By / Feb 6

A long-awaited bipartisan border proposal has arrived for consideration in the U.S. Senate this week. After months of negotiations, Sens. James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) released the text of their proposal that would bring about significant changes to the United States border and asylum system, while being paired with the national security supplemental funding bill for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the southern border. As the legislative text was finalized over the last several weeks, it has been backed by Senate leadership of both parties as well as President Biden. But, upon release, the proposal is facing sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

Southern Baptists have spoken to the issue of immigration for decades, calling on Congress to secure our borders while upholding principles of compassion and human dignity. 

What is included in this bipartisan border bill?

This sweeping bill contains a number of significant provisions as it relates to border and asylum policy as well as avenues for legal migration. Some of these provisions include:

  • Funding for detention: Many migrants are not currently detained, but rather paroled into the U.S., because of a lack of space in detention facilities. This bill provides $7.6 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), $3.2 billion of which is dedicated to increasing detention capacity.
  • Funding for border patrol: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) face incredible staffing shortages and do not have the current resources to process and screen all who are arriving at the border. This bill provides $6.766 billion to CBP, giving them the ability to hire additional agents, improve technology for finding fentanyl, and to address trafficking-related issues.
  • Major changes to the asylum system: Current U.S. law guarantees a right to seek asylum for individuals who step foot on U.S. soil. Because of that, many individuals who do not have valid asylum claims have flooded the asylum system, seeing it as their only viable option to enter the U.S. Unfortunately, because of backlogs, many of these individuals are in the U.S. for many years before their asylum claims are eventually denied.  This proposal speeds up the adjudication process while also requiring a higher burden of proof in initial asylum screenings—a policy long sought by advocates seeking to curtail illegal immigration. Additionally, with faster adjudication of claims, the bill provides guidance for carrying out quicker expulsion and deportation for those who do not qualify. One change, flagged by critics, includes work permits for many who apply for asylum and HHS-provided lawyers for unaccompanied children under 14 to navigate this process.
  • New “border shutdown” authority: One of the most significant and most misunderstood portions of the bill would create a new border emergency authority. As described in the authors’ summary, “The ‘border emergency authority’ may be exercised if the 7-day average number of cumulative encounters of inadmissible aliens is between 4,000 and 5,000 per day and must be exercised if the 7-day average is above 5,000 per day. Exercise of the authority is also required if the number of encounters on a single day exceeds 8,500. Unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries are not included in the total number of encounters for the purposes of this section. When use of the emergency authority is authorized, the Secretary has the authority to prohibit the entry into the U.S. of all individuals, except unaccompanied minors, between ports of entry and may only screen individua ls for eligibility for withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture. Concurrently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is required to continue processing a minimum of 1,400 inadmissible aliens per day across southwest land ports of entry under expedited removal or the 235B non-custodial removal proceedings contained in this title, ensuring that access to the asylum system remains available.”
  • Border wall: This bill would require the Biden administration to continue construction of the border wall with Mexico. While the policy was most prominent during former President Trump’s administration, initial construction of various portions of a border fence began under former President George H. W. Bush.
  • Anti-fentanyl measures: In addition to funding for new fentanyl screening technology, the bill also includes policies aimed at curbing the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. It also provides funding to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to aggressively target cartels involved in smuggling fentanyl. 
  • Afghan Adjustment Act: In 2021, the U.S. assisted many Afghans, including many of our military allies, in fleeing to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Since then, these individuals have been in the country without any pathway to a permanent status. The bill includes the Afghan Adjustment Act which would provide such a pathway following additional screening.
  • Additional visas: The bill authorizes an additional 250,000 immigrant visas over the next five years divided between those coming for employment-based reasons and those seeking to reunify with family. 

In addition to these immigration-related provisions, the bill includes funding for assistance to Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region, and to restoring U.S. military readiness. 

If you’d like more details about the contents of this bill, you can read a full summary here.

Why is this significant?

The current situation at the southern border is untenable. In December of 2023, there were over 300,000 individuals encountered at the border, the highest number ever recorded. This flow of migrants is overwhelming the American resources at the border to process, screen, detain, and care for those who are arriving. As our ERLC team observed when we visited the border in 2022, U.S. border patrol officers are desperately in need of additional resources and help.

Compared to current levels, these proposed reforms would provide meaningful assistance to border patrol and those tasked with securing our border while making changes that could significantly reduce the number of migrants who initially qualify for asylum. Along with increased detention capacity and faster adjudication, these changes could make progress toward ending so-called “catch and release.” Senator Lankford termed the new policies “detain and deport.”

Additionally, though the president does have substantial authority in deciding border-related policies, that power is limited by existing law that guarantees those who arrive on U.S. soil the right to request asylum. The proposed changes to asylum coupled with the new “border shutdown” authority could provide the executive branch with increased powers to severely limit the number of individuals accepted into the U.S., particularly at times when border resources are overwhelmed. 

No significant updates have been made to the U.S. immigration system or border security laws since the 1980s. When compared to current law, these proposals would mark a meaningful shift in U.S. policy and provide new power to the executive branch.

