A coalition of evangelical leaders representing tens of millions of congregants across the country are calling on President Barack Obama to meet with them and introduce a bipartisan immigration reform bill within the first 92 days of his term.
On Tuesday, more than 150 faith leaders released an open letter asking the president and heads of the Senate and House to support a pathway to legal status or citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Leaders spoke about the call during a teleconference hosted by the National Immigration Forum.
"We're united in the belief that all people are created in the image of God," said Barrett Duke, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, which handles public policy issues for the 16 million-member religious institution. "That's worthy of respect and dignity regardless of their country of origin and how they got here."
The open letter laid out six principles. In addition to a pathway to citizenship, it calls for immigration reform that protects family unity, respects the rule of law and guarantees secure national borders. The letter also reiterates the president's promise to pass reform during his first year in office.
Since the George W. Bush presidency, evangelical Christians have been vocal proponents of reform. But the current coalition is unprecedented.
"This level of leadership, and especially the fact that all these groups are working off the same principles, there's been nothing close to it before," said Timothy King, chief communications officer for Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization.
The leaders partly chose the 92-day timetable because the Hebrew word for immigrant, "ger," appears 92 times throughout the Bible, as referenced in the open letter.
Not all evangelicals agree with the call for immigration reform. But leaders say that more congregants are accepting now than when groups have taken similar positions in years past.
"I think there is still anxiety but there is an openness now by more people," Duke said. "Helping put a face on immigration I think has helped a lot."
The largest Latino evangelical groups in the country have also joined the effort.
"For Hispanic evangelicals, I don't think it's a secret that this is a top priority," said Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NALEC). "This is home, this is granma and granpa, this is a child and a mother, a son and a dad."