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Evangelical coalition keeps up immigration push with big radio buy

Aiming to boost momentum for comprehensive immigration reform as Congress continues its five-week summer recess, evangelical leaders who support the reform effort are again taking to the airwaves – to the tune of $400,000.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of faith groups, announced Tuesday that it will air pro-immigration reform ads on Christian and talk radio in 56 congressional districts and 14 states nationwide.

The new two-week ad buy, which includes the voices of local and national faith leaders and comes with $400,000 of funding behind it, is the largest yet made in the coalition’s cumulative million-dollar effort to support legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The Rev. Randy Argueta and other evangelical leaders from around the country pray for ''biblical'' immigration reform that ''respects the rule of law, reunites families and upholds human dignity'' at Washington D.C.'s Church of the Reformation. Miguel Juarez Lugo / Zuma

“During the August recess, members of Congress - including key Republicans - continue to hear from the evangelicals in their districts that broad immigration reform is necessary and urgent,” said Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “They’ll return to Washington knowing that they have support at home for taking action on reform.”

Evangelicals involved in the effort cite Jesus’ teachings as the cornerstone of their support for immigration reform. But there’s also a practical reason for support; many congregations are increasingly populated by immigrants – legal and undocumented alike -- who are directly affected by the byzantine rules of the current system and the draconian consequences for those who lack or lose their legal status.

“This is not really hypothetical or even political,” said Mike McClenahan, a pastor in Solana Beach, Calif. “This is personal because there are so many children in our community who are living in fear that their parents are going to be deported.”

Organizers said the ads will run primarily in Republican districts in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.

Duke noted that the 56 members being targeted are key members of the House committees that will be taking up individual pieces of immigration legislation when Congress returns in September.

The Senate passed a sweeping reform bill in June, but House leaders have declined to take up the comprehensive measure, instead favoring a “step-by-step” approach that focuses on border security, enforcement and employer verification.

Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, the chairman of the influential House Judiciary Committee, reiterated Monday that House leaders won’t take up the Senate bill and that his panel will not support a “special pathway to citizenship” for those in the country illegally. He has suggested that undocumented immigrants could obtain legal status and then apply for citizenship through existing channels like relationships with family or employers.

Duke suggested Tuesday that the details of how undocumented immigrants reach citizenship are less important to the evangelical coalition than the opportunity for those in the country illegally to “earn” citizenship just as others can.

“We’re not asking for a special path towards citizenship,” he said. “We’re not asking for automatic citizenship. What we’re asking, simply, is that those who quality in the same way that anybody else would qualify could get in that line, and when they get in that line they get in line behind the folks who have already applied.”