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Land clarifies immigration reform stance

WASHINGTON (BP)–Ethics leader Richard Land has issued a first-person commentary to clarify where Southern Baptists, and he, stand on immigration reform in response to news media reports he said “have unfortunately sown some confusion.”

Land’s commentary, printed in today’s Baptist Press release, reiterates neither he nor Southern Baptists support amnesty for illegal aliens. It also says Southern Baptists “will not embrace reform that is not committed to securing the borders.”

The president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission spoke March 29 at a Capitol Hill news conference in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Land did not endorse specific legislation while appearing with Hispanic evangelical Christian leaders and members of Congress from both major parties.

At the news conference, Land read most of the SBC’s 2006 resolution on illegal immigration. That measure, approved by an overwhelming majority of the messengers, called for increased border security and enforcement of the laws, while urging Christians to minister to all immigrants and to encourage them “toward the path of legal status and/or citizenship.”

In his commentary, Land takes exception to a characterization of one of his comments as reported April 2 in USA Today. That report said Land admitted he might be “a little bit ahead” of the SBC’s “rank and file.”

“For the record, I did not say, and did not acknowledge, that I was ‘a little bit ahead’ of where the convention was,” Land says in his commentary. “In fact, I was at the press conference representing what the convention had said on the issue.”

Land was asked by a USA Today reporter after the news conference if his position might be somewhat ahead of where “some” Southern Baptists in the pew were, he writes. “I agreed that I might be ‘a little bit ahead’ of where some Southern Baptists are vis-à-vis this issue, but I noted voting messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the resolution on the immigration crisis with near unanimity and with no debate.”

Land says in his commentary he would use the SBC resolution as a “blueprint and plumb line for writing truly comprehensive immigration reform,” if he were a member of Congress. So far, no bill has been introduced that would receive his support, Land says.

“Each of the bills falls short in some critical areas,” he says. “The legislation that will generate majority support among Southern Baptists and other evangelicals is still out there waiting to be written and introduced in the Congress.”

The legislation that will gain his endorsement will line up with four points made in the SBC’s resolution, Land writes. It would:

— “Insure the federal government provides for U.S. security ‘by controlling and securing our borders’;

— “Enforce immigration laws, including oversight of the hiring practices of private employers;

— “Deal judiciously and ‘realistically’ with those in the country illegally; and,

— “Allow the people of God to act ‘redemptively,’ reaching out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants as they work toward an earned pathway of ‘legal status and/or citizenship.'”

The phrase “comprehensive legislation,” Land says in his commentary, “is not code for amnesty, no matter what my critics contend. Amnesty is wiping a transgressor’s record clean –- it is a free ride.”

To require illegal immigrants to become proficient in English, pay fines and back taxes, undergo a criminal check and wait behind legal immigrants in an effort to seek citizenship after a lengthy probation is hardly amnesty, he says.

The Senate and House of Representatives both passed bills in the last Congress to address the illegal immigration problem, but their differences were so great they both died at the end of the session. That left the question of how to deal with an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States unresolved as Democrats took control of both houses.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., the leader on immigration reform in the Senate, has yet to introduce a version this year. He said at the March 29 news conference negotiations are still going on among Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well as the White House.

Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D.-Ill., and Jeff Flake, R.-Ariz., introduced the latest version of comprehensive immigration reform March 22 in the House.

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