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Advocates at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, can usually expect a warm greeting from large evangelical groups wielding clout in the halls of Congress.

But this year, they're getting a downright chilly reception to one of their priority agenda items: immigration reform.

As Congress grapples with legislation regarding an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, the nation's most powerful conservative Christian organizations have been watching from the sidelines. This occurs despite decades of evangelical initiative to make America a hospitable haven for religious and political refugees.

The search to explain the silence leads through several layers of reasoning. For starters, the Christian right says it has other issues at the moment, such as the confirmation of conservative judges and the battle against same-sex marriage. Beyond that, some suspect evangelicals don't want to appear soft on lawbreakers of any kind. And on a level that plumbs the depths of what it means to bear Christian witness, evangelicals confide they're still struggling as a community to determine the right thing to do.

Among Southern Baptists, for instance, "there's no consensus about what to do about the [illegal immigrants] who are already here or about how we would allow legal immigration," says Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which articulates public policy positions for the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists "see a basic distinction between people who are refugees, who are in fear of losing their life and home … and those who are coming over primarily for economic reasons and are not abiding by the immigration laws." Because ...

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January 2006

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