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Immigration bill will falter if same-sex amendments are added, ERLC warns

WASHINGTON (BP) — Amending a long-awaited immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate to include same-sex partners would force it to oppose the legislation and would deal a death blow to passage, the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has warned.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission issued warnings both before and after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., filed amendments Tuesday (May 7) supported by homosexual rights organizations. One of Leahy’s amendments would recognize for immigration purposes same-sex marriages that are legal in a state or foreign country. His other amendment would enable same-sex partners of American citizens to gain legal residency in the same way a husband or wife of a citizen does.

Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin consideration of the immigration reform bill and its 300 filed amendments Thursday (May 9).

The ERLC’s Barrett Duke described Leahy’s decision to file the same-sex amendments as “very disappointing.”

“The inclusion of same-sex marriage complicates things beyond measure and will certainly kill any chance we have of passing immigration reform if it is added to the bill,” Duke told Baptist Press Wednesday (May 8). “It is my hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee will determine that the immigration bill is not the place to be trying to change our country’s longstanding commitment to traditional marriage. Let’s move forward with what we can agree to and solve the dilemma of the 12 million people living in the shadows in our country now.”

ERLC President Richard Land and other supporters of broad immigration reform had urged Leahy in a May 1 letter not to push same-sex measures in the bill.

“If your or any other proposal includes [same-sex] provisions, most, if not all of us, would have to oppose it, preventing us from mobilizing our extensive networks on behalf of the bill,” Land and 11 others told the senator. “We urge you not to tie our hands as we work together to reform our nation’s broken immigration system.”

Land and the others said such same-sex measures “would be strongly opposed by many in our communities who would be otherwise sympathetic or even enthusiastic about the benefits of immigration reform.”

Among the signers with Land of the letter to Leahy were representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).

An active advocate for broad immigration reform even back in 2006, Land has warned in the past that injecting same-sex rights would be a poison pill for such legislation. “Among the majority of evangelicals and Southern Baptists, it would be seen as a de facto federal recognition of same-sex marriage and thus would be a deal-breaker,” he said in February.

Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, said Wednesday the immigration reform effort has enough challenges without adding same-sex partnerships.

“The country is ready to resolve our immigration dilemma if it can be done in a way that respects the rule of law, deals compassionately with the undocumented and ensures that we won’t have a repeat of this problem in the future,” Duke said. “The Senate has its hands full just doing that in a way that can garner enough votes.”

Evangelical supporters of immigration reform said upon its April 17 introduction that the Senate bill — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744 — marks a solid, though imperfect, start. The product of about three months of negotiations among four Democrats and four Republicans, the proposal is the first serious congressional attempt since 2007 to repair what seemingly everyone acknowledges is a broken immigration system.

The lack of enforcement of the current system has resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States illegally.

The 844-page Senate bill includes a universal employment verification system, as well as border security and fence plans. When the border security plans are in place, undocumented immigrants can seek temporary status. To achieve such provisional status under the bill, each immigrant must, among other requirements, pass a background check, pay taxes and $2,000 in fines, and wait at least 10 years behind legal immigrants who applied before him. He will receive no federal benefits during this provisional period.

Some conservatives have said the border security measures are inadequate, and others have criticized the cost to the government. A Heritage Foundation study released May 6 predicted the Senate proposal would cost taxpayers at least $6.3 trillion. Some advocates of immigration reform disputed that forecast.

Homosexual rights organizations have decried the bill’s refusal to include partners in same-sex relationships.

Supporters of immigration reform have warned there is only a narrow window of opportunity for passage in this two-year congressional session, which closes at the end of 2014. Land has predicted approval must happen by the Fourth of July or Labor Day this year.

The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), led by Land and nine others, launched Wednesday a new prayer-and-action campaign to gain passage of legislation in the next 92 days. The length of the campaign is based on the number of times the Hebrew word for immigrant appears in the Old Testament.

EIT has called for immigration reform that:

— “Respects the God-given dignity of every person;

— “Protects the unity of the immediate family;

— “Respects the rule of law;

— “Guarantees secure national borders;

— “Ensures fairness to taxpayers;

— “Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”

Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

In addition to Land, signing onto the May 1 letter to Leahy were: Leith Anderson, president, NAE; Jose Gomez, chairman, USCCB’s Committee on Migration; Samuel Rodriguez, president, NHCLC; Matthew Harrison, president, LCMS; Mathew Staver, chairman, Liberty Counsel; Carlos Campo, president, Regent University; Noel Castellanos, chief executive officer, Christian Community Development Assoc.; Stephan Bauman, president, World Relief; Alfonso Aguilar, executive director, Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles; Robert Gittelson, executive director, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform; and Joel Hunter, pastor, Northland Church, Orlando.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).