Pentecostal pastor Samuel
Rodriguez said Hispanic leaders who met with President Obama this week to
discuss immigration reform left “re-energized” by his commitment to address
the controversial topic this year.
“We walked out of the meeting
revitalized to a degree, re-energized, understanding that this president will
not surrender the issue of immigration reform for the sake of political
expediency,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic
Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), a network of 25,000 congregations
representing 16 million people.
Rodriguez, a California-based Assemblies of God
minister, was the only evangelical at the president’s meeting Monday with
leaders of some of the nation’s largest Hispanic activist and labor
organizations, including the Service Employees
International Union, the National Council of La
Raza and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, Ariz.
Rodriguez and several of those leaders are
expected to join President Obama Thursday when he addresses immigration reform
during a speech in Washington, D.C. Rodriguez said he “wholeheartedly”
expects it to be “the most significant speech the president has given on immigration
reform” but was short on specifics.
President Obama championed immigration reform
during his 2008 presidential campaign and said he would make it a priority if
elected. He also spoke out against Arizona’s controversial law that requires
law enforcement to question the immigration status of people suspected of being
in the U.S. illegally.
But the prospect of passing comprehensive
immigration reform looks bleak at a time when many in Congress are reluctant to
wade into another politically divisive issue. Rodriguez said he is only mildly
hopeful that Congress will take on the issue this year but was impressed by the
president’s resolve Monday.
“It would be politically advantageous for the
president to put immigration to the side, focus on the BP spill, focus on other
issues that are so important,” Rodriguez said. “But this president insists,
driven by principle, that this is a critical issue that needs to be addressed
as expeditiously as possible.”
He said though immigration legislation may seem
dead in the water, other bills have been unexpectedly revived, namely the
health care overhaul.
“It had its Lazarus moment,” Rodriguez said. “If
it can happen with health care, it can happen with immigration reform.”
Enlisting lobbying support was part of the
president’s agenda Monday. But the group also discussed the political realities
that have caused reform efforts to stall.
Rodriguez said President Obama’s immigration
reform agenda is “99.9 percent” in line with the NHCLC’s, which includes
securing U.S. borders, providing a legal path to citizenship, fining those who
have entered the country illegally and deporting undocumented persons
In recent months, Rodriguez’s plan has won
support from such evangelical groups as the National Association of
Evangelicals, Liberty University and the Freedom Federation, a diverse
coalition of evangelical and charismatic organizations.
In May, charismatic ministers were among a cross-section of Christians to sign on to a statement with Rodriguez calling for a “just”
immigration reform policy that would create a legal path to
citizenship without promoting amnesty.
The statement—signed by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission; Bishop George McKinney, a member
of the general board of the Church of God in Christ; and Lou Engle, founder of
TheCall prayer movement—drew criticism from some who said the leaders did not
reflect the views of grassroots Christians.
“They don’t have their constituency with them—and
this is not a clear biblical mandate,” Alan Wisdom, vice president of
research and programs at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told
OneNewsNow in May. “The Bible does not tell us what our immigration policy
Although many conservative Christian leaders
have opposed President Obama’s political agenda, especially his efforts to pass
health care reform, Rodriguez is optimistic he will not alienate evangelicals on
“He’s right on this issue because from a
biblical worldview on this issue he is not an extremist,” Rodriguez said. “He’s
really reconciling the rule of law with compassion for the stranger amongst