How does this compare to what Southern Baptists have said about immigration?

At the 2023 Annual Meeting, Southern Baptists passed a resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration.” This resolution followed many others passed by Southern Baptists over the past decades. Relevant parts of the most recent resolution read:

RESOLVED, That we ask our government leaders to provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers regarding border policies, legal entry into this country, and work opportunities; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge and to create legal pathways to permanent status for immigrants who are in our communities by no fault of their own, prioritizing the unity of families; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage elected officials to prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States; and be it further

Southern Baptist Resolution ‘On Wisely Engaging Immigration’

On many of these counts, this legislation is in line with these requests. This proposal would offer clearer guidance to those coming to the border, laying out new policies regarding work authorizations and vowing quick expulsion for those without valid asylum claims. Though some may disagree about the efficacy of various measures in securing the border, this is certainly a step forward from the current chaos (though some feel it does not enhance security measures enough). In addition to providing resources and policy changes that would make the border more secure, the proposal retains key narrow avenues for those with valid asylum claims to make their case. In nearly all changes within the bill, special care and attention is given to the unique situation of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Though the bill does provide some new legal avenues for those who would come to the U.S. and includes a pathway to permanent status for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan, a measure that the ERLC has long advocated for, it does not provide any path forward for the broader undocumented population or for Dreamers, the young immigrants brought here as children. Some opponents of the proposal have called it a blanket amnesty plan, though no such provisions exist.

What happens next for this bipartisan border proposal?

Members of both parties have pushed back on this proposal. Three Democratic Senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, immediately signaled their disapproval of the bill. House Republican leaders released a statement saying consideration of the proposal would be a “waste of time” in their chamber. Support quickly faded from several Senate Republicans as well. While some don’t believe that the bill is strong enough on border security, others argue against addressing the issue of the southern border in an election year.

At this point, the path forward looks highly tenuous for this proposal though attempts to amend it could be made in the legislative process. Currently, the Senate is expected to take an initial procedural vote on the bill on Wednesday. If the supplemental is unable to move forward, it raises the important question of what happens next in regards to defense funding for Ukraine, Israel, the Pacific, and the border. It should be noted funding deadlines for the government are set for March. 

Setting aside the uncertain path forward for the proposal, we are thankful for the hard work of Senator Lankford, a Southern Baptist, as well as Sens. Murphy and Sinema. Finding bipartisan consensus on an issue as fraught as immigration is no easy task, and initial responses prove as much. These Senators have put forth a serious proposal for an urgent problem. As our nation grapples with many challenging matters, including this one, we need more lawmakers willing to do the difficult work of legislating.

By / Dec 13

I recently had the opportunity to visit the U.S.–Mexico border at El Paso and Ciudad Juárez with a group of SBC leaders to learn and gain a better understanding of what is happening on the ground at the border. We spent time with migrants at shelters in both Mexico and the United States, a retired border enforcement officer, and with those involved in meeting the needs of these migrants when they arrive.

This was not my first trip to the border, and it is always an emotional experience for me as I see the great need, pain, and desperation of many migrants and those on the front lines of both enforcing our laws and addressing a humanitarian crisis. This trip, though, offered me a new lens with which to view this experience: Advent.

A time of waiting and yearning 

Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time in which we both remember the great anticipation with which the people of Israel awaited the Messiah’s arrival and simultaneously look ahead to Christ’s second coming. It is a time where we often see the brokenness of our world more acutely and yearn with greater urgency for Jesus’ return when all will be made right. It is a time of both immense grief at what is and great hope of what is to come.

As I spent time with many young mothers and their children at a shelter in Mexico, it was as if I was watching this Advent reality play out physically in front of me. Many told of the great tragedy from which they fled. They spoke of poverty, threats to their children from gangs, and incredible trauma that forced them to flee their homes. Much was left unsaid about what they had experienced on their journey to Ciudad Juárez, though data tells us that it is likely that many of these women faced rape or sexual assault on their journeys, extortion from cartels, and some may have even lost loved ones on the way.

As I looked at their weary eyes and bodies that had carried so much tragedy, I thought of Mary and Joseph. I wonder if they similarly looked scared and tired to Egyptians when they fled, as what we would consider modern-day asylum seekers, with a very young Jesus. Were they met with help along the way? How did they sacrifice to protect their son? I wonder if Mary, much like these women, pleaded for strength from God to keep going amidst her fears and exhaustion.

These women and children find themselves in a time of waiting. As the United States’ border policies continue to change, many find themselves waiting for an opportunity to request asylum. Depending on their country of origin and circumstances, that day may come quickly for some, and for others, they may not have that opportunity for weeks, months, or years. They sit in a shelter, graciously run by a church, waiting for policies to change, waiting for safety, waiting for a new life. They wonder what opportunities they might have in the U.S. They look at their children and ask what opportunities will be granted to them—a decision largely made by lawmakers thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C. 

