- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Six evangelical Christian leaders, citing Scriptures and biblical principles, yesterday embraced a Senate bill that paves the way to citizenship for illegal aliens, saying America needs to welcome immigrants.

“Jesus announced his agenda was to preach the good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, giving sight to the blind and liberty to the oppressed,” said the Rev. Albert Reyes, former president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, quoting Luke 4:18.

Mr. Reyes said the Senate bill satisfies biblical demands that the “alien” — such as those mentioned in Leviticus 19:34 — be taken care of and ministered to.

“I believe immigration reform is the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” he added.

The leaders included Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The NAE has taken no position on the bill, because of differences among its 52 member denominations.

The Senate bill being debated strips out penalties against as many as 11 million people who are in the United States illegally, provides a way to eventual citizenship for aliens and would double the number of Border Patrol officers.

The leaders didn’t mention the immigration-enforcement bill that passed the House in December, which would make it a felony to be in the country illegally, build nearly 700 miles of fences on the U.S.-Mexico border and require employers to verify that employees are legally allowed to work.

James Edwards, a spokesman for Numbers USA, an evangelical group, believes existing laws shouldn’t be ignored.

“Romans 13 talks about God establishing civil government to protect the innocent and punish the guilty,” he said. This bill “gives all the favor to the other side, to people who’ve broken the law.”

Evangelical leaders said yesterday’s press conference at the U.S. Capitol was a message to the like-minded members of Congress who have remained silent about the issue.

Evangelicals “believe in law and order, but we are also the most compassionate, I think, of communities around the country today,” Mr. Cizik told the Associated Press. “And I think what is perplexing to Congress is frankly what often perplexes evangelicals: How do you reach the right balance of both?”

No evangelical politicians were at the press conference, and the two Democratic senators who came, Ken Salazar of Colorado and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, are Roman Catholics, as was a third, Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican, who canceled appearing at the press conference at the last minute because of a Republican caucus meeting.

Mr. Salazar quoted Scriptures from both Old and New Testaments plus a prayer by California labor activist Cesar Chavez.

“This is about humanity and making sure we’re treating people as humanely as possible,” he said.

When asked how evangelicals differ from Roman Catholics on the issue, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference said they were against a blanket amnesty.

“We’re not calling for a guest-worker program,” he said. “There are consequences to breaking the law.”

But the Senate bill does include a new foreign-worker program and removes the deportation penalty for illegal aliens.

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