Could Evangelicals Make or Break Immigration Deal?

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WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform is picking up steam in Congress Thursday, but there are still plenty of potholes ahead.

In the next few months, Americans should have a better idea of whether millions of illegal immigrants will get an eventual pathway to citizenship. But first, there's an 844-page bill to go through.

"Our staff has been working for days to try and decipher this gobbledygook," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., charged.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the bill's key sponsors, conceded there are kinks that need to be worked out.

"It's not ideal," he said. "But it's tough, it's fair and it's enforceable."

The recent climate change on immigration has been propelled largely by the faith community. Polls show 60 percent of white evangelical Christians support a pathway to citizenship as long as there are some requirements in the bill.

"Initially evangelicals were way behind. What we see now is that evangelical leadership is walking in tandem, is walking at the rhythm of the beat of immigration reform," Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said.

Many conservative Christian groups like Focus on the Family are now on board, thanks to the work of the Evangelical Immigration Table. It's goals:  respect the God-given dignity of every person and respect the rule of law. 

The Table also brings together conservatives like Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel and liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis. They're pushing congressional leaders hard with a national radio ad campaign focusing on helping the stranger among us, cited in Matthew 25.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CBN News the message from evangelicals has been loud and clear.

"The evangelical support that's been so helpful to me has one common thread to it. They want to be practical and they recognize that these people are human beings," the South Carolina lawmaker said.

But there's a potential stumbling block to that support. The immigration bill includes language that would allow gay couples to sponsor their partners for U.S. residence

"The evangelical community and the Catholic Church will not support a bill that turns the efforts to reform immigration into a same-sex marriage debate," Graham charged. "The market will not bear that."

Successful immigration reform could be a political win for the Republican Party.

"At least half the Hispanic community is programmed to be Republican. They're religious, they're pro-family, they're entrepreneurial, and they're pro-life," Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land said.

So, providing that border security requirements are strengthened, it appears an immigration deal will be reached.

"Ultimately I believe the American people are compassionate people," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. "If they feel like they're being protected and the federal government is doing its job then we'll find a way to deal humanely and compassionately with the 12 million people who are here."

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.