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POLITICO: President and Faith Leaders Working to "Raise The Moral Imperative for Immigration Reform"
President Barack Obama gave immigration reform advocates a simple message Wednesday: Don’t let Obamacare get you down.
In an Oval Office meeting with eight Christian faith leaders, the president said he remains engaged on immigration legislation and hopes the reform effort can get a fair hearing despite his other political problems, several faith leaders told POLITICO.
“He said he doesn't want other debates that are going on to hurt this,” said Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of the Christian social justice agency Sojourners. “He doesn't want all the other debates going on to prevent this from passing. It’s caught up in all the other debates and he wants this to be looked at on his own merits.”
Obama’s exhortation came during a meeting just hours before his administration released the first batch of Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers – a figure the White House had for weeks telegraphed as far lower than expected.
Much of Obama’s Oval Office conversation with the faith leaders, Biden and top aides Valerie Jarrett, Cecilia Munoz and Melissa Rogers centered around the idea that contemporary Washington politics is blocking reform efforts, the faith leaders said.
Obama, they said, didn’t make a direct ask for them to press Congress to back the reform effort, as Vice President Joe Biden implored Catholic leaders to do during a call Tuesday night. Instead he asked for their input on how the current immigration system is harming their communities and echoed the urgency to pass reform legislation by the end of the year.
But with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announcing earlier in the day that he has “no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” it was clear to all in the room that immigration reform has lost momentum it had after the Senate immigration bill passed.
“This can be a companion issue that also deserves some attention because we’ve come so far on this issue and we can’t let it get lost in the battle du jour,” said Joel Hunter, the senior pastor at Northland Church in suburban Orlando. “I think all of us are hoping that the headlines of the daily accusations don’t bury what is a very important and urgent issue in our time.”
And still, Obama told the faith leaders he remains optimistic there will be progress by the end of December.
“I did get the sense that he was wanting to reassure us that this is a priority for him,” said Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “He actually does want to work with Congress to get a bill, not to just to have an issue.”
White House officials declined to comment on specifics of the meeting. In an official readout, the White House said Obama once again blamed House Republicans for blocking a vote.
“The president and the leaders discussed their shared commitment to raise the moral imperative for immigration reform and said they will continue keeping the pressure on Congress so they can swiftly pass commonsense reform,” the statement said. “The president commended the faith leaders for their tireless efforts in sharing their stories with Congress. He noted there is no reason for House Republicans to continue to delay action on this issue that has garnered bipartisan support.
Moore, a conservative evangelical leader, said he warned Obama not to make immigration a partisan political issue.
“I did say to the president that I think he needs to take seriously that the Republicans in Congress are operating out of what I believe to be good motives and that there needs to be a sense of cooperation and not divisiveness on this issue,” Moore said. “I think that was well received. I think the president seemed to indicate that that’s what he wants to do.”
Wallis said there was a discussion during the meeting that the upcoming holiday season could give a boost to the reform efforts as families and churches gather.
“The holiday season now happens to be coming in the end game. Here are the holidays, religious holidays, maybe there is something there,” Wallis said. “We are hearing a president say, ‘I don’t want politics to prevent this. How can we transcend and reach people to make this not just political. What can you do to help us get this beyond the politics?’”
Biden on Tuesday night told Catholic officials to make their opinions known forcefully to House Republicans. He said they can’t repeat the mistakes of the gun control fight, when opponents of expanding background checks on gun purchases outnumbered White House allies in calls and e-mails to senators debating the legislation.
“Thank the representatives when you call who are already in favor of reform, especially the 32 Republicans who have expressed for a path to citizenship,” Biden said. “Give them a little bit of love and appeal to their better angels, the better angels of those who are still on the fence to take a politically courageous decision.”
Hunter said the push will require some help from the public to spur House Republican leadership to call a vote.
“We think that the votes are there and we think it is tricky for folks to vote the way they want to,” Hunter said. “They just need some momentum from the public in order to have the justification for voting the way they already want to.”
