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K Street Files: Evangelicals Say They’ll Be Game-Changers on Immigration

Move over, big business strategy sessions filled with corporate jargon. “Amen” just might be the new preferred lingo when it comes to pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.

That’s if a fresh effort by evangelical Christian leaders and conservative groups such as Focus on the Family takes off. The Evangelical Immigration Table, backed by the National Immigration Forum, launched a grass-roots advertising and lobbying campaign Tuesday in a fourth-floor room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

It concluded with the nearly a dozen speakers — including Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Soujouners; and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists Convention’s ethics and religious liberty commission — joining hands, with heads bowed and eyes closed in prayer.

Even though the business community has long supported an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, Wallis said the evangelicals are prepared to take on “the lobbyists” in their biblically based fight. “The money on K Street is not about changing big things,” he said. “Yes, we are working with business people. But it will take a social movement” to change the system.

The evangelicals released their statement of principles on immigration reform and touted the endorsement of more than 150 of their leaders including Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. After the event, the group planned to spread its gospel to the Obama administration and Members on both sides of the aisle.

“There are many ordinary days in Washington,” Wallis said. “I think this is an extraordinary day.”

Although this Congress is unlikely to take up the issue, the Christian leaders said they had their eyes set on the November elections. Already, they are mobilizing evangelicals in states such as Florida and Colorado to knock on doors to “energize evangelicals on this issue,” said Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association.

But opponents of immigration reform seem, so far at least, unmoved by the prayerful approach to the issue.

“I’m guessing these people are motivated by the best of intentions,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “The problem is, they’re saying to the guy sitting there in the pew, ‘You’re going to have to sacrifice your job ... because we feel empathy with the illegal immigrants.’ Churches can be charitable with their own resources; they can’t be charitable with my child’s education or with my job.”

To Russia With Lobbying

If you assume this Congress won’t take a vote on trade, typically a politically charged issue, before the November elections, John Engler would say you’re wrong.

The former Republican governor of Michigan, who leads the Business Roundtable, announced Tuesday the group’s “50 Days for Trade” campaign to push for permanent normal trade relations with Russia. He is optimistic that Congress will approve it as Members eye doable accomplishments they can tout back home. “That list is real short,” Engler said at a press event announcing the campaign. Russia PNTR “could go quite quickly.”

Caterpillar lobbyist Bill Lane, whose company has made the issue its top trade priority, said he too is optimistic that Congress could act before the August recess. “Russia should be Caterpillar’s largest export market,” he said.

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