By Alex Daniels
This article was published Thursday, July 25, at 5:25 a.m. in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette
WASHINGTON - More than 300 evangelical leaders, including two pastors from Arkansas, pressed lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill to pass immigration legislation based on what they said were the tenets of Christianity.
Two members of the clergy from Little Rock, Wendell Griffen of New Millennium Church and Mark DeYmaz of Mosaic Church, joined the group Evangelical Immigration Table. Members said the group does not support specific legislation, but will push for any immigration legislation to, among other things, respect the “God-given dignity of every person,” protect the unity of the immediate family, respect the rule of law and provide a path to citizenship for those who came into the country illegally.
Griffen and several other pastors who spoke at a news conference Wednesday morning said aliens were vulnerable to violence and economic hardship because they lived “shadows” and were easily preyed upon. He said he would tell lawmakers that the Bible repeatedly commands God’s followers to care for immigrants.
“They should treat this as if they are legislating for the people they read about in the Scripture,” said Griffen, who also serves as a Pulaski county circuit judge. “I want to remind them that Jesus, Abraham and Joseph were immigrants.”
Leaders of 23 evangelical denominations and organizations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God U.S.A. and Focus on the Family belong to the group.
After the news conference, DeYmaz began a morning worship service at the Church of the Reformation, two blocks from the Capitol, with a prayer.
“We ask divine favor as we meet with congressional leaders, that their hearts and ears will bend and their minds will incline toward favorable ends so that millions of your children currently living in the shadows can walk freely and joyfully in this great nation,” he prayed.
Later in the day, DeYmaz met with Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee and staff members for several other congressmen, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Griffen also met with Cantor’s staff and attended a meeting with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Members of the evangelical group weren’t the only ones calling on Scripture.
Arkansas’ Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Steve Womack, both Republicans, said they wanted the immigration system to treat people with compassion. But they stressed that they would only support changes to the immigration system if the U.S.-Mexico border was secured. When people enter the country illegally, they said, it is unfair to the people who have waited in line.
“My faith reminds me often that we are to follow our laws,” Womack said.
“Scripture tells us things are to be done legally,” Boozman said. “They are supposed to be done in an orderly process.”
DeYmaz said the House’s decision to focus on border security first and then take up smaller bills rather than attempt to pass a comprehensive piece of legislation shouldn’t be taken as a “watering down” of the issue. He said he was confident that House GOP leaders would allow a thorough debate on each of the issues associated with immigration in a succession of bills.
“It’s an informed and intentional approach,” he said.
Griffen said only a broad bill would fix the “broken” immigration system.
“By fixing the whole system, we empower that system to be a healing and healthy force for our society,” he said. “We now have a hurtful system.”
Griffen said evangelical leaders would encourage their congregations to press lawmakers on immigration when Congress recesses on Aug. 2. He emerged from his conversations on Capitol Hill hopeful that legislation can be passed into law.
“I didn’t meet a single person who said this was a nonstarter,” Griffen said.