The Wednesday morning meeting ended with Obama asking Moore to offer a prayer for him and the country. He added a blessing for the Congress.
“I prayed for wisdom and discernment,” Moore said. “I prayed also for our congressional leaders and for God’s blessing on the country.”
By Reid J. Epstein. Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/obama-obamacare-problems-immigration-99834.html
Rev. David Uth of First Baptist Orlando is taking the lead among evangelical ministers advocating for immigration reform as faith-based organizations ramp up for the debate in Congress scheduled for next week. The endorsement of evangelicals brings near-unanimity among religious organizations lining up in support of immigration reform, said Sister Simone Campbell, whose Nuns on the Bus tour came through Central Florida this week in support of immigrants seeking citizenship.
"Once the evangelicals came on, it was huge," Campbell said.
Uth, pastor of the 15,000-member First Baptist, is featured in a series of radio ads being broadcast for 92 days in 13 states, including Florida. The ads are sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group that includes Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the nondenominational megachurch Willow Creek Church in Illinois.
Uth said his interest in meaningful immigration reform comes from his reading of the Scripture and his personal experience with immigrants seeking citizenship.
"All people matter to God," said Uth, 56. "Our church is a very compassionate church, and it's only natural we would get involved in this."
Pastor Joel Hunter of Longwood's Northland, A Church Distributed said he has seen a transformation take place within the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million evangelical Christians. Even four years ago, the organization was divided over the issue of immigration.
But that changed with the formation of the Evangelical Immigration Table of leaders, which Uth represents.
There were two main reasons behind the change, Hunter said. One was that just about every evangelical pastor has heard the stories and sorrows of church members seeking citizenship or facing the fear of deportation. The other is the Christian command to love thy neighbor.
"All of us realize this broken system hurts all of us, not just the folks asking for a path to legalization," Hunter said.
There is also a commonality among faiths that emphasizes assisting the less fortunate that has brought about this unusual unity of religions, Hunter said.
"There's a synergy we have not seen in many, many issues," he said.
Along with the Catholics and evangelicals, immigration reform is being pushed by Protestants, Jews, Hindus and Muslims.
"I'm very pleased that all faiths can agree that as long as they are law-abiding, we must be compassionate, we must be welcoming, we must allow immigrants to come," said Atif Fareed, president of the American Muslim Community Centers based in Longwood.
Fareed arrived as an immigrant from India and become a citizen in 1979.
Rabbi David Kay is not far removed from his grandparents who immigrated from Poland and Russia.
American Jews have an affinity for immigrants because immigration is part of the Jewish story, he said. For much of history, they were treated as the strangers, the aliens.
"It's based on a biblical point of not oppressing the stranger, which our tradition recognizes as the resident alien," Kay said.
Uth said the Bible commands Christians to "welcome strangers" and "take care of the alien." But the current system is often dysfunctional, broken and inhumane, he said.
"When I see people abused or treated unfairly by a system that is broken, it's hard for me to look the other way," Uth said. "Here at First Baptist, we have people who are doing everything they can to become part of the system and are being hurt by the system."
Campbell brought her bus of 10 traveling nuns through Florida this the week with stops at the St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Winter Park and Hope Community Center in Apopka. The 15-state tour will end in San Francisco on June 18.
The bus made a special stop in Tallahassee for a visit to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's office. Rubio is one of the sponsors of the Senate bill that will be debated next week. Campbell said they told Rubio's staff they appreciated his leadership and hoped he would remain steadfast.
"We are encouraging him to be a missionary for his bill," Campbell said.
With faith leaders solidly on one side, the only thing that can derail a clear path to citizenship is fear, she said.
"Fear is driving us apart. That is not good for our economy. It's not good for who we are as a nation," Campbell said. "Immigration is the glory of our past and the hope for our future."
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5392
By Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel.
Part 5 in a series of teachings from Dr. Joel C. Hunter about how to approach today’s issues biblically, respectfully and effectively.
Pastor Hunter talks to Fox 35 Orlando.
