Jon Merritt, so it seems to me, has hit this one squarely: evangelical activist leaders are for immigration reform, ordinary evangelical Christians don’t much care and, if they had their druthers, might tighten immigration. Here are Jon’s words:
Why is there no widespread concern at the grass roots level with immigration issues among evangelicals?
As it turns out, the evangelical movement on immigration has been mostly top-down and not bottom-up. It has failed to do the difficult work of convincing and mobilizing (or at least neutralizing) the millions of evangelical churchgoers and voters. As The New York Times reports, while “no prominent pastor has spoken out against the immigration (reform) effort … accord has been less broad among the faithful.”
According to a recent poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution, only 56 percent of evangelicals believe that immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements. That percentage is essentially unchanged since 2006 when Pew reported that 54 percent of evangelicals favored “allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and the possibility of citizenship.”
Perhaps most telling, the PRRI poll reports that 63 percent of evangelicals believe the nation “should make a serious effort to deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries”—20 percent higher than the national average.
I can guarantee you that I am not the only one paying attention to these polls. Lawmakers are too. They know that evangelical push for immigration reform has failed to penetrate into the core of the constituency. It’s mostly a grasstops movement of high-level leaders, many whom are unlikely to vote anything others than Republican in future elections regardless of whether Congress moves on immigration.
For years, evangelical organizations have enacted political strategies to gather leaders, affix their names to a statement, and lobby Congress for reform. But such efforts create momentum only insofar as those leaders represent the views of their constituencies.