Poll Shows Christian Support for Immigration Reform

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Adrienne S. Gaines

A new poll released Tuesday finds broad Christian support
for comprehensive immigration reform.

The national phone survey of 1,201 Americans showed that 56
percent of respondents believe the U.S. immigration system is completely or
mostly broken. The percentage was relatively the same among Christians—56
percent of evangelicals, 52 percent of mainline Protestants and 60 percent of
Catholics say the immigration system is broken.

Photo: The March for America rally drew 200,000 people, including thousands of Christians, to the National Mall March 21 in support of immigration reform

“Immigration reform, now we know, is supported by the
majority of Americans,” said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National
Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He was one of dozens of Christian leaders
who participated in the March for American rally on the National Mall Sunday that drew 200,000
people in support of immigration reform legislation.

“This poll really gives validity to the idea that if
President Obama pushed a health care reform package that the majority of
Americans opposed, why wouldn’t he push immigration reform that the majority of
Americans do support?” Rodriguez added.

The results of the poll, conducted by the Public Religion
Research Institute (PRRI), ran counter to the findings of a Zogby poll released
last December by the Center for Immigration Studies, which showed that most
religious Americans want a decrease in immigration. The Zogby poll found that
69 percent of Catholics, 72 percent of mainline Protestants, 78 percent of
born-again Protestants believed current immigration levels are too high.

Rodriguez and other reform supporters discounted the Zogby
results and challenged the methodology. Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said the earlier Zogby poll was conducted among a sample drawn from an online panel, which is less accurate than random sample telephone surveys such as the PRRI study.

The Zogby poll found that three-quarters of born-again
Protestants and two-thirds of Catholics and mainline Protestants favored
enforcement that would cause illegal immigrants to go home over time instead over a conditional pathway to citizenship. But more than 60 percent of those responding
to the PRRI poll said illegal immigrants should be offered an earned path to
citizenship that gives them “an opportunity to be responsible, contribute their
fair share and become full members of society.”

The survey also found agreement around four
cultural-religious values that respondents say should guide reform: enforcing
the rule of law and promoting national security (88 percent), ensuring fairness
to taxpayers (84 percent), protecting the dignity of every person (82 percent)
and keeping families together (80 percent).

Republicans, however, tended to view promoting national
security and ensuring fairness to taxpayers as extremely or very important,
while Democratic voters rated protecting the dignity of every person and
keeping families together as the most important values to guide immigration
reform policies.

“On this issue, the public is out ahead of the politicians,”
said the Rev. Rich Nathan, pastor of 10,000-member Vineyard Church in Columbus,
Ohio, who also attended Sunday’s rally. “Our politicians need to exert some
focused leadership; they’ll find they have the support if they exert that

Speaking to the crowd at Sunday’s rally by video, President Obama said
he would do “everything in my power” to get a bipartisan deal within
the year.

“You know as well as I do that this won’t be easy, and
it won’t happen overnight,” Obama said. “But if we work together
across ethnic, state and party lines, we can build a future worthy of our
history as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York recently outlined an immigration
reform plan that would create a “tough but fair” path to citizenship,
a temporary worker program and tighter border controls. But Graham said Friday
that immigration reform would be the “first casualty” if the health care bill
passed, and his commitment to the issue is unclear.

“If Lindsay Graham drops the immigration reform advocacy, I
believe that very well may be the death knell,” said Rodriguez, who met with
the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Monday to discuss
comprehensive immigration reform.

Rodriguez said both the president and the House want the
Senate to take the lead on the issue, and the Senate wants their efforts to be
bipartisan despite their approach to the health reform legislation.

“I think right now the Republican Party is saying enough is
enough,” Rodriguez told Charisma. “[Republicans are saying], ‘Why should
we reward the Democratic Party and this Democratic president by supporting one
of his domestic policy agendas when he just basically usurped any contribution
that we may have and, in their idea, the will of the American people?'”

Lawmakers gave no timetables for immigration reform during
meetings with religious leaders Monday. But Rodriguez said if there is no
action on the issue soon, Latino voters will “punish via the ballot box whoever
broke their promises.” He added that the 25,000 churches affiliated with his
organization also are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to challenge lawmakers to take up the issue this year.

“We will revert to the strategy of Dr. [Martin Luther] King and the great
civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s,” Rodriguez said. “We will march,
we will rally, we will protest. Some of us may go to jail. But we will convey a
message that it is morally reprehensible to have 12 million people living in a
perpetual state of limbo.”

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