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Evangelicals urge S.C. Christian voters to back changes to immigration law

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at 3:58 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, March 14, 2013, at 9:10 a.m.

— Leading evangelicals who want to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws launched a new ad campaign Wednesday on 15 Christian radio stations across the deeply conservative state of South Carolina to build support and counter a deluge of attacks ads targeting Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most vocal Republican proponents for granting citizenship to the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.

“Many of our neighbors came here seeking opportunity, but our dysfunctional immigration system breaks up families across the U.S.,” the Rev. Jim Goodroe, director of missions at the Spartanburg County Baptist Network, says in the radio ad. “Christ calls evangelicals to compassion and justice. . . . Our South Carolina elected officials need your prayers and to hear your voice. Speak out.”

The ads come as South Carolina is emerging as a key battleground in the illegal immigration fight.

Last month, NumbersUSA, an advocacy organization often credited with defeating the last major effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws several years ago, launched its own series of attack ads against Graham for his support of what it calls “amnesty.”

South Carolina business leaders have joined forces with the evangelical group, launching their own series of television ads with the help of a Republican political group, Republicans for Immigration Reform, a “super” political action committee dedicated to backing Republicans who support changes in immigration law.

The evangelical leaders said Wednesday that their campaign is rooted in their Christian beliefs. But Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention added that it’s important for South Carolina voters to hear from Christians and not only the “entrenched forces” who do not want comprehensive legislation.

“They have not been shy about making their concerns and their wishes known,” Land said, speaking to reporters about immigration opponents. “In a democracy, those who want something passed need to let their representatives, their senators know they want it passed and that they support them trying to pass it.”

The evangelical group will air its ads on 15 radio stations across the state, including in Columbia, Greenville, Spartanburg, Hartsville and York. The ads urge Christians to call their members of Congress to support new immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship for people living in the country illegally.

A year away from re-election, Graham is wading into an immigration battle that last time left him badly bruised. He was so badly defeated in debates several years ago that he reversed his stance and in 2010 considered introducing a constitutional amendment that would deny American citizenship to illegal immigrants’ children born in the United States.

Since the election, when Latinos helped re-elect President Barack Obama, Graham has been back leading the charge to pass immigration legislation. Opposition groups have also returned, waging heavy criticism against the senator.

“Who elected Graham to demand amnesty and welfare for millions of illegal aliens?” the NumbersUSA announcer says in one of the group’s ads.

Charlie Spies, co-founder of Republicans for Immigration Reform, said Republicans such as Graham will receive necessary financial and political support to defend any attack that is related to his support for immigration legislation.

The evangelicals say they also hope to convince Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg to support a comprehensive immigration package. The former South Carolina prosecutor has been one of the more outspoken opponents of illegal immigration. He now leads the House of Representatives’ immigration subcommittee.

Gowdy belongs to a church that is a member of the Spartanburg network of churches, the Rev. Goodroe said. The two have not spoken about immigration, but Goodroe said he sees the congressman as a thoughtful, religiously committed leader.

“He has always been a devout Christian, a man of deep biblical principals and fairness and so forth,” Goodroe said.

Republicans for Immigration Reform also launched a statewide television ad campaign Wednesday featuring local business leaders speaking about the economic benefits of immigration reform.

South Carolina has several industries that depend on immigrant workers, including agriculture, tourism and construction, said Ike McLeese, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Columbia.

“Our economy is growing, but we need workers,” he said. “It is very difficult for my businesses.”

Email: fordonez@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @francoordonez

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