Every week Cesar Cadenas motivates followers to study, pray and — starting a month ago — navigate a political landscape transformed by the policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“It’s a particular and very unique situation,” said Cadenas, a 44-year-old Mexican-American pastor and spiritual leader at Tampa’s Iglesia Jesús es la Vida (Jesus is Life Church) on Skipper Road.
His evangelical church of more than 70 members includes those with roots in Mexico and Central America. In recent weeks, Cadenas said, 10 families from his congregation have left Florida because of an immigration law signed by DeSantis that went into effect Saturday. In response to the departures, Cadenas and his wife Jerica, also a pastor, are working with a volunteer who specializes in immigration to help parishioners understand what’s coming.
Amid this, the loyalties of Hispanic evangelical voters who describe themselves as Republicans will be tested in the coming weeks and months as the law is enforced and friends and family members deal with restrictions, penalties and deportations. But according to interviews with pastors, political experts, Latino evangelicals and immigration groups, it’s far from certain that this conservative Latino bloc will lose its faith in the GOP.
“Most evangelicals are not single issue voters. We care about a variety of issues,” said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. The association does not support or oppose any candidates for office, but Carey said they talk about different issues.
“We want a country that provides freedom and opportunity for everyone. We want leaders who will inspire the best in us, not pander to our fears and prejudices.”
Hispanic evangelicals have supported the Republican Party for decades. They believe that it more closely aligns with conservative stances and Christian values, such as rejecting abortion and same-sex marriage.
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