Opportune time for ministry to immigrants

Worshippers gather at Iglesia Bautista Azle Avenue in Fort Worth. (Photo / Isa Torres)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: En Español aqui.

At a time when undocumented immigrants in the United States live with increasing fear and uncertainty, ministries that seek to help them gain legal status and keep families united have greater opportunities.

Since its inception in 2013, the ISAAC—Immigration Service and Aid Center—Project of Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission and Baptist University of the Américas has aimed to help families stay together.

“Being a Christian means to love others,” said Jesus Romero, director of the ISAAC Project said. “And to love others is to stand with those who are more vulnerable.”

The ISAAC Projects equips churches to offer a continuum of ministries—provide English-as-a-Second Language and citizenship classes, help individuals fill out immigration forms and guide them through the process of obtaining legal status.

Becoming an accredited representative

By March or April of next year, Romero not only will be able to help people file their immigration documents, but also stand in Homeland Security hearings to represent his clients.

The process to become an accredited representative recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice can take quite a bit of time.

Every June, the ISAAC Project offers 40 hours of training that costs $600—the first required step for individuals to become accredited representatives.

Romero has sought the help of San Antonio attorneys to provide these training events.

After the in-class instruction, pupils must seek out immigration attorneys to serve as their mentors and allow them to practice under them.

For Solis, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Azle Avenue in Fort Worth and founding director of its Vida Nueva Immigration Service ministry, it took about 70 hours of practice working with World Relief. There, he learned more about various documents and the process it took to file each one.

The costs and the process may keep many churches from getting involved, Romero acknowledged. And although people who are not Baptists and who live outside Texas have received training from the ISAAC Project, currently there are only about five Baptist entities recognized and accredited in Texas.

“It is a very sacrificial ministry,” Romero said. “But it is doable and definitely worth it.”

The world has come to Texas

The program is growing, Romero said, but there is always more to do. Scholarship funding would allow more churches to join the program. More predominantly Anglo churches need to see the reality of this immigration issue, he added, while Hispanic churches need to also offer more ESL and citizenship classes.

For 10 years, The Crossing Baptist Church in Mesquite has offered ESL classes, and four years ago, the congregation began providing citizenship classes.

On any given Sunday, attendance at The Crossing is about one-third Hispanic, one-third African and African-American, and one-third Anglo.

At first, some members wondered how they could teach English to non-English-speakers. However, they soon discovered they already had the most important skill needed to teach English—the ability to speak and write English.

Scott Collins, a member at The Crossing, has been involved in those ministries, and he has seen people gain citizenship and receive a new opportunity to improve their lives.

Although “it is not what you get out of it, but what you put in it,” Collins said, he gets to “experience the joys and satisfactions of the people” he encounters.

At first, some church members were concerned about being accused of aiding people with bad intentions, he noted. But now they recognize it as a missional opportunity.

“Ministers have said for over 50 years that the world would come here,” Collins said. “Now, it has finally happened.”

 

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