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WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious leaders hope to bring tens of thousands of activists to Capitol Hill next week to push Congress to act on immigration reform, but at least one study shows they may have to convince the pews before they can try to sway the politicians.
The Sunday (March 21) “March for America” began with Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, mainline and evangelical Protestant groups; nonreligious groups now plan to join the march as well, with as many as 50,000 demonstrators expected to rally at the foot of the U.S. Capitol.
Despite these estimates, a Zogby poll released last December by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that most members of religious communities want a decrease in immigration. Among those believing current immigration levels are too high: 69 percent of Catholics, 72 percent of mainline Protestants, 78 percent of born-again Protestants and 50 percent of Jews.
Pro-reform religious leaders and advocacy groups, however, discount the study.
Some advocates say the survey’s methodology was flawed, and the Rev.
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, called the survey an “anomaly” based on the substantial turnout organizers are expecting.
“I do believe born-again Christians in America support an immigration strategy that respects the law while simultaneously reflecting Judeo-Christian values,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, who will lead the opening prayer at the ceremony, said the evangelical community has thousands of supporters caravanning from as far as California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
Other sponsors of March of America include the American Jewish Committee, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, the Islamic Information Center, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Immigration Issues Office, Sojourners, Ecumenical Advocacy Days and the United Methodist Church, among nearly 100 others.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, the leading advocate for immigration reform within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, plans to celebrate Mass at a Capitol Hill church the morning of the rally.
While many participating faith groups have slightly different positions on legislation reform, most of the lobbyists agree on two
things: an earned path to citizenship, and an end to cross-border family separations, said Kristin Williams of Faith in Public Life, which is supporting the march.
Yet even on that point, there may be a pulpit-pew divide. The Zogby poll concluded that “when asked to choose between enforcement that would cause illegal immigrants to go home over time or a conditional pathway to citizenship, most members of religious communities choose enforcement.”
The survey found that more than three-quarters of born-again Protestants and nearly two-thirds of Catholics and mainline Protestants support enforcement. Jews were split almost evenly over supporting enforcement versus conditional legalization.
“It all depends on how those questions are asked,” said Julia Thorne, manager for the Immigration Issues Office of the Presbyterian Church (USA). “If you ask, `Do you support a way for people to regularize their status, do it in a legal way, pay a fine?’ people say yes.”
Thorne travels across the country to explain immigration policy to
PC(USA) churches, and finds most congregants are uninformed about current laws. After her explanation, Thorne said, “churches are very supportive of changing our laws so that they will reflect reality.”

Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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