Spiritual Lobbyists—Religious Leaders Push Immigration Reform

Spiritual Lobbyists
Religious leaders push immigration reform

By Susan Carroll
The Houston Chronicle, January 11, 2010

A coalition of top religious leaders, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, on Monday urged the heads of local congregations and synagogues to help persuade their faithful to support a push for comprehensive immigration reform.

The more than 400 Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Jewish leaders who attended the interfaith service and conference at Houston's St. Paul United Methodist Church seemed receptive to the call to overhaul the nation's immigration system and legalize the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Though DiNardo warned that congregations will not be so united, he said they are not 'nasty because they misunderstand, or are fearful, or are opposed' to immigration reform. DiNardo encouraged leaders to respect the views of their congregants, while still expressing an urgent need for reform.

Some religious leaders questioned how to best share a pro-reform message with their congregations, particularly in the midst of a recession. One Methodist pastor with a suburban, Republican congregation called the immigration issue a potential 'powder keg.'

The local push for reform, organized by Houston's non-partisan The Metropolitan Organization, comes just a week after the leadership of the Catholic Church renewed pressure on the Obama administration to help pass an immigration bill. Ali Noorani, the president of the pro-immigrant organization the National Immigration Forum, said more than 100 events in support of reform were scheduled across the country this week.

DiNardo called the immigration issue 'massively important for our time, critical for our communities and for our nation, and also critical and crucial for us as churches, as synagogues, as believing communities.'

But anti-illegal immigration advocates are pushing back against the religious lobby, charging there is a large disconnect between the pulpit and parishioners on the immigration issue a contention that local religious leaders denied.

51% NO, 46% YES

A Zogby International survey released in December by the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that supports stricter border controls, reported that 46 percent of Catholics, Protestants and Jews who responded to the survey would support a legalization program for illegal immigrants, provided they pay a fine, learn English and pass a background check. Fifty-one percent would oppose it, and the remainder said they were unsure, according to the survey.

'The research is clear that ordinary members of churches and synagogues don't agree with the leadership's almost universal support for amnesty and increased immigration,' said Mark Krikorian, CIS's executive director. 'In fact, the reason they have to do these kinds of events is because the people in the pews aren't responding to earlier calls for activism.'

But those survey results have been hotly contested. Organizations including Public Religion Research have questioned the Zogby survey's methodology since it was based on an opt-in online panel survey, not a scientific random sample of respondents.

Another Zogby poll conducted in the fall of 2008 for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops showed more than two-thirds of the 1,000 Catholics polled supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, provided they register with the government.

I need some help'

Some leaders of congregations with largely Hispanic membership said they have encountered little if any resistance to their support for immigration reform, while other leaders with more conservative populations have reported stronger resistance.

Rev. Andy Noel, pastor of Atascocita United Methodist Church, questioned how to best take the reform message back to his congregation, which he described as being located in a largely conservative, suburban, Republican area.

'I need some help on that,' Noel said. 'We already know this thing is going to be a powder keg, and we're not going to get consensus. You're going to have some people who will take a variety of positions on it.'

Noel said he plans to broach the immigration reform issue, possibly through sermons and Sunday School classes, though he said he was trying to find a way that would be effective and productive without polarizing the congregation.

'They're great people,' he said of the members of his congregation. 'But I think there is a lot of fear in regard to this question.'

'We're in a difficult economy with people who are under-employed and unemployed. And they fear the cost of change, and they fear the impact of change,' he said.

EDITORS NOTE: CIS analysis of the Zogby poll results is available online at: http://cis.org/ReligionAndImmigrationPoll


Advocates join call for immigration reform
By Franco Ordonez
The Charlotte Observer (NC), January 12, 2010