Evangelicals and Immigration Reform, Again

There’s a new coalition of evangelicals pressing for immigration reform, the Evangelical Immigration Table

Immigration Equality, which advocates for LGBT equality in immigration reform, yesterday expressed “concern” about the inclusion of Focus on the Family in this new coalition. In a statement, Rachel B. Tiven, Immigration Equality’s executive director, said the group was “dismayed by the decision to embrace an out-of-step organization like Focus on the Family,” adding that “Focus on the Family, however, is neither a church nor a denomination. It is a divisive political organization with a disturbing history of advocating exclusion – including the exclusion of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people – from the progress of our country. Those exclusionary principles are exactly the opposite of what our immigration movement should be embracing.  As the LGBT community knows from its legislative successes, unity and inclusion are essential to victory.”

Focus on the Family is not the only anti-gay organization in the Evangelical Immigration Table; it also includes anti-LGBT equality organizations like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Among the leaders of evangelical universities supporting the effort is Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University Law School, who has long sought to separate a child from her lesbian mother, and who represents the odiously anti-gay activist Scott Lively, who is known as one of the instigators of the anti-gay frenzy in Uganda that has led to the kill-the-gay bill there.

This is not a new effort by evangelicals to press for immigration reform. Two years ago, a group calling itself Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which included the NHCLC, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pressed for immigration reform, but without the Uniting American Families Act, a provision that would permit the 36,000 bi-national, same-sex couples living in the U.S. to obtain a green card for the non-citizen in the couple, just as straight people can do for their spouses. (There are, of course, religious people and organizations who support the UAFA; these conservatives don’t speak for all “religious” people.”)

As I reported at the time, the NHCLC, Staver’s Liberty Counsel, and other evangelicals all said they’d refuse to support a comprehensive package that included LGBT equality. “Same-sex domestic partnerships will doom any effort for bipartisan support of immigration and will cause religious conservatives to withdraw their support,” Staver said at the time. Democratic support for LGBT-inclusive immigration reform, he said, was “pandering to special interests.” 

Two years later, nothing has changed. There very well may be evangelicals involved with the Evangelical Immigration Table who genuinely believe immigration reform is moral and essential, and some who don’t see LGBT equality as a dealbreaker. One thing is clear, though (speaking of pandering to special interests): that unlike, for example, the requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for birth control for their employees, immigration reform is not an issue that religious figures will be able to use to light a fire under the chairs of Congressional Republicans. The demographic handwriting might be on the wall; if the Republicans lose a few election cycles because they so alienate Latino voters, maybe they’ll wake up to their own impending irrelevance. But it won’t be because “people of faith” urged them to do it. 

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email