WASHINGTON -- Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical Christian leaders, launched its biggest ad buy yet Tuesday in support of comprehensive immigration reform, spending $400,000 on radio ads airing in 56 congressional districts represented by Republicans.
The group supports comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which has stalled in the House of Representatives after Republican lawmakers there declined to take up a bill that passed the Senate in June. The ads will air on Christian and other radio stations in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.
Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told reporters on a conference call that the group chose to target lawmakers -- like Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who chairs the immigration subcommittee -- who it thinks can be persuaded to support reform. The group also focused on districts with large evangelical populations.
"We want to make sure that they're hearing from their members within their districts and from the broader evangelical community as well," he said. "These are folks that we believe are key folks within Congress that we need to make sure that we stay connected with throughout the rest of this year as they're working on immigration reform.
Funding for the ads came from a number of sources, largely conservative donors from business groups, families and individuals, Duke said. Much of the Evangelical Immigration Table's behind-the-scenes support has come from National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan group that has been criticized by some conservatives for accepting donations from George Soros' Open Society Foundations. But National Immigration Forum director Ali Noorani said funding from Soros' group has not gone toward the evangelical efforts.
"Financial resources for the Table’s work come from a range of supporters, including new conservative donors such as Paul Singer, the Vista Hermosa Foundation and others," Noorani said in an email. "In fact, the environment is so different now, that traditional liberal donors such as George Soros are not even asked to support the Evangelical Immigration Table’s work.
"But really, this effort transcends politics," he added. "The story is not just that conservative businesses, families and individuals are supporting a broad movement for reform. It’s really the 60,000-plus evangelicals in America who have signed up as Pray for Reform prayer partners, and the local congregations whose hearts and minds have changed."
Though many Republicans in the House have said they oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, advocates hope they can change their minds by showing support from traditionally GOP-allied evangelical and business groups. Reform supporters are lobbying around 120 Republican members to support the Senate "gang of eight" immigration bill, particularly during the August recess.
Evangelicals involved with the Immigration Table said they are particularly interested in reform because of the Bible's discussion of immigrants and their own church members' experiences. Mike McClenahan, the pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church in Solana Beach, Calif., said members of his congregation asked him to get involved in the immigration reform push.
"To me this is not really hypothetical or even political, but it's very personal," he said. "Because there are so many children in our community who are living in fear of their parents being deported, and in the church, the kind of relationships that we have are covenant relationships, we commit our lives to each other. So those children are not their children, but they're really our children."