Progressive Christian leaders voiced moral outrage at Senate rejection of a plan to shorten the time legal immigrants must wait to bring their spouses and children to live with them and called on conservative groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council to also speak out against what they termed an assault on family values.

On Wednesday the Senate rejected an amendment to a compromise immigration bill being debated on the Senate floor that would have allowed as many as 833,000 men, women and children to be reunited with family members who are legal permanent residents, with green cards, in the United States.

One of the failed amendment’s sponsors, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said in a Thursday telephone press conference sponsored by Faith in Public Life the current immigration bill does nothing to solve the problem of the backlog in granting visas to family members waiting to get into the country.

Rather than granting a single visa to speed up the process, the current bill would cap the number of visas available each year to such family members at 87,000. Clinton’s amendment would have exempted spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents from the yearly cap.

“As a nation we have historically placed a premium on compassion and respect and policies that help our families, but this bill does not reflect that,” Clinton said. “It causes many to be separated from their families for far longer than is appropriate or in my view necessary.”

Clinton said legal immigrants are treated as if their families don’t matter. “Under current policies we are saying five years in the life of a young child or marriage isn’t important,” she said. “Every one of us knows it is precious time.”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal told reporters it is time for religious groups who claim to care about family values to put up or shut up.

“Every organization that has used the term family values in the last 10 years must be called to speak up for immigrant families right now,” Wallis said. “If they do not, they will be hypocrites.”

“We’re talking about ripping families apart,” Wallis said. “This is something we cannot tolerate in the faith community. This is a moral mistake, and it must be fixed…. We cannot let families be destroyed like this.”

Wallis called it a “gospel” issue. “Welcoming the strange is for a not a policy option, it is a religious option. Jesus tells us to do that.”

Clinton’s amendment was tacked onto an earlier amendment by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would have allowed processing of applications to sponsor family members filed before Jan. 1, 2007, instead of the May 1, 2005, deadline in the current bill. The change would affect an estimated 833,000 additional applicants.

Both amendments failed on a procedural vote. Republicans raised points of order saying the proposal violated budget rules by increasing federal spending with no way to offset costs.

“To have the Senate place economics over families represents a skewed sense of values,” Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, said in Thursday’s conference call.

She called for immigration reform that “puts families at the center” instead of the “periphery.”

“To live alone without your family takes away the very opportunity to put down roots in our society,” she said–acts like learning English, getting a job of starting a business. “If we really want to build our country, we can only do it with families, because families are the bedrock of our society.”

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a sister organization to the National Association of Evangelicals that represents an estimated 15 million evangelical/born-again Hispanic Christians in the U.S., joined Wallis in urging the Christian right to speak up for immigrant families.

“Where are the organizations, ministries and advocacy groups that have historically spoken on behalf of family values?” Rodriguez asked. He called on groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and others “to speak up on behalf of all families.” Otherwise, he said, the impression is immigrant and Latino families “do not matter.”

Wallis said the “family exclusion” in immigration policy should unite Christians from both left and right. “It’s time to call upon our brothers and sisters in those other Christian organizations who have staked out this issue of family values,” he said. “It’s time to join with them and intervene with members of Congress … across the political spectrum [as] people of faith.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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