Mission Advocates Say Support for Hispanic Immigrants Is an Essential Part of the Gospel

Keeping families together is a high priority, say immigration advocates. (Photos courtesy of Greg and Sue Smith)
Keeping families together is a high priority, say immigration advocates. (Photos courtesy of Greg and Sue Smith)

No one objects when missions personnel feed the hungry or attend to the sick. But is advocacy on behalf of immigrants and refugees also part of the gospel?

For Cooperative Baptists who minister among Hispanic immigrants, the gospel means not only meeting human needs but making sure the government does its part, too.

“It’s justice,” said Linda Jones, missions coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, whose churches have been particularly proactive about reforming U.S. immigration policy. She said the mandate is biblical.

“All through Scripture, it tells us to welcome the ‘alien,’ the immigrant,” Jones said.

“It’s easy to say ‘we stand up for justice and fairness,’ but it really comes down to action,” said Sue Smith, who with her husband, Greg, founded a nonprofit organization in Fredericksburg, Va., that helps new immigrants adjust to American culture and the U.S. legal system.

The Smiths are CBF field personnel and also minister to Latinos on behalf of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.

Immigration reform is the primary focus of the Smiths’ advocacy work. “It’s so big,” Greg said. “Who knows how much difference it can make?”

A broken system
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter wants to see more Cooperative Baptists advocating for immigration reform and searching for solutions to the problems that many immigrants face.

“Our immigration system is broken,” said Paynter, whose pre-CBF career focused on immigration, predatory lending, anti-human trafficking, hunger and poverty. “We have laws that don’t work anymore.”

It is essential that Christians become visible advocates for immigrants and reform, Paynter said, if only because they have no vested interest.

“Most voices in the public square are speaking for selfish reasons,” Paynter said. “To have voices in the public square who are speaking for someone else is pretty rare.”

Looming on the horizon — and affecting immigration ministry on almost every level — is the possibility of immigration reform. The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that updates antiquated laws and improves the circumstances of the 12 million people in the United States without proper documentation. There is a push in the House of Representatives to take up the Senate bill or similar legislation.

The Senate bill allows for immigrants already here to apply for temporary worker status, reducing the fears of deportation; provides a “path to citizenship” that will take immigrants 10-plus years to complete; and protects the borders from illegal entry.

“You have to address the systemic issues or nothing is going to change,” Jones said of reform. “Is it not justice to give [undocumented immigrants] a path to citizenship? Not the ones who have just hopped over the fence, but the ones who have lived here a long time.”

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SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press
Greg Warner

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