Texans of Richard Land's generation were so accustomed to Hispanic culture that when they went north they often complained -- along with Californians, Arizonans, and other Anglos in the American Southwest -- that they couldn't even find edible Mexican food.
In the 21st century, all of that has changed. Excellent Hispanic cuisine is found all over this country, and it comes not just from Mexico, but El Salvador, Guatemala, and other points south of the Rio Grande. And those migrants are not all Roman Catholics, anymore, either. Many are Pentecostals, Baptists, and non-denominational Protestants of every description.
Today, notes Richard Land, the most prominent leader of the Southern Baptist church in this country, you cannot drive from Richmond, Va., to Los Angeles without passing a Baptist church of any size without seeing the words "Iglesia Bautista" attached to it.
"We're called evangelicals because we evangelize," he told RCP. "We evangelize and they became Baptists."
But cultural assimilation in the United States has always been a two-way transaction.
The immigrants who come here are changed by the experience, even while they are changing their adopted nation. So it is all the more fitting that the newest wave of immigrants, especially those who find a church home, are altering the dynamics of this nation's difficult and often divisive discussion of what do with the estimated 11 million pilgrims who have come here without proper papers and taken up residence irrespective of their legal status.
In our partisan, politically polarized environment, the battle lines are often drawn -- at least in political activists' minds -- before the argument is even joined.
Liberals are presumed to favor amnesty for illegals both because of their bleeding hearts and a cynical calculus (i.e., legalization is an easy way to immediately mint millions of new Democratic voters). Conservatives' hostility to legalization is also presumed, at least by elites, who attribute nativist attitudes to a predominately white, and somewhat fearful, Republican electorate.
What that leaves out of the equation is what's actually happening in the nation's pews.
"Evangelicals take seriously the many texts in Scripture regarding welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the sojourner, and the neglected," says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank. "This sensibility makes them far more open to immigration than many would imagine."
Citing various passages from the Bible, most especially the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, a coalition of prominent evangelical groups is pushing Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and specifically a pathway to citizenship for those living here illegally. The alliance, which includes Land's Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, often cites that famous passage from Matthew: "I was a stranger and you invited me in."
Evangelicals have favored comprehensive immigration reform for years, but they now see a political and economic climate that is especially receptive for successful legislation. Their coalition, The Immigration Table, wrote a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders asking that any plan include the opportunity for illegal residents to gain citizenship.
That component, as evangelical leaders know, is a stumbling block on Capitol Hill, where conservatives are concerned about the term "amnesty."
This is still a big hurdle, but the Republican Party has traveled a great distance in the past 12 months. It was only a year ago that Mitt Romney tried to score points against Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a Republican presidential debate by declaring that the answer to illegal immigration was "self-deportation."
Congressional Republicans have, for the most part, put that kind of talk behind them. But what they fear is a repeat of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed by President Reagan, that granted amnesty to nearly 3 million people, most of them from Mexico, but which did nothing to control the tide of illegal immigration -- and may have made the border even more porous.
Today, the focus is whether and how to legalize the undocumented or give them a chance to eventually become full citizens. Conservatives are coming around to the idea, but are careful in their language.
"What we're discussing is a path to a green card," said Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the architects of impending Senate legislation. "It's important to understand that you can't just apply for citizenship, even now."
Rubio and other key players welcome the efforts of the faith groups, but they are also trying to make certain the push from outside actors doesn't muddle their message.
"I think the evangelicals are asking for us to be humane and compassionate," the Florida senator told RCP. "But they also understand we have to be responsible -- that what we do, whatever we come up with, does have to honor our tradition as a compassionate nation and a compassionate people, but we also have to do it in a way that makes sure we are being fair to the people who are doing it the right way, and in a way that doesn't encourage illegal immigration in the future."
Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba to the United States, spoke in starkly more inclusive terms about immigration during 2012 than the eventual GOP presidential nominee. Not coincidentally, Rubio is frequently mentioned as a likely 2016 national candidate.
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SOURCE: Real Clear Politics