Baptists launch immigration program
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
— Citing a biblical obligation to
"speak on behalf of the stranger,"
Texas Baptist leaders announced
recently the creation of a national
initiative to churches to provide
legal assistance to immigrants
General Convention of Texas, which
represents 5,600 congregations and
2.3 million Baptists, and Buckner
International, a Baptist ministry
that helps at-risk children, said
they have joined to create the
Immigration Service and Aid Center,
which leaders say will be the first
nationwide effort of its kind, is
based on a similar program in Texas.
gathered at Hyde Park Baptist Church
said they hope to build a small army
of people from churches of all
denominations, then help them get
accredited by the federal government
to help immigrants navigate the
time-consuming, often cumbersome
path to citizenship or legal
church-based centers that will help
immigrants who entered the U.S.
legally or illegally and will be
open to people from all countries.
of how churches should respond to
illegal immigrants has driven a
wedge between Christians around the
divergent views in the pews," said
Richard Munoz, interim director of
Some, he said,
cite biblical passages that require
believers to obey the government,
while others quote Scripture that
tells them to "welcome the alien."
Munoz said, will show Christians
"they can do both."
sense the urgency of the issue, said
Charles Wade, executive director of
the Texas convention.
nation and our politicians debate
how to go about it, " he said. "We
can't wait to help people who need
the Southern Baptist Convention, the
more conservative national Baptist
group that is frequently at odds
with the Texas convention, passed a
resolution last year urging
compassion for illegal immigrants,
though many continue to stress
concerns about border security.
The idea for
ISAAC grew out of the Baptist
Immigration Services Network, which
has been led over the past year by
Suzii Paynter, director of the state
convention's Christian Life
Commission. That program has helped
churches gain government
accreditation and provided the legal
training people need to help
immigrants fill out government forms
and to represent them in immigration
lives in Austin, said that effort
was barely under way when it began
to draw interest from leaders in
other states and prompted her
organization to pursue a national
effort with Buckner International.
"We know there
is a need for this," Paynter said.
"There's so many things that are
broken in our immigration system. .
. . There are a lot of people who
could get papers and could get a
status adjustment, but they don't
have access to . . . trusted and
many immigrants who cannot afford to
hire a lawyer are defrauded by
people who claim to provide
immigration assistance, then take
immigrants' money without delivering
assist churches in obtaining basic
immigration law training and show
them how to set up immigration
initiative is desperately needed,
said David Walding, director of the
Bernardo Kohler Center in Kyle. He
said the center takes on about 100
immigration cases a year — mostly
helping people obtain asylum in the
United States, but they must turn
away dozens more.
"There is so
much more demand than there is
supply for these legal services," he
said. "Especially in rural
communities, this is going to be a
pastor of Hispanic Baptist Church in
McKinney, Texas, tried for years to
rally fellow Baptist leaders to help
immigrants seeking citizenship, but
he said he always met resistance.
Too controversial, fellow Baptist
leaders would tell him.
started perhaps the first a
church-based legal assistance
program in Texas in 1987 and
represents immigrants in federal
court, said he's overwhelmed by the
demand for his services.
I've been coming here for years to
motivate pastors," he said of the
Convención Bautista Hispana, the
largest gathering of Hispanic
Baptists in the United States, which
meets in Austin this week.
Kowalski, a lawyer who edits an
online immigration law journal and
Bender's Immigration Bulletin Web
site, said he found Monday's
"I think it's
significant that more and more
denominations, especially Protestant
denominations and especially if
they're tagged as evangelical . . .
get involved in immigration issues,"
Flynn writes for the Austin
E-mail: eflynn AT statesman.com