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US Evangelicals Call on Congress to Pass Immigration Reform

A broad range of religious groups is calling on Congress to pass immigration reform - among them conservatives who in the past have opposed reform plans. Many evangelical Christians see it as an opportunity to expand their congregations.

Among the groups supportive of immigration reform are “Nuns on the Bus,” currently on a nation-wide tour. They drew a lot of attention last year campaigning against a Republican budget plan.

Sister Simone Campbell says now they want millions of undocumented immigrants in America to be allowed to stay.

“We must step back from fear. A democracy cannot work on fear. What we have to do is look with clear eyes at what our past is. Our past is beautiful because of immigration.”

Campbell says many of the people her Catholic sisters minister to are undocumented foreigners who work in America’s service sector.

“We also see every day the contribution that immigrants make to our society; how they work in the most menial tasks often.”

According to government estimates, some 11 million undocumented immigrants are thought to be living in the United States.

It could be argued that these progressive women are speaking to people who already agree with them. But conservative evangelical leaders are preaching the same message. One group released an ad as part of a scripture-based campaign that argues immigration reform is a moral issue.

Reverend Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference says 30 to 40 percent of the congregants in Hispanic churches are undocumented.

“So deporting 11 million people may very well be deporting the Hispanic church, which in essence, at the end of the day, looking at the conversion rate, we may very well be deporting the future of American Christianity.”

Indeed, recent surveys show that fewer young Americans are joining religious organizations.

But Mark Tooley of the conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy says support for immigration reform won't win churches new Latino members.

"I'm a skeptic in terms of thinking that because some white Anglo-evangelicals speak out on behalf of a legalization process in favor of illegal immigrants, that therefore immigrants are going to be attracted to their churches."

Recent surveys have found that most evangelicals do favor reform, though they are less supportive than other Americans.