WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and other evangelical Christian leaders have called on President Obama and congressional leaders to act quickly next year in an effort to reform the country's immigration laws.
Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined nine other leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) in asking Obama and the leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives Tuesday (Nov. 13) to meet with them in early 2013 to discuss a bipartisan solution to the controversial issue.
"It's past time for us as a nation to deal with this vexing and divisive issue," Land told Baptist Press Nov. 14. "The foundation and structure for fair, just and comprehensive reform legislation is there and needs to be embraced by both parties for the good of the country."
The EIT leaders asked the president to meet with some of their representatives during the first 92 days of his new administration. They asked for a meeting with congressional leaders in the first 92 days of the next session. They chose 92 days because the Hebrew word for immigrant, "ger," appears 92 times in the Bible, they said.
They are prepared to back a proposal "that reflects our Christian values and builds the common good," the leaders said.
In their letters, the EIT leaders reiterated their call for legislation 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."
The EIT, a new coalition at the time, cited the same six principles in a June statement signed by 150 evangelicals. More than 20 Southern Baptists endorsed that document, titled an "Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform."
In that statement, the signers acknowledged efforts to repair what many of them describe as a broken system have resulted in polarization and a misrepresentation of "each other's positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost."
The others signing the Nov. 13 letters with Land were Leith Anderson, president, National Association of Evangelicals; Stephen Bauman, president, World Relief; David Beckmann, president, Bread for the World; Noel Castellanos, chief executive officer, Christian Community Development Association; Robert Gittelson, president, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform; Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Gabriel Salguero, president, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Richard Stearns, president, World Vision United States, and Jim Wallis, president, Sojourners.
They sent letters to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in addition to Obama.
Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
For several years, Land has called for comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship that would consist of such requirements as paying fines, undergoing a criminal background check, learning English, pledging allegiance to the American government, accepting a probationary period and going to the back of the line behind those seeking to enter the country legally.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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