Resting in the first Advent 

Yet in the midst of their uncertainty, grief, and fear, there is incredible hope among these people. They trust God to provide a way for them and have sincere hope that someday they will make it to the U.S. and that their sacrifices will have been worth it for their children to grow up safe, free, and with opportunity. 

This type of experience can make me feel overwhelmed by all of the ways that our world is not as it should be. In a perfect, sinless world, people wouldn’t have to leave their homes. Women would not have to take birth control before migrating out of fear of rape on their journey. Children would not have to grow up with unspeakable trauma in their most formative years. Young people would not have to grow up in shelters and refugee camps instead of stable homes and schools. People would be able to flourish in their own neighborhoods.

But that is not our reality. Our world is fallen and broken, and people, made in the image of God, suffer as a result. This reality of our world makes me long for the reality of the new world. A world that is perfect—where there is no suffering, no tears, no tragedy. Advent reminds us that in a day coming soon, all will be made right.

Until then, though, we can rest on the first Advent—that Christ himself came as Emmanuel, God with us, to walk through the tragedy and hurts of our world with us. I wonder if this is why so many of our treasured Christmas hymns point to the truth that Christ has come to free his people from oppression and bondage spiritually and someday will do that physically as well.

For now we say, “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our sins and fears release us, let us find our rest in thee.” Be the “joy of every longing heart” even as we wait. Someday the weary world will rejoice and these women and their children will victoriously proclaim with us, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name, all oppression shall cease.”

Emmanuel sees and knows those women in that shelter. Someday those women in ragged clothes and with worn-out faces who have trusted in Christ will be glorified as co-heirs with him, and they will find the ultimate rest, peace, and safety that they have longed for. Each of us this Christmas, regardless of whatever we may be walking through, can cling to Emmanuel’s presence as we are overwhelmed by the burdens, tragedy, and grief of this life. He knows you and cares for you, and he has paid the greatest price to redeem this broken world.

By / May 18

With more than 26 million refugees and over 82 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, how Christians and churches see migrants and refugees is vitally important. What we believe about God’s mission to seek, save, and reconcile the world to himself through Jesus is revealed, in part, by how we see migrants and refugees when it comes to ministry, care, and concern for them as people made in God’s image and loved by him. For American Christians, the global refugee crisis and presence of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers at our southern border provides us an opportunity to transcend political and cultural controversies in order to minister and love in the name of Jesus.

In Leviticus 19:33-34, God says to Israel, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” This same ethic was reflected by Jesus in his Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This was a specific command for the covenant people of God in ancient Israel, and while modern nation-states have unique responsibilities related to borders and security, the church embodying the character and mission of God has corresponding responsibilities and opportunities when it comes to ministry, mercy, compassion, and justice for the sojourner.

Personalizing our country’s border crisis

Back in 2018 when migrant children, families, and individuals traveling to our southern border were in the news, I remember the concern expressed by many. It can feel overwhelming and scary when we see news reports of large numbers of people coming to our borders to ask for entry. I had worked with immigrant and refugee ministry and advocacy for a few years, but the more cable news I watched and the more images I saw, the more concern I had about what was happening with these new people coming—and the more concern I heard from my neighbors, friends, and other Christians.

What I didn’t yet understand is that a large portion of the people I saw in the news at that time were not trying to come illegally. Many were coming here to claim asylum, which involves a legal process of presenting oneself on United States soil to ask for protection from violence and persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The right to claim asylum is established in U.S. Code and is longstanding federal law. Once the request has been made and credible fear has been established by border patrol officers trained in this regard, the asylum seeker is to have their case heard before a court that will judge whether or not the petitioner is granted asylum and allowed to stay. 

But, there was something more important at work for me personally than how our country manages its borders, as vital as that is. As I prayed about all of this, I realized that for me as a Christian and as a private citizen who is not a state agent or Border Patrol officer, I should think first about migrants and asylum seekers as people, as those God desires to come to him, and about opportunities to partner with Christians at the border in ministry. I believe that order at the border is an important part of caring for migrants, as well as providing security for a nation’s citizenry, but, while our government has clear responsibilities in maintaining order and security at our border, which we should support and encourage, the church also has a role in ministering to people in the midst of crisis. Border security and order provided by the government is not mutually exclusive to the church engaging in gospel and compassion ministry to those who come to us seeking refuge. 

Remembering how Jesus responded to the crowds who were harassed and helpless, how he was moved with compassion for them, and how he instructed his disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers into the harvest field (Matt. 9:35-38) will help frame our views of those who come to our borders seeking help. While some rejected the desperate crowds, Jesus saw people he could minister to and love. We can do the same.

Ministry on both sides of the border

I made my first trip to the border at Nogales, Arizona, in late summer 2018 and then to Tijuana in December of that year to visit ministries that were serving migrants from all over the world. I went to El Paso in 2019. Then, as I moved out to California to pastor a church that year, I went back to Tijuana to view what was happening with churches doing ministry there. I began to see the border as a place where people from many nations gathered and where churches on both sides worked behind the scenes to care for those in need, to pray, and to share the love and gospel of Jesus while people waited for legal entry. 

