At a time when the prospects for immigration overhaul seem most dim, supporters have unleashed a secret weapon: a group of influential evangelical Christian leaders…

“I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order,” said Matthew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious law firm. “There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama. On the other hand, I’m not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.”…

“I’ve had some older conservative leaders say: ‘Richard, stop this. You’re going to split the conservative coalition,’ ” Dr. Land continued. “I say it might split the old conservative coalition, but it won’t split the new one. And if the new one is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a lot of Hispanics in it. And you don’t get a lot of Hispanics in your coalition by engaging in anti-Hispanic anti-immigration rhetoric.”…

“My message to Republican leaders,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and one of the leaders who engaged his non-Hispanic peers, “is if you’re anti-immigration reform, you’re anti-Latino, and if you’re anti-Latino, you are anti-Christian church in America, and you are anti-evangelical.”

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Latino immigrants, legal and illegal, represent fertile prospects for proselytizing.

First and foremost, it’s a kingdom issue, and, second, it’s a moral issue,” Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told POLITICO. “We have hundreds of thousands of Hispanic Southern Baptists and many of them are undocumented. … It’s no secret that we practice aggressive evangelism. Many of these people were converted after they got here.”

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, puts it another way. “When people migrate, they’re open to all kinds of change, including religious change. Evangelical denominations have historically drawn immigrants. … The growing edge of many of our denominations is through immigration from all over the world.”…

“Once we get into what law we should pass most consistent with the Bible, I think we can have a lot of trouble,” said Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America. “Just because we have a predominant religion in this country doesn’t make us a Christian country and we shouldn’t try to make it more of a Christian country in terms of percentages any more than we should make it a priority to be a white country because we’re predominantly white.”

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West Wing strategists argue that the president’s call for legislation that acknowledges the role of immigrants and goes beyond punishing undocumented workers will help cement a permanent political relationship between Democrats and Hispanics — much as civil rights and voting rights legislation did for the party and African Americans in the 1960s…

“Look: The Republicans, if you do the math, cannot be successful as a national party if they continue to alienate Latinos,” said one Democratic strategist familiar with White House thinking on the issue…

Advisers to the president say his long-standing position on immigration is not motivated by presidential politics. But in a few years, they predict, the Latino population will surge in “red” states, where residents have traditionally voted for Republicans in presidential contests. States such as Texas, which has been a GOP stronghold for a generation, could become permanently “purple” tossups if Republicans do not repair their image.

“The one thing that has the potential to grab a large part of that constituency is to actually show them respect for being here, being here legally, being part of the community,” said a senior Democratic Party official. “The fight over immigration is a proxy for tolerance. It’s a proxy for diversity.”