Focus on undocumented immigrants shows religious right groups stymied by their alliances

By, April 17, 2006

As immigrants and their supporters pour into the streets by the hundreds of thousands, crowding out the space for neutrality on legislation criminalizng illegal status, the big religious right organizations stay silent. When reporters ask them, they say they have no position.

Actually, the religious right leaders are in a very uncomfortable position. They are caught between their Republican allies and millions of Latino evangelicals, whose leaders are urging them to oppose the Republican bill. Moreover, at least one of the big organizations is pinned down by a creature of its own making -- its constituency.

This became clear last week, when the Family Research Council (FRC) released an "informal survey" of its supporters. Over 90% of the 8,000 respondents expressed hostile opinions about immigrants. These poll-takers took the poll during a visit to the FRC website or went to the website to take the poll in response to an email.

FRC President Tony Perkins summed up the responses in an April 13th email:

When it comes to the details of dealing with immigration it is clear that values voters believe enforcement against illegal aliens should be the main component. Ninety one percent of the respondents believe that illegal immigrants should be returned to their country of origin. Ninety two percent think that election ballots should be printed only in English. The biggest responses came though when we asked about border security. Eighty one percent of respondents believe that a fence should be built along the U.S. - Mexican border. When we asked if the United States Congress should commit sufficient funds and resources to border security to sharply reduce illegal entry into the country, 96 percent of all respondents agreed.

When it comes to immigration, there is little to distinguish the FRC poll respondents from the harsh-talking, racist denizens of right-wing talk radio.

According to the Washington Post, polls show that about two-thirds of white evangelicals consider immigrants a societal burden, compared to half of all Americans.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, representing over 10,000 Hispanic evangelical churches with 15 million members, pressed the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) to support legislation providing for amnesty. The NAE's membership is split on the issue, so it has not taken a stand. However, its aid agency, World Relief, has endorsed the Kennedy-McCain proposal that offers a route to legalization and citizenship.

Catholic, Jewish and Muslim groups support the amnesty legislation and many of their leaders actively supported the protests.

It remains to be seen how much the religious right groups' silence will cost them with Hispanic evangelicals who profess to be their natural allies. The Washington Post quoted Rodriguez saying "There will be church ramifications to this, and there will be political ramifications."

TOPIC: Groups, People & Background > Immigration