Conservative National Leaders Urge Action on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Respond to Presidential Address
***Press and Public Conference Call: Wednesday, July 7 at 2 p.m. EDT***
**Call-in number: 913-643-4201 Conference Code: 7436701**
MIAMI, FLA. — Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CFCIR) will take its national press conference call “on the road” to Miami, Fla. This will be CFCIR’s sixth call with some of the country’s most influential conservative leaders, updating the broader coalition on the ongoing efforts to pass immigration reform.
On July 1, President Obama answered the call of many prominent conservative leaders to address the nation on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Several of these influential leaders will be on our call and will give their reaction to the President's speech. At the end of the call, press and callers will be able to ask questions from our speakers.
This conference call will feature:
Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Rev. Guillermo Maldonado, Senior Pastor of El Rey Jesus
Dr. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC)
Pastor Pablo Lago, Senior Pastor and Founder, La Roca Firme Brethren in Christ Church
Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association
Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Juan Hernandez, Founder of Conservatives for CIR, Moderator of Call
This event will be open to the public and press, with a question and answer session at the end.
If you are in the area, please come to the Miami World Relief Office at 1:30 p.m. EDT for refreshments and fellowship.
WHEN: Wednesday, July 7 at 2 p.m. EDT
WHERE: Miami World Relief Office, 2150 SW 8th St., 2nd Floor, Miami, Fla. 33135
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have turned to evangelical Christians in a last-ditch effort to move immigration reform and climate change legislation.
Democrats are making a direct appeal to the GOP base by turning to evangelical Christian and other religious leaders, and there’s some evidence that the talks could be fruitful.
“We’re encouraging Southern Baptists to reach out to senators and congressmen to encourage Democrats and Republicans to quit playing politics and deal with immigration reform in a fair way,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“The political will to deport 12 million people isn’t there,” he said, referring to the estimated number of illegal immigrants in the nation.
The effort comes after Schumer and Kerry spent months negotiating with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to build GOP support for two of President Barack Obama’s top initiatives.
Despite those talks, both were forced to unveil legislative proposals in the last few weeks without any Republican co-sponsors.
Republican leaders have told their colleagues not to sign on to any Democratic proposals before clearing it with the entire GOP conference, but some of the country’s staunchest conservatives want to see action in Washington on climate change and immigration reform.
Schumer called Land last week to ask if he could join a conference call with evangelical leaders on immigration reform, according to Land.
“He asked if he could have three minutes to be part of the conference call,” Land said, referring to a call leaders held last week to promote a pro-immigration reform newspaper ad taken out by the National Association of Evangelicals.
The ad called on Congress to pass bipartisan immigration reform that included several principles, such as respecting “the God-given dignity of every person”; respecting the rule of law; guaranteeing secure national borders; and establishing a path toward legal status or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become residents.
White Southern Baptists are considered among the most conservative voters of the electorate. And with more than 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is a powerful force in Republican politics.
Kerry has also reached out to evangelical leaders to spur Republicans to support his 1,000-page climate bill.
“It’s been unusual, but these are what we see as two very moral issues that have a lot of implications for a lot of families and definitely affect the vulnerable,” said Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland, a mega-church in central Florida.
Hunter, a Republican-turned-independent who delivered the closing prayer at the 2008 Democratic convention, said Kerry approached him to build bipartisan support for the bill.
“They came to me,” said Hunter. “This has been a more recent pattern with the Democrats — they’re really broadening and including the voice of faith communities to build a consensus on these moral and biblical issues.”
Democrats hope evangelicals can persuade Republicans such as Graham and Sens. Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) to support an energy and climate bill.
Some evangelicals are more allied with the GOP than others, and some don’t see eye to eye on all the issues.
Land and Hunter, for example, agree on the need to pass immigration reform, but Land does not support a proposal to limit carbon emissions. Still, while Land has not endorsed Schumer’s proposal, political observers are surprised they’re even working together.
“It’s very surprising,” said Hunter. “These are times of interesting coalitions.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made subtle appeals to faith-driven voters by invoking the language of evangelical leaders when calling for passage of climate change legislation.
