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Originally published January 17, 2013 at 4:20 PM | Page modified January 17, 2013 at 4:19 PM

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Evangelicals take a seat at the table of immigration reform

Evangelical support for immigration reforms might empower anxious politicians in both parties to move boldly and quickly.

Times editorial columnist

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This whole premise is nonsense - a red herring. The Scriptures teach that believers... MORE
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For most of the past three decades, efforts to get immigration reform through the U.S. Congress have not had a prayer. That all changed on Monday.

Spiritual leaders organized as the Evangelical Immigration Table announced a campaign to revise immigration policy.

The “I Was a Stranger” immigration prayer challenge will use social media to enlist more than 100,000 evangelical churches nationwide and more than 875,000 followers to read one scripture on immigration a day for 40 days.

Just as political leaders in the Democratic and Republican parties are having epiphanies about changing demographics in America, faith communities are seeing their futures and their congregations in those numbers.

Tim King, a spokesman for Sojourners, one of the founding partners of the Evangelical Immigration Table, said the work on immigration reform has been under way for a couple of years.

The response comes with a recognition that neighborhoods and denominations are growing more diverse. One of America’s largest evangelical churches, Willow Creek Community Church, in South Barrington, Ill., has a Sunday service in Spanish.

Last June, hundreds of evangelical churches, organizations and community leaders endorsed bipartisan reform that:

• Respects the God-given dignity of every person;

• Protects the unity of the immediate family;

• Respects the rule of law;

• Guarantees secure national borders;

• Ensures fairness to taxpayers;

• Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.

This past November, the organization called on President Obama to pursue reform in the first 92 days of his new administration, a number equal to the references to the Hebrew word for immigrant, ger, throughout the Bible.

Beyond the moral imperative to help those at the mercy of a system that tears apart families and puts workers at risk of exploitation, the campaign provides cover in politically dangerous territory.

The faithful might believe that God judges a nation by how it treats its most vulnerable population, but the political class is worried about re-election.

President Obama tried to raise the topic in 2011, and it went nowhere. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., already touted as a 2016 presidential prospect, is literally mouthing the same words Obama used two years ago.

The White House has welcomed Rubio’s support. Neither Obama nor Rubio has put a plan on paper, but both are grounded in amnesty for 12 million illegal immigrants.

The president is looking at big, omnibus legislation, and Rubio’s approach is bits and pieces. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the 2012 GOP vice-presidential candidate, has endorsed Rubio’s reforms.

The Latino vote went heavily for Obama, and the Republicans quickly recognized they would be talking to themselves without some recognition that times have changed.

Open the bedside table in a motel. CNN reports copies of the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, are turning up with the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Karen Isaksen Leonard, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Irvine, explained to me that Hindus are trying to join Muslims in a continuing effort to mainstream into American life through education and, increasingly, political activism.

Defining what needs to be fixed with immigration, and how to accommodate it, grinds the process to a halt. Daniel J. Tichenor, a political-science professor at the University of Oregon, noted in a call that significant reforms last came in 1986, after congressional discussions started in the early 1970s. President George W. Bush tried and failed in 2001 and 2006.

For all the apparent current political traction around immigration reforms, Tichenor expects them to trail behind debates over gun legislation and budget issues.

Seattle-based U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan put the immigration reforms in another perspective. She said new laws could free up resources for other pressing crime prevention.

Evangelicals have attentive audiences on Sunday mornings and on Capitol Hill. Their commitment and influence might empower substantive change.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is ldickie@seattletimes.com

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