April 17th, 2013
03:28 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) - A leader of an evangelical Christian organization pushing for immigration reform said that while the group needs to read the whole bill filed Wednesday in the U.S. Senate before fully endorsing it, the legislation doesn’t constitute amnesty “in any dictionary in the English language.”
A bipartisan group of senators formally filed the immigration legislation early Wednesday calling for border security as the cornerstone of reform. The bill also would prevent undocumented immigrants from reaching full legal resident status until after the government takes steps to keep unauthorized workers from getting jobs in the United States, according to a summary released before the bill was filed.
Afterward, at an event kicking off a lobbying day for more than 300 evangelical pastors on Capitol Hill, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a leader of Evangelical Immigration Table, said that anyone who says the bill provides amnesty needs “a course in remedial English.”
“From what we understand, the bill that dropped this morning has accountability for those who are here in an undocumented status,” Land said. “It provides an earned pathway to full legal status and then to citizenship for those who want it. That is not amnesty in any dictionary in the English language.”
Some other groups have labeled as amnesty any measure that would give people who are in the country illegally the opportunity to become U.S. citizens.Evangelical Immigration Table leaders cautioned that they haven’t read the entire proposal.
“We are not heralding anything we haven’t read,” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, senior pastor of the multicultural Lamb's Church in New York City. “What we are heralding is the principles we outlined close to two years ago.”
The group was founded in 2011 and has made a concerted effort in the past four months to make immigration reform a reality this year. After the November elections it released open letters to Congress and the White House calling for them to respect “the God-given dignity of every person” and establish a “path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.”
Representatives from the group met with President Barack Obama in March.
At Wednesday's event, local pastors, many of whom said they have been personally affected by ministering to people in the country illegally, said they are in Washington to speak out for those who aren’t able to speak for themselves.
“The challenges simply walk in our doors and manifest themselves before us, person by person, every single week,” said Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. “This caused us to turn to the scriptures which clearly taught us to welcome the stranger."
Since its inception, the group has said immigration is a spiritual and moral issue. That call was reiterated by the local pastors on Wednesday.
“First and foremost, for us, this is a biblical issue,” said Kenton Beshore, senior pastor a Mariners Church in Irvine, California. “We have to be people to teach God's words and also deal with the implications in real life.”
Following the event kickoff outside the Capitol, evangelical leaders held a morning worship service at the Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill and met with representatives from different congressional offices.
The goal – which the group called Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform – was to present a “unified evangelical voice [to] echo through the halls of Congress proclaiming a biblical vision for immigration reform that respects the rule of law, reunites families and upholds human dignity.”
Representatives from the group said they will continue this work until immigration reform that meets their standards has been signed into law.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.