- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

A number of leading Christian conservative groups have formed a coalition on immigration and illegal aliens that will push religiously grounded positions that both sides of the current immigration debate will both love and hate.

In letters sent today and obtained by The Washington Times, Families First on Immigration urges President Bush and leaders of the new Democratic Congress to adopt a grand compromise on the divisive issue that includes strong border security, an amnesty for illegals already here who are relatives of citizens and an end to birthright citizenship.

Former Republican presidential hopeful Gary Bauer, Deal Hudson of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture and David Keene of the American Conservative Union are among those who have joined forces to chart a new path on immigration reform, an issue that conservative Christians have generally avoided.

“Our position really is consistent with Christian teachings and with the rule of law,” said Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference who has corralled more than 30 leading conservatives to enter the volatile debate.

Religious liberals have long been outspoken advocates of amnesty and more immigration, but Christian conservatives have been torn between biblical admonitions to both the rule of law and charity toward strangers.

At the heart of their position is a compromise that could give both sides of the immigration debate their “holy grail,” as Mr. Miranda puts it, while also making a major, one-time concession that would eliminate one of the biggest magnets for illegal immigration.

Out of concern for keeping families together, the religious leaders propose granting citizenship to any illegal aliens in the country who are related to U.S. citizens. This would include anyone who has had a child born here, often referred to as an “anchor baby.”

In return, the federal government would end birthright citizenship, which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to anyone born here, regardless of his parents’ legal status. The 14th Amendment says “all persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States.”

“This is a real compromise,” Mr. Miranda said. “On the one hand, there is legalization of a large number of people, but conservatives get the settlement of the thorniest issue for them in the immigration debate.”

In letters today, the coalition implores President Bush and Democrats on Capitol Hill to search in earnest for a solution as soon as possible that deals with the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegals now in the country and ends future illegal migration.

“Illegal immigration is a human tragedy that disrupts lives and separates families,” the group wrote in the letter to Mr. Bush that also scolds officials in Mexico for their responsibility. “It is a failure of two governments: the one that fails its people and the one that invites their departure for cheap labor’s sake.”

Specifically, Families First tells Mr. Bush — who was supported by most of the members of the new coalition — to abandon his proposal for a guest-worker program until the rest of the issues such as birthright citizenship and border security are resolved.

The group struck a similar note to Democrats in Congress and requested that they begin more aggressive oversight of the Bush administration’s handling of illegal immigration.

“We believe that there is a need for such oversight as soon as possible,” the group wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California. “Our hope is that such oversight will lead to a better considered reform and a cohesive immigration policy that goes well beyond Band-Aid politics.”

Among others who have joined the coalition are longtime conservative direct-mail guru Richard A. Viguerie, the Rev. Donald Wildmon of American Family Association, the Rev. Louis Sheldon of Traditional Values Coalition and Rabbi Aryeh Spero of Caucus for America.

The group hopes to draw support from fellow religious conservatives in Congress such as Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican.

Mr. Brownback caused deep consternation in conservative circles last year when he enthusiastically embraced the Senate immigration bill, which was reviled by most conservatives because it would grant citizenship rights to most illegals. A member of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Brownback argued that it was his Christian duty to support a bill that would help illegal aliens who came here in search of a new home away from the tyranny and squalor from which they came.

Families First also urged that lawmakers act quickly.

“Each day that laws are not enforced real people and whole families come to suffer an indignity,” group leaders wrote. “Illegal immigrants can become the targets of abuse by the unscrupulous. This harms Americans too. It corrodes the dignity of the American people.”

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