Evangelical leaders in Washington Monday unveiled an advertising and letter-writing campaign aimed at building a national, ecumenical grassroots organization calling for comprehensive immigration reform consistent with biblical values.

“We are coming together today because the Bible tells us again and again about the need to care for the stranger in our midst,” Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourners, said at a press conference announcing Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Ads announcing the campaign, an effort to mobilize at least 200,000 letters, tens of thousands of calls and hundreds of lobby visits to members of Congress by the August recess, ran in Capitol Hill newspapers to coincide with the launch.

Signers of a statement of legislative and biblical principles behind the campaign include National Ministries of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. and Albert Reyes, president of Buckner Children and Family Services in Dallas.

National Ministries Executive Director Aidsand Wright-Riggins and ABC/USA General Secretary Roy Medley issued a joint statement last year supporting “reasonable, fair and humane immigration.”

Reyes, the grandson of an undocumented immigrant and migrant workers that carved out a life in the cotton fields of west Texas, calls immigration reform the leading civil-rights issue of the 21st century.

Missing from the list of signatories of Monday’s statement was Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land teamed up with Sen. Ted Kennedy and others in March to issue an “Evangelical Call to Action on Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”

Land backed away after USA Today quoted him as acknowledging he may be “a little bit ahead” of the 16-million-member SBC’s rank and file.

Monday’s CPIR statement sought legislation consistent with biblical principles affirming the dignity of all persons–regardless of race or nationality–the responsibility to show compassion for strangers and love neighbor and respect for just laws that do not harm and oppress the vulnerable.

The religious leaders called for a “viable, humane and realistic immigration system” that includes:

–Border enforcement and protection initiatives that are consistent with humanitarian values, while allowing the authorities to enforce the law and implement American immigration policy.

–Reforms that reduce the waiting time for separated families to be safely reunited and maintain the constitutionally guaranteed rights of birthright citizenship and the ability of immigrants to earn naturalization.

–An opportunity for all immigrant workers and their families already in the U.S. to come out of the shadows and pursue the option of an earned path towards permanent legal status and citizenship upon satisfaction of specific criteria.

–A viable guest-worker program that creates legal avenues for workers and their families to enter our country and work in a safe, legal and orderly manner with their rights and due process fully protected and provides an option for workers to gain permanent status independent of an employer sponsor.

–A framework to examine and ascertain solutions to the root causes of migration, such as economic disparities between sending and receiving nations.

Individuals desiring to write Congress in support of the principles may do so here.

Miguel De La Torre, a regular columnist for EthicsDaily.com, said when people talk about illegal and unproductive aliens they are talking about him. Born in Cuba, De La Torre as a young child in the United States was an undocumented alien. Nine years after being served papers by the government saying he must leave the country or face deportation, De La Torre became a U.S. citizen in 1969.

An ordained Baptist minister and graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, De La Torre is currently associate professor of social ethics and director of the Justice and Peace Institute at Iliff School of Theology in Denver and a published author.

But De La Torre said undocumented workers don’t have to earn a Ph.D. to benefit the U.S. economy. Many undocumented aliens, he said, live in the shadow of a dominant culture that benefits from their cheap labor and offers them little in return.

“The American people want a fair and just comprehensive immigration policy, but there exist politicians who do not,” he said. “They hope to use this situation as a wedge issue to create a fear that can be translated into votes for them on Election Day. Now is the time for those in power to stop playing the race card and instead create immigration legislation that honors the family values of all Americans, including those of us who are Latino.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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