"That was Harry Reid," says Samuel Rodriguez, folding his flip phone as he leaves a strip-mall chain restaurant. It is an April day, and Congress is warring over immigration. "They are really courting us. You should have heard the way Nancy Pelosi was talking."
Rodriguez is a young 36 with longish hair and a neat black goatee. Fast-talking, articulate, utterly bilingual, he exudes confidence. Rodriguez is a "brilliant thinker and an authentic man of God," according to National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Ted Haggard. "He is the Karl Rove of Hispanic-Anglo evangelical strategy."
Consulting with the Senate minority leader, however, is new territory. With immigration topping the news, Rodriguez has become a go-to guy. He started the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) six years ago to be a voice for Hispanic evangelicals. Suddenly, everybody in Washington—media and politicians—wants to talk to him.
Rodriguez should be happy with his new prominence, but he doesn't look entirely happy. "Immigration puts us at odds with our white evangelical brothers," he says. He has spent years building alliances, and now he is unsure whether they will last. Rodriguez knows what happened with civil rights. To this day, many African American Christians distrust white evangelicals even though they share views on school prayer, abortion, and gay marriage. Hispanic evangelicals might similarly resist alliances with those they perceive as blind to their core concerns. That is the last thing Samuel Rodriguez wants.
At a Washington press conference in April, Rodriguez and a coalition of Christian leaders issued a statement in favor of "comprehensive ...