Southern Baptists hope to spread the gospel to immigrants. | AP Photo
By JENNIFER EPSTEIN | 6/17/11 7:25 AM EDT
The nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution backing a path to legal status for illegal immigrants at its annual meeting in Phoenix.
The resolution calls on the government to make border security a priority and to hold businesses accountable for their hiring. It also asks government officials to support “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” The vision for a path toward legal status mirrors what President Barack Obama has offered as he’s urged support for immigration reform.
“I think Southern Baptists understand it’s just not politically viable to send an estimated 12 to 15 million undocumented immigrants back where they came from,” said the Rev. Paul Jimenez, chairman of the SBC’s resolutions committee, told The Associated Press. “It’s not humane either.”
While the resolution stipulates it’s “not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant,” the move comes as a handful of southern states prepare to implement laws aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Arizona has led the way with a series of laws aimed at combating illegal immigration, including one that penalizes employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last month in a 5-3 ruling. Arizona was the first state to approve a law giving police authority to ask for documentation when stopping people for other crimes who they suspect to be illegal immigrants.
Though implementation of the documentation law been stalled in Arizona by legal challenges, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a similar measure into law in May. And last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed a law that’s been called the nation’s toughest against illegal immigrants.
While not a condemnation of these laws, the SBC’s resolution suggests that some state laws may not fit with Christian ideals. “[A]ny form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the resolution says.