3 House Republicans Who Will Listen to Evangelicals on Immigration

Christian leaders try to move immigration reform forward.

July 24, 2013, 12:57 PM

July 24, 2013— -- More than 300 evangelical leaders will ask Republican congressmen to support immigration reform during a Capitol Hill visit on Wednesday.

The push is part of a broader effort by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that organizers say represents roughly 100,000 churches nationwide.

We all know the power of evangelicals to influence conservatives -- just look at how they've impacted abortion policy.

But if they want to get immigration reform legislation passed, they'll need to work with some key Republicans in the House of Representatives. In some cases, that will mean giving cover. In others, it might mean convincing members to support an immigration bill.

Here are a few people evangelicals should reach out to:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

The former vice presidential candidate has been an open proponent of immigration reform -- a rarity among the Republican leaders in the House. He's also been meeting with key players in recent weeks, and has worked with the group of House Democrats and Republicans drafting a large-scale immigration bill.

Ryan is Catholic, but he's connected with evangelicals in the past. During the presidential campaign last year, he spoke about evangelical support as integral to the campaign:

"I can't tell you how important it is to have the prayers of the tens of thousands of people we meet across the country," Ryan said days before the election.

He'll want the support of faith-groups again if he's going to take a proactive role on immigration, and this coalition could provide that backing.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.)

As the head of a House subcommittee that oversees immigration issues, Gowdy has been an active voice on immigration among Republicans.

Like fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who helped draft the immigration bill passed in the Senate, Gowdy has said that he considers faith-groups when shaping his policy views. He also attends a Southern Baptist church.

"I come from a district -- and from my own personal beliefs -- where it matters to me what folks in the faith community think, and they are weighing in more than they did five years ago; I see it especially with Sen. Graham," Gowdy told Politico in March.

Gowdy, however, may be too conservative to seriously consider an immigration bill that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He's the sponsor of an immigration enforcement bill that is basically an immigration hawk's fantasy.

Evangelicals could have some leverage to move him toward the center of the debate.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)

Here's one of the best examples of Republicans needing to adapt to stay relevant. When Coffman replaced former Rep. Tom Tancredo in 2008, he continued Tancredo's tough approach to illegal immigration.

But his Colorado district was redrawn last year, and now Coffman's constituency is more evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. In addition, Hispanics now make up 8.6 percent of residents.

One sign that he's been adapting to his redrawn district: he backed legal status for the undocumented and a pathway to citizenship for their children at a meeting in Aurora this spring, according to The Huffington Post.

Support from evangelicals could actually help him more when trying to explain immigration reform to white voters, who still make up the vast majority of his district.

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