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Friend or foe?

"Friend or foe?" Continued...

Issue: "The new urban frontier," March 9, 2013

A 2001 John Tanton letter to Gary Gerst, NumbersUSA board chairman, detailed plans to hire a lobbyist who would work to “change Republicans’ perception of immigration so that when they encounter the word ‘immigrant,’ their reaction is ‘Democrat.’” With the help of 9/11, it seems to have worked for awhile: The House Immigration Reform Caucus, which favors border security over any other changes to immigration law, hit 110 members in 2007. Yet only 58 remain as the 113th Congress begins, with more Republicans distancing themselves from enforcement-only positions on immigration. 

Republicans’ efforts to restrict immigration have hurt them politically, according to Hispanic Leadership Fund President Mario Lopez. Lopez recently wrote a report published in The Human Life Review documenting the entangling associations between anti-immigration and population control groups, and he told me Republicans have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. The pitch, he said, is: “‘It’s OK to say you hate immigrants because they’re never going to vote for you anyway.’ Then Republicans go out and do it, and the population control groups say, ‘See I told you so.’”

Many factors contribute to Republican views on immigration, but competing worldviews are also shaping the heart of the debate: Are people an asset or a liability? For Christians who believe humans are made in the image of God, they’re an asset. For those who believe humans are destroying the earth with their CO2 emissions, they’re a liability.

Rosemary Jenks at NumbersUSA said her group advocates for lower immigration levels to improve the economy and quality of life. She said allowing low-skilled immigrants into the country is “importing poverty.” 

World Relief and other organizations want to change that perception among evangelicals, asking them to read one scripture about immigrants per day for 40 days. The National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and other groups are promoting the “I Was a Stranger” challenge—based on Matthew 25—in their member churches. 

Richard Land, president of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told me about 80 percent of Southern Baptists agree with his view of immigration reform, which includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, or illegal immigrants. He believes most conservatives cooperate with anti-immigration groups because they don’t know the real objectives behind the rhetoric: “Most conservatives reject the philosophy of population control and do see human beings as assets, not liabilities—certainly the pro-life movement does.”

The current immigration reform debate in Washington could turn on how far conservatives—including a new generation of lawmakers like Rubio—choose to extend their pro-life beliefs.

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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