Over 200 evangelical leaders lobby Congress to pass immigration reform

U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol | Unsplash/Joshua Sukoff

More than 200 evangelical leaders are urging members of the U.S. Congress this week to fix what they described as a “broken immigration system” by working to pass immigration reform, which they say is consistent with their calling as Christians to embrace “radical hospitality.”

The pastors, faith leaders and activists participated in approximately 50 meetings with U.S. Senators or their staffs Tuesday and Wednesday, with meetings occurring virtually and on Capitol Hill. The meetings occurred days after a group of bipartisan senators reportedly met last week to discuss options for passing immigration reform this year. 

Derwin Gray, the lead pastor of Transformation Church South Carolina and a prominent voice in the multiethnic church movement, was among the many who participated in the meetings.  

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The Evangelical Immigration Table and other faith-based organizations sponsored a press conference Tuesday, where faith leaders discussed their efforts.

Gray expressed a desire to see “smart, reasonable immigration reform that not only secures our borders ... but also secures the dignity and worth of human beings.”

Gray, the author of the book How to Heal Our Racial Divide, called for action to protect “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He called specifically for “a pathway to citizenship.”

The pastor stressed that he was not calling for “amnesty" and that his views on immigration are consistent with “his core values as a follower of Jesus."

Pastor Derwin Gray of Transformation Church in South Carolina speaks at the Catalyst Atlanta in Duluth, Georgia on Oct. 5, 2016.
Pastor Derwin Gray of Transformation Church in South Carolina speaks at the Catalyst Atlanta in Duluth, Georgia on Oct. 5, 2016. | PHOTO: CATALYST

“[E]very single human being is worthy of dignity, honor, respect and love," Gray said, concluding by pushing for immigration laws that reflect “how great our country actually is, with reasonable policies so that lives can be transformed.”

Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals, which “brings together more than 40 denominations from a wide range of evangelical traditions as well as many other evangelical organizations, schools and networks,” moderated the discussion during the press conference. 

“Today and tomorrow, more than 200 evangelical pastors and leaders are meeting with their members of Congress and staff … to talk with their leaders about the urgent need for action for bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform proposals, which are before the United States Congress,” Carey explained.

In addition to Carey, pastors and individuals associated with faith-based charities who are among those meeting with members of Congress delivered remarks at the event. 

Kathryn Freeman of the evangelical refugee resettlement organization World Relief, the humanitarian arm of NAE, also advocated on behalf of Dreamers, saying they are “valuable to our churches." She described them as “young men and women who have served their country” and churches by volunteering as “Sunday school leaders” and “youth leaders.” 

“We’re concerned that they might not be able to stay in the country that they love, the only place that they have ever known,” Freeman said. “Dreamers deserve a place in our country and they deserve a place in our churches.”

Pastor Reid Kapple of Christ Community Church in Olathe, Kansas, said that his wish list for immigration reform extends beyond a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers to include “a permanent pathway for the thousands of Afghan refugees" brought to the U.S.

Kapple is grateful for the “immediacy of bringing these evacuees" to the U.S. amid the Taliban's rise after the U.S. military's departure from the country last year. He said Afghan refugees find themselves in a “very unfortunate and ultimately unhelpful status as parolees.”

“That status only has a two-year shelf life to it,” Kapple said. “As of this day, there is no action in Congress to provide a permanent clear pathway forward for these new neighbors of ours.”

Kapple said Christians are “the recipients of a radical hospitality,” maintaining that the Gospel “compels us” to “emulate the nature of our hospitable God.” He highlighted the actions of his church “to welcome, to resource, to provide jobs” for the Afghan refugees while urging Congress to take action to ensure that they can remain in the U.S.

Pastor Manuel Mendoza of the Spanish-speaking congregation Morningside Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, called for U.S. immigration law to “reflect the lens of Scripture that shows compassion and mercy not just for the widow, not just for the orphan but, of course, for the stranger as well.”

“I think many Christians would be surprised or shouldn’t be surprised at the number of times God uses the word sojourner or stranger throughout the Old Testament,” Mendoza said. 

More than a year into the 117th U.S. Congress, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal alien farm workers. Also, the House also passed the Dream Act, which would give Dreamers a path to citizenship.

While both pieces of legislation attracted some degree of bipartisan support in the House, they have stalled in the Senate, where most legislation requires 60 votes to pass.

A poll conducted earlier this year sponsored by the Immigration Forum found that 82% of born-again Protestants support “Republicans and Democrats working together on immigration reforms that strengthen border security, create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and ensure a legal, reliable workforce for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

However, a poll conducted in September 2021 by the Public Religion Research Institute revealed that only 47% of white evangelicals support granting illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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