The Evolving Immigration Debate: Religion
Hari Sreenivasan talks with Rev. Samuel Rodriguez about the changing debate over immigration.
The last time the nation heard the terms "amnesty" and "pathway to citizenship" batted around with such frequency was seven years ago, in the year leading up to the ultimately doomed Immigration Reform Act of 2007. The bill was a compromise championed by then-President George W. Bush that called for stronger border security and workplace enforcement laws, and would have led to legal status for immigrants in the U.S. without documentation.
The arguments on both sides sounded a whole lot like they do today. At the time, the NewsHour ran a series of one-on-one discussions, called "Immigration Insights," with individuals exploring the concept of reform through the lens of their own involvement with immigrants.
Today, with comprehensive reform once again reportedly around the corner, we decided to go back to some of the same individuals (along with some new faces) and ask what's changed -- and what hasn't -- seven years later. Does today's political landscape feel like history repeating itself? Have their attitudes toward immigration changed?
The role of faith has long factored into the debate over illegal immigration in this country. In 2006, Ray Suarez interviewed Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver about a series of town hall meetings he had been moderating to help explain the church's position on the immigration debate. You can watch that interview below.
Ray Suarez speaks with Archbishop Charles Chaput on Aug. 15, 2006.
"The church has a long tradition of social justice teaching," Chaput explained at the time. "The church is not in favor of illegal immigration. The church is not in favor of breaking the law. The church is in favor of changing the laws so that they work, they make sense, and that they serve the common good and everyone's dignity."
Archbishop Chaput was unavailable to participate in today's Google Hangout, but Hari Sreenivasan connected with Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. With more than 40,000 member churches, it's the country's largest Hispanic Christian organization.
Rodriguez says the role of faith "speaks to the radical transformation" of the immigration debate from 2006 to 2013. Seven years ago, he says, the majority of people "viewed immigration as a political issue," one in which the faith community was "not necessarily engaged."
But the faith community has learned from the failures of 2006, he says. "We spoke to pastors across the country. We targeted the 24 largest cities in America, met with white Evangelical pastors, African-American pastors, sat down with them and said, 'This is not a political issue, it is a moral issue.'"
"We may very well be deporting the future of American Christianity." --Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
Rodriguez says the increasing number of Hispanics in the church has forced pastors nationwide to sit up and take notice.
"Our churches are filled with undocumented individuals," he says. "We may very well be deporting the future of American Christianity."
Rodriguez, who worked with the George W. Bush administration on their unsuccessful reform efforts in 2006, describes his outlook this time around as "a sense of uber-optimism with an inner lining of prayerful caution." And after meeting with President Barack Obama earlier this month, "All the stars have definitely lined up." He added, "It's just a matter of whether we have the political will now, as a nation, to push this forward."