I learned that many of the people who come to the border are already evangelical Christians or come to faith in Christ as they encounter churches who are opening their sanctuaries, homes, and lives to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers (See World Magazine reporting from Sophia Lee in 2019 explaining border ministry in the Las Cruces-El Paso area). Instead of seeing the border primarily as a place of fear and chaos, I began to also see it as a place where human need and desperation meets the ministry of the church as it holds out the life and hope of Jesus in the midst of a raging storm. God is at work in and through his people in the borderlands. 

In work led by Juvenal Gonzalez working with the San Diego Baptist Association and Mexican Baptist churches, I have seen people from many nations receive food, shelter, love, and the gospel at the El Chaparral Gate in Tijuana while they live in tents and wait. I joined with Ed Litton, current SBC president, and other SBC leaders in August 2021 to connect again with this ministry and to provide care, hope, and breakfast to hundreds of migrants who were there waiting for a chance for their asylum claim to be heard. Recently, Gonzalez and the churches on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border fed and ministered to hundreds of Ukrainian refugees a day who traveled to Tijuana to wait and petition for protection in the U.S. California Baptist Disaster Relief, Send Relief, and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) stepped in and provided assistance as well. 

In October of 2021, I visited the El Paso Migrant Ministry Center at Scotsdale Baptist Church that works in partnership with the El Paso (TX) Baptist Association. I saw a church that transformed their facility to make room for migrants that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol brought to them for care. The ministry center now works with NAMB to receive teams and volunteers from around the country to minister to the dozens of migrants who are brought to them each day. 

I have visited churches and seen ministries in border towns that altered their ministries to make room to provide places for people to stay while they transition to other parts of the country. While I’ve never visited Brownsville, Texas, I’ve heard about the ministry of West Brownsville Baptist Church and others who have cared for and seen many come to Christ through the work of receiving migrants. Just last fall, I heard from Mexican border officials in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, tell us that the churches on the Mexico side were making all the difference in providing care and ministry during the migrant surges. When the Mexican government doesn’t know what to do with the people who come to them, they turn to the churches for physical and spiritual help and resources. The U.S. government often does the same thing.

Christians along the U.S.-Mexico border are acting in the name of Jesus to bring hope and order out of chaos, pain, displacement, rejection, and desperate need. When I ask pastors on both sides of the border why they engage in this ministry of welcome, they are always confused by the question. They’ve told me that they do this because this is what Jesus does and it is who he is. They see no other way to follow him in their context than to welcome and minister to the stranger who comes to them.

This kind of ministry doesn’t just happen along the border. It is happening everywhere, from South Carolina to California. Recently, I spoke with an Afghan man in Northern California who told me that many of the Afghan refugees he’s met know they are being received and treated well in America because of the influence of Christians and churches who follow the Bible and are welcoming and loving from the heart. This man was not a Christian, and he came from a Muslim background, but he said it was clear that the teachings of Jesus had an influence on how Christians welcomed his fellow countrymen. He recounted stories of pastors bringing Afghan refugees to his store to buy supplies for them with their own money. This left an impression on him as he recognized that their faith led them to act in kindness toward others. He let us pray with him at the end of our conversation.

More migrants coming?

We will continue to have opportunities to welcome and minister to immigrants and refugees in the name of Jesus, either at the border or in towns across our country. The COVID-19 pandemic public health order called Title 42, which allowed the U.S. government to suspend asylum law and expel migrants without hearing their claims in court, is set to expire in late May. With this potential change in policy and the possible full renewal of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP or Remain in Mexico), expectations are rising that there will be a significant increase in the number of migrants coming to our southern border seeking asylum and refuge. 

While concern grows over this development, churches on both sides of the border will continue to represent Christ and minister to people in need who come to them. In addition, churches all over the country have the opportunity to join with these border churches and ministries to support their ongoing front-line work in ministering to the sojourner. While our government and Border Patrol have a job to do in keeping order and security as they manage the border, battle cartels and human and drug smuggling, and enforce our laws, the church also has a role in helping those in deep need who enter our country. And, with the arrival of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees over the past several months, along with others from around the world, the opportunities to receive and minister to the nations that have come to us are potentially greater than ever before. To learn more about this, you can watch the recent webinar hosted by the ERLC.

As the world continues to experience wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, corruption, and persecution, Christians in America have an opportunity to welcome refugees fleeing violence and support fellow believers engaging in ministry along both sides of our own southern border. Our first response to migrants and refugees should not be fear or rejection. Instead, we should prayerfully ask God what he might be doing through these circumstances and how we can join him to tell a better story by bearing the burdens of others and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

By / May 16

The Biden administration recently announced that they plan to terminate Title 42, a pandemic-era rule that closed the United States’ borders to asylum seekers and others who migrate, on May 23. Title 42 has been in place since March 20, 2020, and has been used extensively to immediately expel migrants once apprehended without allowing them to assert their legal right to request asylum. After the administration’s announcement of rescinding Title 42, bipartisan concerns were raised about its termination, and whether the U.S. government was prepared for the anticipated influx of migrants at the border.

