Praise for Obama on Immigration From the Religious Right

Some right-wing evangelical Christians, usually no fans of the president, are applauding his move to halt deportations of young illegal immigrants.

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They are convinced President Obama is waging a devastating war on religion and systematically undermining the institutions of the family. But on Friday, some in the religious right found reason to praise Obama: his move to halt the deportations of young illegal immigrants.

"I applaud it," Richard Land, the prominent evangelical Christian leader who heads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an interview. "I would have preferred Congress to have done it. I hope that Congress would applaud it and pass something very similar."

Just minutes earlier, Land had been addressing a conservative conference panel entitled "Obama's War on Religious Liberty." As I approached him to ask about immigration, he was busy inveighing to another reporter about the godless secular society Obama is bent on creating. But Land and others on the Christian right part ways with some of their Republican brethren when it comes to immigration, and they have been increasingly vocal about their views on the issue, which they see as one of universal human dignity.

Land was part of a nonpartisan group of immigration-reform advocates who held a news conference on Capitol Hill earlier this week calling on both parties to work toward a solution on the issue and vowing to "build political will in the pews" by reaching out to congregations across the nation. The group, which also included the president of the social-conservative group Focus on the Family, issued a statement of principles that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The political analysis of Obama's immigration move has largely focused on his potential for gains among Hispanic voters vs. his potential to to alienate white working-class voters. But depending on how Republicans respond, Obama could also win friends among the evangelical community -- which constitutes, according to Land, 29 percent of the electorate -- for his stance. (Mitt Romney's response Friday was a statement that seemed to skirt the issue, calling for a "long-term" solution enacted through legislation without weighing in definitively on whether and how such youths should get legal status; he had previously said he would veto the DREAM Act, on which Obama's executive action was modeled.)

Land, for his part, called on Republicans to back up the president on this issue -- not words he often finds himself uttering. Romney "ought to applaud what the president has done and call upon Congress to enact legislation that would put it into force of law," he said. "These are innocent people -- 800,000 to 1 million young people who were brought here by their parents and often have no memory of their country of origin. They want to be here, they want to get educated, to be more productive citizens. They want to serve in the military. I'm trying to figure out, what's the problem?

"The country is ahead of its elected leaders on this issue," Land added. "It's time for the elected leaders to quit acting like politicians concerned about the next election and start acting like statesmen concerned about the next generation."

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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