One of the nation's most influential evangelical Christian groups is calling for a solution on illegal immigration.
Leaders from the Southern Baptist denomination, Alabama's largest, are expected to address the immigration issue at their annual convention this week in New Orleans.
SBC officials have called the need for reform urgent, and are urging lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to take it up as soon as possible. Last week, leading figures in the denomination unveiled an immigration reform plan which they said balances the rule of law with compassion for illegal immigrants and their families.
The Southern Baptist solution would provide a pathway to citizenship for those people who are currently in the United States illegally, but leaders stressed it would not be blanket amnesty. Some of the pathway's proposals include mandatory criminal background checks, a requirement to learn English, and payment of fines for past undocumented residency. Oak Park Baptist Church Senior Pastor Alan Crawford said he supports his denomination's stance, which he calls Biblically-based.
"Deporting everybody, that's not the answer," said Crawford. "I think we have the right heart. It's not deport everybody and run everybody out, but it's to bring people in as citizens in a legal way and obey the laws of this country...While I believe in being compassionate, I don't believe in closing my eyes to things going on, saying, 'O.K., we'll let this slide.' If I went to a foreign country, I would be expected to learn their language, not the other way around. Whatever their tax is, I would be expected to pay my tax."
Other major evangelical Christian groups like radio-ministry Focus on the Family have also signed onto the immigration plan. Hispanic members have become one of the fastest growing segments in the Southern Baptist Church, a denomination whose numbers have declined in recent years.