In 2021, roughly 2 million individuals were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Because most individuals were apprehended, often through voluntarily presenting themselves to border agents to seek asylum, then immediately expelled, many migrants attempted to cross multiple times. It is estimated that around 27% of these encounters were from repeat crossers. Of the 2 million apprehensions, about 1.1 million individuals were immediately expelled, with only some family units and unaccompanied children allowed to enter to pursue asylum claims. 

It remains unclear whether the Biden administration will pause its anticipated withdrawal of Title 42 to prepare for the potentially significant spike in attempted crossings and asylum requests this summer. Additionally, while many of these individuals have been and will continue to come from Central America, there have also been reports of growing numbers of migrants arriving to the border from Haiti, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, India, and even Ukraine.

Though each migrant’s journey to the U.S. looks different, many face some of the same tragedies and hardships on their journey. Horrific violence, extortion from cartels, emotional trauma, rape and sexual assault, and lack of basic necessities are commonplace for migrants on their journey to the U.S., especially for women and children. As we once again see headlines around immigration in the news, it is essential for us to stop and consider why so many still choose to come, given the difficulty of the journey and the uncertain futures that migrants face upon reaching the U.S.

The factors that cause each migrant to make the difficult decision to leave home vary for each individual situation and country. However, there are some consistent, widespread issues that are often cited as the root causes of migration: corruption, violence, and poverty. 

Corruption

Perhaps the most widespread root cause of migration is corruption. Corruption is especially damaging because where it persists, other evils can thrive. Where corruption is allowed to fester, it can easily spread to many institutions in a country and region: police, government, the judicial system, businesses, and even, in some instances, religious institutions. Once people have completely lost trust in their institutions, individuals are often relegated to despair and hopelessness. Many begin to believe that their situations cannot improve or that they will be unable to receive redress for injustices committed against them. While corrupt governments exist all over the world, they are currently particularly prevalent in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and Caribbean nations. Government leaders rake in huge sums of money while refusing to hold free and fair elections and failing to invest resources in the basic services that their citizens need to survive. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters throughout the world, especially in Central America, have exacerbated and highlighted these issues to the watching world. The inefficiency and corruption of these governments have prevented vulnerable people from receiving the necessary recovery aid, adequate testing and PPE to fight the pandemic, and have severely hampered the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, leading to prolonged and heightened suffering at the hands of this disease and these natural disasters.

Violence

It is in these environments of corruption that violence is especially able to thrive. Cartels and gangs are enabled to act without fear of punishment and are able to easily bribe and infiltrate the institutions that should protect the vulnerable. These dynamics are particularly hurtful to women and children, who face increasing levels of violence, including femicide and sexual violence. Impunity for these crimes is typical, with conviction for violence against women under 3% in Central America. With no threat of meaningful retribution, gangs and cartels are allowed to terrorize the vulnerable.

In addition to these trends in Central America, many are being forcibly displaced due to violence all around the world. Following the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan this summer, thousands were forced to flee. As Russia has now waged war in Ukraine, it is estimated that as many as 10 million individuals might be displaced, with over 4 million already leaving the country, creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. 

Violence is also often a factor for those who face persecution because of their religion or ethnicity. Open Doors’ recent World Watch List, which analyzes where it is most difficult to be a Christian, highlights countries where believers are being forced to flee for their Chritian faith. While many of these people seek protection through the refugee resettlement program, its severe backlogs and lengthy processing time force some to attempt to travel to the southern border to seek asylum.

Poverty 

A third factor that often spurs emigration is poverty. As individuals struggle to meet their basic needs, face no economic opportunity, and receive little assistance and aid from their governments, many are forced to make the difficult decision to migrate. Parents who see no opportunity for their children or are unable to provide for their needs have to reckon with these harsh realities. Nearly 10% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, attempting to survive on less than $2 per day, with children accounting for two-thirds of the world’s most poor, and for those older than 15, about 70% have no schooling or only basic education.

Oftentimes, poverty is directly linked to these other factors of violence and corruption. According to World Vision, “Although countries impacted by fragility, crises, and violence are home to about 10% of the world’s population, they account for more than 40% of people living in extreme poverty. By 2030, an estimated 67% of the world’s poor will live in fragile contexts.” 

Why does it matter?

Understanding why people migrate is essential to addressing our broken immigration system wisely. While there are sharp disagreements on how exactly our system should be fixed, few would argue that it currently works effectively. Addressing the root causes of migration must be an integral part of our national strategy to reform our immigration system. 

The ERLC has joined other evangelical organizations in urging both Congress and the administration to prioritize addressing these issues through equipping local Nongovernmental Organizations and civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations and churches, to meet the needs of their communities and fight against these forces of violence, corruption, and poverty. One piece of legislation that works to do this in the Northern Triangle is the Central American Women and Children Protection Act. The ERLC is actively advocating for the swift passage of this bill which would allow the vulnerable, particularly women and girls, to find safety in their communities without having to face the dangerous journey to the U.S.

