We—Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Robert Gittelson, co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform—take issue with the negative direction that some Republican candidates and their supporters have moved the discourse surrounding the issue of illegal immigration, and with the way many Christians have responded. Make no mistake; we firmly believe that illegal immigration is very problematic for our country and must be sternly addressed. However, we must address this issue in strict compliance with our Judeo-Christian values. We must reconcile the call for compassion (Lev. 19) with the call for the rule of law (Rom. 13).

In particular, we are alarmed by the backlash against Governor Rick Perry's stand on in-state tuition for undocumented children in Texas. We believe his suggestion that those who oppose educating these undocumented children don't "have a heart" is both biblically and morally correct. We do not endorse candidates, but we recognize that Mr. Perry's stand is in accord with the 10th Amendment's requirement that states exercise their own discretion on issues not delegated to the federal government. Furthermore, we feel that his call for compassion for these children—who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing—is moral and just. His concern that without an opportunity to advance their education these children would become a burden on society has merit. Certainly the argument that with an education they will become a greater source of tax revenue for Texas is indisputable.

We would also argue that their parents, while undocumented, have certainly contributed tax revenue to Texas through income tax, sales tax, and in many cases property tax. No out-of-state applicant's parents can make that claim. They have not contributed, nor will they add anything to the Texas revenue stream.

As a front-runner in the Republican race, Perry's comments make him a target for criticism from other candidates, but Republican voters should recognize that whomever they eventually choose must compete in a general election. Any comments they make during the primaries that are perceived as negative against immigrants, and Hispanics in particular, will be extremely toxic for their chances in several key state elections. Getting nominated is meaningless; being elected President is everything. Without Hispanic support, the Republican Party is doomed to become a second tier party in any national election. If for no other reason, the Republican candidates must be careful and measured in their language about how to deal with this country's illegal immigration crisis.

Therefore, our two organizations call on all candidates for elected office, and particularly those running for President of the United States, to pledge that they will not engage in rhetoric that exacerbates the current immigration debate. We call all candidates to take a pro–legal immigration, pro–Hispanic American pledge.

We believe there is a biblical mandate supporting our position. Bible-believing Americans carry a moral and biblical responsibility to analyze and offer suggestions that would facilitate the ministry of reconciliation. Christians committed to truth and the spreading of the gospel must incorporate prophetic witness that heals communities, ushers in peace, and exalts righteousness and justice. Uberconservative solutions focus exclusively on border protection and deportation by attrition, while liberal solutions advocate for amnesty. But Christians must offer a better way, a narrow way, a biblical solution to the immigration debate, a just integration solution.

A just integration solution reconciles Romans 13, adherence to the rule of law, with Leviticus 19, treating the stranger amongst us as one of our own. As Christians, we stand committed to the message of the Cross. However, that Cross is both vertical and horizontal. It involves salvation and transformation, ethos and pathos, kingdom and society, faith and public policy, covenant and community, righteousness and justice, Romans 13 and Leviticus 19.

But here lies the challenge: how can we reconcile Leviticus 19 and Romans 13? How can we repudiate xenophobic and nativist rhetoric, push back on the extremes from both left and right, and converge around the nexus of the Cross where righteousness meets justice, border security meets compassion, and common sense meets common ground?

Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Robert Gittelson is co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

"Speaking Out" is Christianity Today's guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the magazine.

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today's past articles on immigration include:

Pastors: Alabama Immigration Law Will Crimp Outreach | Churches in states with tighter laws on immigration may see unintended consequences. (Aug. 3, 2011)
Evangelicals Endorse Immigration Reform | The National Association of Evangelicals' board overwhelmingly approved a resolution to seek 'faith and equal treatment' of immigrants. (Oct. 9, 2009)
The Soul of the Border Crisis | Local churches are key in fixing the immigration mess. A Christianity Today editorial (June 8, 2009)

Christianity Today also covers immigration on its politics blog.