Well, the Gang of Eight just found themselves a new ally: the Christian right. With forecasts showing that this immigration package could die in the Republican House, religious leaders seem to have had enough with the legislative stagnation on this issue. They’re backing reform, and mobilizing the grassroots to contact conservative politicians to assure them that a vote for the reform package won’t spell the end of their careers. As Anna Palmer of Politico wrote yesterday:
They’re [the Christian right] talking to their congregations from the pulpit. They’re urging lawmakers in private meetings to support reform. And they’re even calling for change publicly. The efforts have dramatically changed the dynamics of the debate, so much so that Republicans anxious to vote yes on a deal might have the political cover to do it.
“I think it is night and day, particularly among social conservatives,” Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed told POLITICO of the support for immigration reform. Reed’s group released a letter Tuesday that outlines broad goals for reform, like keeping families together, reforming the visa system and securing the border. High profile leaders are also weighing in. Mathew Staver, vice president of Liberty University, the college started by former TV minister Jerry Falwell, is on board. Focus on the Family, which for years has focused on issues like opposing abortion rights and gay marriage, is supporting immigration reform for the first time in its history — even using its radio broadcast that reaches millions to push its message.
“The issues had been so demagogued for the last five or six years, it was hopeless to get seriously into this,” said Tom Minnery or Focus on the Family. “It seems the time is better. The time has changed…That’s why we’ve become more active.” Social conservatives are directly targeting GOP offices and trying to show that they can give cover to lawmakers in the South, West and Midwest, who are worried about facing retaliation at the ballot box in 2014.
“Many of the most hostile critics got beat, a fact not lost on the other House members,” said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, referring to Republicans who have lost their seats since 2006. “I think there’s a bigger coalition in the House for immigration reform than people think.”
Palmer added that this shift within social conservative circles is due to Sen. Rubio’s lobbying for reform, and the fact that many churches are seeing an increase of Hispanics within their congregations. Chuck Todd on Meet the Press last Sunday asked Ralph Reed, Chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, if social conservatives would get behind this initiative. Obviously, they have, but Reed responded saying:
[P]eople of faith are commanded by scripture, both New and Old Testament, to welcome the foreigner, and show compassion for the immigrant. But there’s a corollary responsibility. And that is the immigrant, from ancient times with the Israelites, all the way to today, is to obey the law, and show respect for the customs of the nation in which they resided. So, for example, you’ve got a million people, who are spouses – or children – of people who are here legally. Seeking a Green Card. Two hundred thousand of those are minor children. We don’t believe, Chuck [Todd], that somebody, who violated our laws, as their first step on the road to becoming an American should take precedent over those minor children entering the country.
Furthermore, Reed wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in November of last year stating that social conservatism is where the Republican Party will grow with Hispanics and minorities. Why?
If the GOP is serious about reaching out to minorities, social issues are rich soil for finding common ground. Most minority voters are either evangelicals or Catholics. In Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush won 16% of the African-American vote, in part due to his support for traditional marriage. When California voters ratified a traditional-marriage amendment in 2008, support from African-American and Hispanic voters provided the margin of victory.
U.S. Hispanics aren’t monolithic. There are Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Venezuelans and Hondurans, among others. But one of the most reliable predictors of Hispanic voting behavior is religiosity. Roughly 20% of Hispanics are evangelicals (their number increases by 600,000 per year), and 37% of Hispanic voters self-identify as social conservatives. These voters made up a disproportionate share when George W. Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
To win their support, Republicans must favor a secure border without sounding anti-immigrant. They should welcome those who come to this country legally and play by the rules, while stressing education reform, economic opportunity and lower taxes and regulation on minority-owned businesses.
This should be an interesting development. However, do social conservatives know that the byproduct of this backing this deal is increasing Obamacare by $700 billion over the next ten years?