By Eleanor Goldberg
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious leaders from Arizona took their cause to Capitol Hill on Thursday (May 13), saying they can no longer ignore the "human cost" of illegal immigration in their state.
"I'm here representing evangelicals," said Gary Kinnaman, an evangelical pastor from Phoenix after a morning meeting with Sen. John McCain. R-Ariz. "We are increasingly concerned."
The interfaith group of Jewish, Methodist, evangelical, Catholic and Episcopal leaders said they oppose their state's new law that allows police to question Arizonans about their legal immigration status. The group said the federal government, not the state, should take the lead on immigration reform.
The delegation included United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano of Phoenix, her church's first Hispanic woman bishop, and Roman Catholic Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The clergy delegation and their advocates are pushing McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl "to step up and show principle leadership to solve the problem," said Kristin Williams of Faith and Public Life, the Washington-based group that helped bring the delegation to Capitol Hill.
The delegation held back-to-back meetings with members of the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. They paused for a brief press conference outside of McCain's office.
"I support John McCain," Kinnaman assured. "I wouldn't support open borders."
Kinnaman was one of several evangelical leaders who signed a detailed reform blueprint spearheaded by the conservative group Liberty Counsel, and said more issues need to be addressed beyond border security. The "shadow culture" and dangerous conditions facing illegal immigrants won't be solved with deportation but rather legal protection and a path to legalization.
Joseph Rubio, who works with the community organizing group Industrial Areas Foundation of Arizona, said he thinks the group conveyed their message, but a central concern wasn't resolved.
"Who is going to be the central leadership?" on immigration, he asked. "We're not sure we found it."