- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

Evangelical Christians say the issue of illegal aliens in the United States often creates a conflict between their allegiance to the Gospels and their loyalty to the government.

“On one hand, they really want to minister to people, but on the other hand, [illegal aliens] have broken the law — and that’s a problem for people,” said John Clifford Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Several conservative Christian groups sent a letter Monday to President Bush asking that his plan to resolve the immigration crisis include strong border security, amnesty for illegals who are related to U.S. citizens and already are in the country and an end to birthright citizenship.

“Whether this will attract majority support among evangelicals remains to be seen,” Mr. Green said.

Most evangelicals agree that something needs to be done.

“There’s a general acknowledgment that the current system is broken and needs fixing,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization of about 45,000 conservative churches representing about 30 million people. “Our population is growing by leaps and bounds — often by illegal immigration — at the expense of those who want to legally enter the country, and that’s not right.”

The Wheaton, Ill.-based association issued a resolution last October citing the need for secure borders but calling for “immigration reform that reflects human dignity, compassion and justice.”

The resolution also cites passages from Scripture admonishing Christians to minister to all people.

“Most evangelicals are caught in between wanting to have responsible border policy with compassion for the alien,” Mr. Cizik said. “It makes coming up with a fair balance here very difficult.”

At issue, said Mr. Green of the Pew Forum, is a discord between public policy and private action.

“Some evangelicals say, ‘We’re in favor of stricter law enforcement, but we’re not going to turn in people in our community,’ ” he said.

Evangelical Christians also have close ties to the Hispanic community in the United States.

“Evangelicals have had so much success evangelizing among immigrants that they have a real sympathy with those communities,” Mr. Green said.

Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing segments of evangelical Christianity in America because of high conversion rates in the United States and Latin America and high birthrates among Hispanic evangelicals, said Gaston Espinosa, an assistant professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College in California.

“The Latino evangelical community is much more sympathetic to immigration reform … because a significant percentage of their community is undocumented,” said Mr. Espinosa, a specialist on religious trends among Hispanics. “They don’t support any sort of proposal that would send them over the border.”

There’s more consensus on immigration among other faith groups.

The Roman Catholic Church in America traditionally has supported immigrant-friendly policies.

The Virginia Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Catholic dioceses of Arlington and Richmond, supports allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend Virginia’s public colleges. The conference also supports localities that wish to establish day-laborer centers for immigrants.

“We provide for the immediate needs for the individual that presents himself or herself,” Executive Director Jeff Caruso said. “If someone needs food or shelter, we don’t screen for immigration status. We do what Christ asks us to do.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council, the lobbying arm of the Jewish community in the Washington region, holds similar policy positions. The council opposes legislation that prohibits illegal immigrants from obtaining public social services.

“Most of our community in Washington can remember when grandparents or great-grandparents came over from Europe and the hostile reason for which they came over,” said Debra Linick, a program director who handles Virginia legislation.

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