A diverse group of Christian leaders and organizations voiced support for plans by the Obama administration to address immigration reform this year, a move that has riled opponents who argue that he should first focus on fixing the economy.
"Christians throughout the United States are energized and encouraged by the courageous steps taken by the Obama administration to prioritize reform of our broken immigration laws," said Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) in a statement released on Thursday.
"Today's statements from the administration indicate that Obama will make good on his campaign promise by committing to reform within the first year of his term," said the coalition, which consists of diverse Christian organizations, churches, and leaders united in support of comprehensive U.S. immigration reform.
Christian leaders who are part of CCIR include Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourners; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, America's largest Hispanic evangelical organization; and the Rev. Derrick Harkins, pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and World Relief board member, among others.
Senior White House staffs this week informed select reporters that the administration plans to address immigration reform as early as May. According to CNN, President Obama plans to listen to the advice of a bipartisan and diverse group of experts to form new legislations.
But a White House official said that immigration reform will not be given higher priority than other key issues like health care and energy, and there is no promise for a vote this year on new immigration laws.
The Obama administration wants to find a way for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States to be legal, while increasing border security, removing incentives to enter the United States illegally, and working with Mexico to reduce illegal immigration, CNN reported.
Critics of Obama's plan argue that the current economic crisis has put millions of Americans out of jobs and there is no room right now for efforts that help illegal immigrant workers.
"It just doesn't seem rational that any political leader would say, let's give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs," said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that supports reduced immigration, to the New York Times.
"It's going to be, 'You're letting them keep that job, when I could have that job,'" he said.
But Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform supports President Obama and said it is committed to "fostering civil dialogue" about immigration in members' congregations and communities.
"We will continue to build momentum and support across the faith community for effective political solutions on immigration that restore the rule of law while also upholding moral and theological principles that call us to show compassion and mercy toward our undocumented brothers and sisters," the coalition vowed.
CCIR has helped organize more than 100 prayer vigils across the country in support of immigration reform in February, and is preparing to meet with members of Congress during April to push for a new U.S. immigration system.