Evangelical Leader on Trump and Illegals: 'I'm a Latino and a Christian. Which Is More Important?'

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who serves as the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONEL, leads a message at the close of The Gathering at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, September 21, 2016. | (Photo: Screencap/The Gathering)

Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who led a prayer at Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday, has admitted in an interview that Latino Christians face challenging questions surrounding America's new political reality.

Although Trump made strong calls for deporting unauthorized immigrants from America throughout his presidential campaign, CNN pointed to exit polls showing that close to 30 percent of Hispanics ended up voting for Trump regardless.

"It's a wake up call to both parties," Rodriguez told CNN. "The Democratic Party has an issue with faith. If they have an issue with faith, they have an issue with the Latino community. We understand the pro-choice platform, but you can at least be nuanced with that, like President [Barack] Obama."

He argued that while many Latinos have a problem with Trump's rhetoric and threats of deportation, the Democratic Party has gone too secular, making it hard for Latino Christians to decide who to support.

"Who do we vote for?" Rodriguez asked. "I'm a Latino and I'm a Christian, so which one should I prioritize? Which one is more important?"

Trump made conflicting comments regarding his plans for unauthorized immigrants throughout his campaign, but after his election victory in November told CBS News that he plans to focus on deporting undocumented criminals first, and then decide what to do about the others.

"What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate," Trump said at the time.

"After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we're going to make a determination on the people that you're talking about who are terrific people, they're terrific people but we are gonna make a determination at that," he said, referring to unauthorized immigrants who have not committed crimes.

Rodriguez, who leads a coalition of about 40,000 U.S. churches, revealed in the interview that he has personally asked Trump to explain to him what his plans are for illegal immigrants. He asked Trump directly in a phone call:

"Will you deport 12 million? The answer is explicitly no."

He said that he trusts that Trump really is planning on focusing on felons, rather than on the 700,000 or so children who were brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents, and are seeking a way toward legalization.

"I believe he's committed to deporting people involved in nefarious activity. But I believe he's likewise committed to finding a pathway to legalization to the rest," the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president said.

Rodriguez urged Republicans, now that they have control of the White House and Congress, to move away from the harmful rhetoric of the past.

"Don't blow it. If you actually dare act out the rhetoric of the campaign, it's political suicide. What you say is one thing, but what you do, by your fruit you shall be known. Let's see what happens. I'm open to being surprised," he said.

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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