“I think it is essential to the health of our children that we reduce emissions in the air,” Pelosi said at a recent press conference. “And for those of us who believe — and I think most of us do — that this is God’s creation, we have a moral responsibility to preserve his creation.”
Land said he has noticed Pelosi invoking God’s name more often.
“I’m all for it,” he said.
The Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network said addressing climate change follows the teachings of Jesus to minister to the poor.
“We call being an environmentalist creation care,” said Ball. “God is the creator and we’re called to steward or take care of his creation. When it comes to the issue of climate change, it’s primarily about the poor, because the poor are going to be impacted the hardest.”
Burns Strider, a former aide to Pelosi, has kept in touch with evangelical and Christian groups around the country, such as the Christian Coalition of Alabama.
Randy Brinson, head of Alabama’s Christian Coalition, said he talks regularly with Strider, who is trying to build support for climate legislation.
Brinson said his group does not support the cap-and-trade proposal passed last year by the House but could get behind a modified plan.
“We’re trying to be reasonable arbiters,” he said. “We’re trying to bring the two extremes to a more reasonable position.”
Democrats have made sporadic efforts to reach out to evangelical Christians over the years.
Those efforts became more serious when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took over as chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2005.
Some skeptics speculate that Democrats turn to evangelical voters when their political fortunes drop, but Dean dismissed that theory.
He said the new efforts by Schumer and Kerry are part of the party’s evolving relationship with Christian voters.
Dean said he was essentially forced to hold clandestine meetings with Land and other evangelical leaders when he first took over at the DNC.
“We would have to meet at hotels and arrive and leave at different times,” Dean said. “It’s not like it was really clandestine, but they wouldn’t come to the DNC. We would have to go to Capitol Hill Suites and did have to agree to come and go five minutes apart from each other.”
FIND THIS ARTICLE AT: http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/98289-dems-put-faith-in-religious-right-to-help-boost-agenda
Dr. Hunter was a witness at a hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?”, scheduled by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees, which was presided over by Sen. Charles Schumer.
On April 30, 2009, Northland's senior pastor, Dr. Joel C. Hunter, was a witness at a hearing on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?", scheduled by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees. Sen. Charles Schumer, who presided over the hearing, personally extended the invitation to participate to Dr. Hunter, who is a member of President Obama's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Following is the testimony offered by Dr. Hunter.
Thank you, Chairman Schumer, distinguished members of the subcommittee, esteemed colleagues on this panel, and other guests, for providing me an opportunity to speak on the moral and religious reasons for immigration reform.
I am a one of hundreds of thousands of local religious leaders in this country. I have been a pastor for almost 40 years and that is what I want to be in all my years remaining. Even though I am also in leadership positions of national and international groups that are dealing with immigration, it is at the local level that I am continually reminded that policy truly does hurt or help people.
In my faith tradition we all start as strangers and aliens, outsiders to the commonwealth of God. But because we have a God who was willing to do what it took to include us (at great personal cost), we "are no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are fellow citizens..." (Ephesians 2:18-19a)
So I find it a high honor to speak to those in power as an advocate for those who have no power. In a verse that would be echoed in many religions, Proverbs 31:8 commands us to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves."
"You will make known to me the path of life..." (Psalm 16:11) The hope of any religion is that those who have been on the wrong path can be set upon the right path. The need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform is to create a path that will help people do the right thing. A broken system produces a dysfunctional society, fractured families, and it increases the vulnerability of both legal and illegal residents. It helps criminals who thrive in the shadows and it harms decent people, consigning them to a life of insecurity, hiding, and minimal contribution to the general welfare.
A broken system produces both broken and crooked people. The cost to our nation in terms of productivity, national unity, and national security is depressing. But it does not compare to the damage being done to individuals and families.