Secondly and primarily, for us as Christians, understanding why people migrate helps us to see the dignity of these migrants, to better understand their pain, and to respond with empathy and compassion, rather than with partisanship or suspicion. It is much easier to see migrants as something to be feared or hated when we don’t first stop to consider their individual stories and the forces that brought them to our borders. As migrants arrive to the U.S., churches have an opportunity to reach the nations without leaving our neighborhoods. Migrants have experienced tremendous difficulty, and it is imperative that the Church respond with compassion and rise up to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the most vulnerable among us—in the same way that Jesus has cared for us. 

By / Mar 26

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss shootings in Colorado, the migrant crisis at the border, the increased distribution of vaccines for all adults, new sanctions on China, Utah’s anti-porn proposal, and Prince Harry’s new job. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Cody Barnhart with “Three potential long-term effects of pornography addiction,” Catherine Parks with “The abortion pill is the next frontier in the abortion debate,” and Andrew Bertodatti with “What should we pay attention to in the news?: An interview with Jeffery Bilbro about Reading the Times.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. America mourns again
  2. Biden puts Harris in charge of border crisis
  3. Every Tennessean 16+ will be eligible for vaccination ‘no later than April 5’
  4. Krispy Kreme will offer free doughnuts—all year long—to people with COVID-19 vaccination cards
  5. Sanctions on China
  6. Utah anti-porn proposal
  7. Prince Harry announces new job at tech startup in post-royal life

Lunchroom

Lindsay: Pray for the Thackers; watching West Wing

Josh: 

Brent: Spring Training: CoolToday Park

 Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Caring Well: Churches should be a refuge for those who have experienced abuse. The Caring Well Challenge is a free resource from the ERLC in which we take you through a year long journey with 8 different steps to help make your church safe for survivors and safe from abuse.
  • Stand for Life: At the ERLC, we stand for life. Our work to save preborn babies and care for the vulnerable is vital to our work. Believing that abortion can end in our lifetime, will you join us as we STAND FOR LIFE?
By / Mar 24

We want to help you think well about immigration, especially as the surge in unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border leads to greater public debate of these issues. Jeff Pickering, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, and Travis Wussow welcome Jonathan Hayes, a former federal official, to the roundtable to explain how our government shelters unaccompanied migrant children. Hayes served as Director of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied migrant children.

“Yet again, the situation at the southern border ought to remind us that unaccompanied migrant children are not a mere problem to be solved. They bear the image of God, and are endowed by him with dignity and worth. Jesus loves them, and so should we. These kinds of problems will persist at our border for as long as our immigration system is allowed to languish in incoherence. A better path forward will require government leaders — both in Congress and the administration — coming together in an honest search for solutions based on long-term strategies. In the meantime, we should do everything we can do, through both Christian ministry and government policy, to help alleviate the suffering of those who are attempting to flee violence in their home countries.” – Russell Moore on March 18, 2021

Guest Biography

Jonathan Hayes served as the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Administration for Children & Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services until March 2020 when he transitioned to the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response until January 2021. Prior to joining HHS, Jonathan served as chief of staff to two members of Congress spanning over eight years. Additionally, he has experience in the private sector working in broadcast television, sales and marketing, business development, international trade and customs and commercial airline operations. Jonathan received his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and minor in political science from Florida State University. Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, and raised in Panama City, Florida, he now lives in northern Virginia with his wife Tammy and their five children. He is also an elder at McLean Presbyterian Church.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Mar 3

We want to help you think well about immigration, especially as news reports grow over potential surges of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. southern border. How do we care for immigrants well and celebrate immigration as important to America while also not creating a magnet for a border crisis? Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Laura Collins to the roundtable to help answer that question.

Guest Biography

Laura Collins serves as Director, Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. Collins previously served as the Director of Immigration Policy at the American Action Forum. She has experience in politics, working as a Senior Research Analyst at the Republican National Committee for the 2012 election cycle and in the Texas House of Representatives for the 82nd Legislature. A former practicing attorney, Collins earned a JD from The University of Texas School of Law and a BBA from the University of Oklahoma.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Mar 9

“Europe faces an imminent humanitarian crisis,” warned the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) in a March 1 report that focused on the rapid build-up of migrants in Eidomeni, Greece. A team of North Carolina Baptists recently volunteered at the border crossing to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where they aided desperate migrants and shared a message of hope.
 
Alisha Houston launched the idea of mobilizing a team after hearing one of her husband’s sermons at Beach Road Baptist Church in Southport, N.C. She felt compelled by God to serve Middle Eastern refugees amid the crisis that has dominated the lives of millions.

“It is overwhelming how many people are being affected … so many young families just trying to get to safety and make a better life for themselves,” she said. “They are broken and we have the very thing that can give them hope and a future.”
 
The team’s primary job was to help a local, non-governmental aid organization (NGO) relay important information and resources to incoming refugees.

They offered basic guidance in the Eidomeni camp, including directions to food, bathrooms, clothing and doctors. The team also supplied practical items like plastic handbags and helped prepare food for distribution.
 
“We helped them achieve the second highest production day,” she said, “we packed over 2,500 boxes of fresh pasta.”
 
