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Evangelical Leaders Support Immigration Reform — as Long as It Doesn’t Include Gay Rights

Supporters of immigration reform are hoping evangelicals will be able to push Republicans to support reform — but at what cost? In The New York Times, Laurie Goodstein looks at the vocal support for immigration reform by evangelical leaders. Although Congress is not expected to pass reform during this session, some evangelical leaders told Goodstein they hope to encourage a few lame-duck Republicans to join Democrats and pass a “morally right” immigration bill after the midterm elections.

Comprehensive reform won’t get passed without some Republican support. Evangelicals said they support reform because they don’t want to see families ripped apart by deportations and restrictive immigration laws. But don’t count on evangelicals to continue to support immigration reform if it includes provisions to ease immigration for gay and lesbian couples, a measure Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Mike Honda (D-Calif.) want included in a comprehensive reform bill:

Taking the lead for immigration overhaul is the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group that represents more than 40 denominations. Last year the association passed a resolution calling for comprehensive immigration overhaul, and this year reform is one of its top three policy priorities, along with reducing abortions and studying the impact of climate change on the poor. The association’s president, the Rev. Leith Anderson, was in the front row for Mr. Obama’s address, along with Dr. Land and Mr. Rodriguez.

One of the more recent converts to overhaul is Mr. Staver. He said that deporting illegal immigrants violated the biblical imperative to welcome the stranger. “We’re going to break up families,” Mr. Staver said, “and I don’t see how you could claim to be pro-family and condone the separation of families.”

(To which Mr. Fischer responded, “We don’t want to break up families, so let’s help them all return to their country of origin.”)

Mr. Staver was one of six evangelical leaders, including two prominent black evangelicals, who issued a statement last month advocating a comprehensive new law. One, J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican candidate for Ohio governor in 2006 and now a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, said he expected more evangelical leaders to come on board.

But Mr. Blackwell said the whole effort could implode if the final legislation extended family reunification provisions to same-sex couples where one spouse did not have legal status. For evangelicals, he said, “That would be a deal-breaker.”

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