A broken system tempts many to predatory practices. I cannot count the stories I have heard about attorneys taking the entire life savings of undocumented workers, producing no results, then abandoning those workers when the money was gone. Is that typical of the profession? We would not believe so. But "lead me not into temptation." It is a mighty temptation to de-prioritize those who are desperate and too intimidated to raise their voices to complain. And what about employers that take advantage of the powerless because there is no system of accountability? Or the bureaucrats that have no incentive to produce results (or even to keep track of the paperwork) because, who will know? Or the talk show hosts that increase their fame and fortune by picturing those without the proper papers only as conniving and dangerous parasites instead of persons made in the image of God, deserving both respect and help to do the right thing?
We are producing cottage industries of exploitation. We are also hearing millions of stories that are the opposite of the American dream.
My friend Rev. Silas Pintos tells of a family in his Hispanic congregation that came from England. Both the husband and wife were successful business people, and they hoped that in the U.S. their children would be immersed in a better environment for family values. So they came to start an alternative energy company.
After a two-year ordeal with the immigration system and absurd legal fees, the immigration department could not even clearly explain to them why their residency application had not gone through. They returned to England emotionally and financially devastated.
My friend Imam Mohammed Musri told me the wife of a 60 year old man in his congregation was very sick. The man had papers but when the attorney handling his case took a judgeship, the man was not told he needed to re-register. He was deported even though his wife was too sick to go with him. She was hospitalized and died without him because he could not get back into the country to be by her side.
Pastor Augustine Davies is on the staff at my church. He and his wife are from Sierra Leone and have just completed the long and arduous task of becoming citizens, but they have special relationships with many of the Africans inside and outside our congregation who are caught in the system. One of them is George.
George is from Liberia, West Africa. He is married and has four adult children who live in poverty back in his home country. When George arrived, INS approved the refugee for TPS. George completed a nursing program and got a job. He was turned down for TPS renewal, but now George feels the almost crushing pressure of providing for his family and other countrymen who need the money he can send them because of his job. He stays in the shadows for now. I do not agree with what he is doing, but I know his present life is because he loves his family, not because he is out for himself.
Our immigration system can also intimidate congregations as well as individuals and families. My friend Rabbi Steven Engel told me that his congregation had sponsored a family from Argentina to come to the U.S. The INS lost the paperwork many times, and they made regular visits to the synagogue, suspicious that the congregation might be doing something wrong. The whole process was so stressful and unwelcoming that when Sergio died from a heart attack at the age of 43 the remaining family returned to Argentina.
These stories and many others don't live up to the ideals of our country. We can do better, and we know it. Everyone is frustrated with the present system. Our immigration system in many cases has us echoing the words of the despairing saint who proclaimed, "I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15)
The urgency for immigration reform that yields efficiency and compassion cannot be overstated because it is so overdue.
The moral principles for a better system Some of the central principles that comprise most major religions are also woven into our country's history and can be used as a standard for immigration reform:
These principles deem each person as valuable, "endowed by their Creator" with a dignity that transcends earthly circumstance. Therefore, our system must treat each person respectfully.
They acknowledge the family as the bedrock of personal and social development, and the support of the family as the foundation of a strong society. Therefore, our system should prioritize the family.
They see law as not only necessary for restraining evil, but as needed for structuring healthy relationships. It is right that wrongdoers are restrained and/or punished, but it is a better justice when the laws yield correction and the redemption of bad circumstances. Therefore, our system should have ways to choose to live upright lives after the penalties for wrong decisions.
So most people of faith are hoping for policies that will prioritize family togetherness, respect for the law, personal productivity, and compassion for those who are most helpless.
Conclusion We do not envy you your charge. Immigration reform is a morally complex as well as a politically explosive challenge. But many of us are praying earnestly for you and for God's wisdom in this matter.
Including the stranger is not just a matter of compassion but a necessity for greatness. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself is not only a moral commandment but a path to national nobility, if we can build a nation of families and support networks that not only help the marginalized to be successful, but help the successful to be helpful, then we can better live up to our potential as a people.
In the end, I believe our nation will be not be judged by the productivity of our budgets, or the genius of our laws, or even the earnestness of our faith communities. We will be judged, both by history and by God, by the way we treated people, especially those who needed our help.