Houston especially enjoyed keeping a small stash of treats on hand for young migrants.
 
“The children were all smiles when you give them candy. Just looking at them and smiling makes them light up,” she added. “They seem happy that someone is paying attention to them.”
 
Recent UNHCR estimates show more than 2,000 refugees arrive daily on the shores of Greece, totaling more than 1 million since January 2015. People from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran make up 94 percent of asylum seekers coming into Greece by sea, according to the latest figures.
 
They take the short but dangerous voyage across the Aegean Sea in inflatable dinghies or larger boats with no crew. The cold, unforgiving waters have claimed 410 lives in 2016, said UNHCR reports.
 
Numerous migrants said they risk the mortal hazard because there is no other option. War and terrorism have created unlivable conditions in their home countries.
 
“They live [in Iran] with no hope,” said *Amir, an Iranian college student. Fighting back tears, he continued, “It was so hard living there.”
 
Another refugee told aid workers he would rather die in the ocean than return home.

Devastated by violence

Syria’s economic collapse drove *Khalil and his wife out of the country in search of a new life. Unsure of the danger awaiting them, the couple decided to leave their two children with extended family until they find a safer place to settle in Europe.

Holding pictures of the young boy and girl, Khalil said in broken English, “I very sad, very sad. Sometimes I cry.”
 
The family endured the early years of Syria’s civil war, hoping for a peaceful resolution.

They resisted leaving despite the apparent danger, due to close family ties and careers. But the fighting became chaotic, and they could no longer tell who was attacking whom.
 
It was too dangerous, Khalil said. So they decided to leave.
 
Conflict has spread beyond Syria as governments, rebel groups and terrorist organizations clamor for territory and power.
 
The Islamic State (or Daesh) and an al-Qaeda affiliate, called the al-Nusra Front, wreak havoc on fragile cease-fire agreements, fueling suspicion and spawning additional terrorist groups, according to news reports.
 
“It’s been five years – a war in my country,” said Khalil. “Now we leave Syria because we look for a new life, a future.”
 
An NGO leader said he was recently overcome by emotion when a young boy, after seeing an aircraft fly over the Eidomeni refugee camp, asked whether or not it would unleash explosives on them.
 
“It is so overwhelming to know that this is reality for people here,” he said.

Driven by fear

*Hassan, a construction worker from Baghdad, fled Iraq because terrorists threatened to destroy his family.
 
His oldest son is a popular Arabic singer in Turkey. After winning a well-known television singing competition, the son shared prize money with the family. When the Iraqi Daesh learned of the financial gift, they began making grave threats. For them, Hassan said, to be rich is considered “haraam” (sinful).
 
The young man must stop singing or be killed, the terrorists warned. When Hassan refused to forbid his son’s career, the Iraqi Daesh kidnapped one of his other sons. Terrorists sent Hassan a video threatening to kill the teenage boy unless he paid a six-digit ransom.
 
Hassan secured the child’s safety and fled the country immediately.

Distressed by uncertainty

Many refugees feel safe once they land on European shores, because they’ve escaped territories gripped by jihadists and shelled by warring armies, but additional troubles often await.
 
Instigated by European Union political tensions, arbitrary Macedonian border closings and immigrant flow restrictions cause Greek refugee camps to overflow, leaving people without adequate shelter or food.
 
The initial border camp in Eidomeni was built to hold approximately 2,000 people. The UNHCR estimated between 8,000-12,000 people were gathered near the border March 7. Nearly 60 percent are women and children. Many contract illnesses due to exposure and malnutrition.
 
The Greek government is making efforts to manage the flow of people and construct long-term solutions, but it cannot keep pace with the current influx. Officials recently announced plans to use docked passenger ferries as temporary housing, according to the UNHCR.

Strategies to build more “hot spots” on the mainland continue, but the country is limited by economic austerity measures and a lack of manpower.
 
The political uncertainty that surrounds the European refugee crisis keeps many refugees in a constant state of distress.

With a despairing look, Khalil said, “I don’t know if many people love us. … What can [we] do?”
 
Until a permanent resettling solution is reached, aid volunteers continue to serve those caught between violent turmoil in the Middle East and political upheaval in Europe.

Drawn by hope

James Zik, associate pastor of Beach Road Baptist Church, was among the volunteers drawn to the refugee camp in Eidomeni by a sense of urgency. His Christian convictions compelled him to offer hope to migrants in seemingly hopeless situations.
 
“James, you have no idea what it’s like to live under a dictator,” said *Amal, whose home in Damascus was destroyed. “Where is God right now?”
 
Zik replied, “You’re right. I have no idea what it’s like … but I can tell you this is not the world God created. It’s broken and tainted by sin.”
 
He continued, “The hope we have is in Christ. … All the brokenness you see on the planet will one day be restored.”
 
March 15 marks the five-year anniversary of the Syrian conflict. Many Christians are drawing attention to the date, calling for people around the world to pray, serve and give for the sake of displaced peoples scattered across the globe.
 
