we all have an obligation to be good stewards of God's creation," he said.
Obama also shared about his conversion to Christianity as a young man working as a community organizer on the South side of Chicago, and further spoke of being raised in a secular household. His maternal grandparents, who helped raised him, were non-practicing Christians, while his mother was spiritual but not religious. His Kenyan father, who left the family when he was a few years old, was from a Muslim family.
Last month, a Barna survey found that 18 percent of born again likely voters said they would vote for Obama if the general election were held that day. In comparison, Clinton garnered 20 percent of born again likely voters support. Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, received 12 percent support, while no other candidate reached double figures, according to the Barna survey.
Thirty percent of born again likely voters in the early February survey said they are still undecided as to who to support.
But the number of born again Obama supporters may have gone up, given that a recent e-mail from the Obama campaign announced that Obama had won the faith vote by large margins in every primary and caucus so far.
Besides the Brownsville event, Obama also made an impromptu visit to the Texas-Mexico border and a local neighborhood festival.
The democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio will be held Tuesday.