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Will Evangelicals Convince GOP Doubters on Immigration Reform?

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Lee Brenner

By Lee Brenner on July 19, 2013

Through a tweet last night from ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl, the world (or at least some of Karl’s followers) were made aware that both Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) were on the same late evening flight to Des Moines, along with RNC Chairman Reince Preibus.

In political circles, Cruz and Paul have been discussed as possible 2016 presidential hopefuls. Obviously, securing the coveted Iowa caucuses is the first stop on that ride.

Both Cruz and Paul are attending a closed-door meeting of Iowa evangelical leaders today. Both Senators opposed the recently passed bipartisan immigration reform bill. Many evangelicals, who traditionally support only conservative candidates on a national scale (pretty sure George W. did pretty well with them), are actually very supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, as evidenced by a recent piece in The Atlantic. As Michael Wear, a former head of the White House’s faith-based outreach writes:

Evangelicals are no fringe demographic. They account for about a quarter of the American population and are increasingly diverse racially, ethnically, and geographically. Though they generally lean conservative for theological and cultural reasons, there are evangelicals across the political spectrum. By definition, evangelicalism — like faith in general — defies political categories.

This is clear when you look at the Evangelical Immigration Table. The EIT represents organizations ranging from the Rev. Jim Wallis’ progressive-leaning Sojourners group to the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The EIT also includes the National Association of Evangelicals, the moderate umbrella organization for evangelical denominations and churches; Bread for the World, a leading evangelical anti-hunger organization; the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, a moderate-to-progressive evangelical coalition led by the Rev. Gabriel Salguero; Liberty University Law School Dean Mat Staver; top denominational heads; seminary presidents; and dozens of other national figures.

These groups did not always support immigration reform. Samuel Rodriguez told me that in 2005, the evangelical support of immigration reform consisted mostly of Hispanic evangelicals. After that effort failed in 2006, Hispanic and other pro-reform evangelicals began to build support across the evangelical community. Now, says Rodriguez, evangelicals of all races are no longer the tail of pro-reform forces — they are leading the effort.

Wear additionally points out that the leadership of the Evangelical Immigration Table “will meet with House Republican leadership on July 24 to state their case, according to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.”

Further, the RNC has made it very clear that reaching out to the growing Latino electorate is vital to win national races (ie POTUS).

So that begs the questions: How convicted are the evangelicals to comprehensive immigration reform? How vital is comprehensive immigration reform to actually elect a Republican as President of the United States? How committed are Republicans to actually reaching out to the growing Latino community?

The White House has its opinion, as demonstrated by Press Secretary Jay Carney at Wednesday’s briefing, where he stated, “…if Republicans were truly focused on ways to reduce the deficit, that also provide benefits to our overall economy and the American middle class, they ought to get about the business of passing immigration reform in the House, because as the CBO said, the Senate bill would significantly reduce the deficit.”

If these tweets from conservative radio show host Steve Deace are to be believed, however, maybe the conviction isn’t as strong throughout the movement from the GOP/evangelical side:

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