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships is actively pursuing ways to mobilize N.C. Baptists to engage people along the migrant pathway from Turkey to Germany.
 
The International Mission Board (IMB) and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have partnered with other organizations in an initiative called Pray for Refugees (#prayforrefugees). IMB has also deployed field personnel to help develop a unified strategy for serving migrants.
 
Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization, provides avenues for volunteering and donating at their website, gobgr.org.
 
Zik said to anyone considering ways to help refugees, “Don’t hesitate. Just go. Sign up yesterday and get over there.”
 
*Names changed for security purposes
 
Find regular updates about the European refugee crisis at data.unhcr.org/mediterranean. You can also learn more at erlc.com/refugees.

This story was originally published here.

By / Jul 23

The news stories and pictures of the border crisis in Texas all became personalized for me on Tuesday. The children and young people we saw are real children and real young people. We saw children from seven to seventeen years of age, from the countries of Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

On Friday, July 11, I issued a Call to Prayer: Responding to the Crisis on the Texas Border, and addressed the border crisis as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. When I was called upon to accompany Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Dr. Jim Richards, Executive Director of the Southern Baptists of Texas to the border of Texas, I cleared my calendar and joined them. Dr. Moore and I were together in McAllen, and Dr. Richards joined us in San Antonio. We were accompanied and escorted into these places by Mr. Ali Noorani, the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

What did we do?

We began yesterday morning by touring a Texas Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas. Within twenty hours of entering our country, children are brought to facilities like this and cared for until they are taken elsewhere, depending on their situation and physical condition. This facility has just been renovated and can facilitate the care of approximately 1,000 children. Following this forty-five minute tour, we held a press conference that was very well attended by the media.

Then, we drove 270 miles to San Antonio, Texas. Upon arrival at Lackland Air Force Base, we toured the Health and Human Services Facility for migrant children, ages twelve through seventeen. This facility houses up to 1,200 young people. They are usually at this center less than one month before being assigned to their next location. Following this forty-five minute tour, we held another press conference for the media in San Antonio, as well as other media outlets that called into the conference.

Due to flight schedules, we quickly headed to the San Antonio International Airport, and began to make our way home. Before boarding for my flight to Dallas, I was interviewed by no less than five media outlets from around the country. The attention the media is giving to this crisis tells us one thing: It is a major crisis in our nation.

What did we see and hear?

As I said earlier, the children we saw in McAllen were as young as seven years of age, and in San Antonio, the young people we saw were twelve to seventeen years of age. We have six grandchildren, of which the oldest is eight years of age. When I saw these little boys and girls, I thought of my granddaughter, Reese Caroline, who just turned seven. When I heard a seven year-old boy asked a question about his family and he stated, “I have no family”, my heart melted.

My mind immediately went to our Reese Caroline, who was the same age as this seven year-old boy, and our Parker, who will be seven years old in August, and I thought: I cannot imagine how a seven year-old child could leave his country in Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, or Mexico and make the trek here safely, ending up in McAllen, Texas. There is no way I can even think of our Peyton, Reese, Parker, Beckham, Jack, or Nora making the trek across a dangerous terrain, entering into a different country than their own. But friends, it is happening every day in this world.

Why are they doing this? Through translators, these children from age seven to seventeen told us why:

  • A better life
  • Fear of gangs
  • Violence
  • Human Trafficking
  • Poverty

When conditions are bad enough, people will do anything. I stated in our San Antonio Press Conference: “People will go a long way and tackle obstacles when they feel that hope is possible. They are hoping for a better life.” Hope will drive even a child to pursue a better future. This is why gospel churches need to step up to this moment and present the powerful hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What do we need to do now?

Yes, the border crisis is personalized. Now, I reflect upon the faces of these children and young people. Christ-followers, what do we do now?

1. Pray for the leaders of our nation diligently. We need to humbly call upon the leaders of our country to fix the immigration system in our nation. Since we have elected them to lead us, we need to pray for them to come together and agree upon what needs to be done in reforming our immigration system. I want to request that you lead your church to do the following: Next Sunday, ask your church to pray with you about this major crisis in our nation. We have done this for the past two Sundays in our fellowship.

2. Pastors, especially the pastors who lead churches located on the borders of our nation, lead your church to do whatever you can to demonstrate compassion to all immigrants, meeting their needs, and proclaiming the hope we have in Jesus Christ. The great news is that God is moving and changing the lives of many of these children and young people, as they are coming to know Jesus Christ personally. God is committed to bringing people unto Himself, so let’s get involved with what He is doing.

3. Prepare to engage in helping others through this crisis. I stated in our press conferences yesterday that our Southern Baptist churches are ready to help all persons in need if we are given the opportunity to do so. Many of our churches that are located on the border of Texas are doing as much as they are permitted to do to help right now; thanks to each of these pastors and churches as well as our Southern Baptist National Disaster Relief Ministry that was very involved in this crisis until they were no longer permitted. We pray for the open door in the future for all of us to be able to help.

For me, the border crisis is now personalized. I hope that after reading this and praying about it, it will become personalized for you.

NOTE: This was originally published here.