As I walked out of last week’s Senate gallery following the historic immigration vote, a DREAMer smiled and shouted, “We are free!” This DREAMer was among a dozen others who sat watching their futures being voted on by Members of the Senate. They served as reminders of why we are fighting for immigration reform –it’s about people who have aspirations and dreams to continue living their lives as Americans.
For the past several years, World Relief has been engaged in an ongoing effort to bring about a more balanced immigration debate rooted in Biblical values, particularly among evangelicals. In 2006, evangelicals were polled to be the most anti-immigrant among other religious groups surveyed, and I found this to be true in my personal interaction with various faith communities as well. Through a more careful and thoughtful reading of Scripture and the relationships that many evangelicals have built with immigrants themselves, much of this attitude has changed. Immigrants are attending our churches, and now lead some of the most significant growth in the evangelical church throughout the country.
It was through these relationships that many evangelicals came to realize that we needed immigration reform in order to help those without documentation get on a pathway towards restitution and restoration. We helped launch the Evangelical Immigration Table and met with many members of Congress and their staff for months and prayed asking God for continued guidance and wisdom for members of Congress through our #Pray4Reform effort at www.Pray4reform.com. After distributing 120,000 bookmarks as part of our “I Was A Stranger” challenge, placing billboards and airing radio ads in Florida and Texas, among other states, we felt that we were at a moment when our voices were making a concerted difference.
And it did. The vote was a stark difference from 2007, when the opposition shut down the phone lines and sent bricks to Members’ offices. In 2007, it was a struggle to get 60 votes in support of reform. Now, we were aiming to get 70, and ended up with a 68-32 vote count, which was a resounding victory. Several Senate staffers told me that the calls were even coming into their offices, and they were hearing from self-identified evangelicals who were supporting the Senate bill.
The Senate vote last week is reflective of the change in attitudes among Americans and particularly among evangelicals towards immigration reform. Two pastors from Arkansas put it well in saying that they serve some of the most downtrodden and vulnerable in their neighborhoods, and by passing immigration reform, we would be helping the very people whom these churches have come to serve and love.
No issue in recent memory has brought evangelical groups across the political spectrum together like immigration. Many evangelical leaders across the country are celebrating this victory in the Senate. Many churches are sighing a breath of relief as they feel we are one step closer to a breakthrough for the hundreds of immigrant families that are a part of our communities. As we celebrate the resounding victory in the Senate, we are mindful that we are only halfway to the finish line. We have an uphill battle in the House where there are piece-meal measures being marked up and more reluctance among members to support anything other than border security. But it’s a moment to thank God and reflect that the right laws can bring relief to millions of people who have been suffering in the shadows of society for too long.
A heartfelt thanks goes out to Senators Bennet, Durbin, Flake, Graham, McCain, Menendez, Rubio and Schumer who worked so diligently together on the immigration bill –their leadership gives Americans hope that our elected officials can indeed put aside their differences and work for the common good. And we thank the Senators who took a tough vote in favor of reform.
The Senate passing the bill gives forward momentum to the House to take up immigration reform. We hope our Representatives in the House heed the call of many evangelicals who see immigration not just as an economic or political issue but as a moral issue which defines our values as a country.
As they do so, they can be assured that evangelicals across the country will be praying to God, and calling on them to act for the good of the many whom we call our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
is Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at
, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.