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 / Oct 18

The theme of care for immigrants and sojourners is one of Scripture’s repeated commands for the people of God. From God’s reminder to the people of Israel to care for the sojourner for they were once sojourners in Egypt, to the story of Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of King Herod in the gospels, the command ot care for those who are without a home is repeated and affirmed. For Christians in the West, immigration has sometimes been a topic which has evoked thoughts more along political lines than those of faith. That is why Joshua Sherif’s recent book, The Stranger at Our Shore: How Immigrants and Refugees Strengthen the Church (Moody, 2022), is such a helpful addition to the conversation of immigrants, refugees, and the call of Christians to care for them. An immigrant himself as a child, Sherif’s story and pastoral wisdom is a guide for Christians seeking to share the love of Christ with those coming to the shores of the United States and through the doors of our churches. He recently joined us to answer a few questions about his life story and book. 

1. A lot of this book is about your personal testimony and life story. Can you just briefly share about your life and how it relates to this topic of immigration?

I am an immigrant from Egypt. I came as a boy with my Mother and sister. Together we walked through the hardships and joys of life in a new country. From legal issues to cultural issues we faced what many immigrants and refugees see every day as they build their new life in a new land.  

2. What are some of the challenges/opportunities that you see for the church regarding

immigration and refugees?

This issue is at our doorstep. In our global world, this topic is more relevant now than ever before. Church leaders don’t need a book that shames them, but rather equips, emboldens, and encourages them. The book tackles this topic in a sensitive but engaging way that helps individuals and churches to take practical next steps. The mix of compelling storytelling and empowering biblical teaching is set up for both individual reading and small group engagement, with reflection questions included at the end of each chapter. 

The church is already equipped in many ways—and my personal story is a testimony that the Church has done things well! What made the difference to me is that the church became a family to us and welcomed us into relationship with Christ—and I’m hoping to call people to that same biblical mandate and repeat the process. This is not an issue for the “experts,” theologians, missionaries, or the politicians to deal with—this is an issue for every single person in the church. If average Christian people can be equipped to reach out to immigrants and refugees, people groups who are so different from them, then who can’t they reach for Christ?

3. Through a classmate who is married to someone navigating the immigration system, I’ve gotten a picture into the challenges of what that looks like, from the paperwork and bureaucracy to even just the long time it can take, all of which I had no idea about. So, can you share some of those pieces that might not be front of mind.

Every sojourner’s story is unique, and their needs and challenges are different. However, we all face one system and a painstaking legal process in this country. One of the challenges that people don’t often think of is corruption even in our own system that takes advantage of the powerless. I remember our family saved $1,000 to pay a lawyer to sort paperwork for us. That lawyer ended up stealing our money and doing nothing. It left us feeling powerless, scared, and discouraged. This is just one example among many. Though the legal system is necessary for protection, immigrants and refugees deal with so many organizations and cold, bureaucratic processes—the church can be different by being a real family, a humanizing force in a very dehumanizing world.

4. For churches and individuals, what places in Scripture would you point us to for how to think about the topic of immigration and refugees? Are there ways that you see the theme of refugees and serving the vulnerable in the storyline of Scripture?

Scripture drives the theme home from the Old Testament to the New that we are a sojourning people. The people of God lived in temporary places, and God took them on a long journey home so that they would eventually know where their home is—only in God and with God.

David says in 1 Chronicles 29:15-16: “We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.”

The author of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 11:13-16 in regards to the heroes of the faith: 

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

When we see ourselves as foreigners and strangers too on this Earth it becomes easier to have compassion on immigrants and refugees and come together to collectively long for the great City ahead of us and celebrate first and foremost our citizenship in heaven.

5. The book gives three obstacles that the church must overcome in order to be effective missionaries. What are those three, and why are they particularly important for addressing?

Inadequacy, ignorance, and indignation are the three obstacles of our own hearts that need to be addressed first. Fear is a major theme in the book and the primary thing we must discard/change in the Western church. A large part of the book deals with fear—not just fear of “the stranger” but our own feelings of inadequacy or ignorance when it comes to reaching out to anyone different from us. The book provides several practical pathways out of fear in order to help the church feel empowered to engage the immigrants, refugees, and other strangers in their communities.

6. What does it mean to serve refugees, and practically what could churches start to do that they may not be thinking about right now?

Every single day, by God’s miraculous rescue, people land on our shores hoping to build a life and a new family. The church in the West has a choice to embrace these brothers and sisters as our own, to ignore them, or worse. The theme of the table and family are key as we serve those God has brought to our shores. The table is a great equalizer, a common interest we have as all human beings to gather around food. We need a shift in understanding—we were all strangers and aliens and enemies of God—and yet, Jesus invited us all to the table. It becomes easier to bridge the gap when we see ourselves in the same story, in the same place. We are not wealthy people providing charity. We were welcomed into the family of God. Who are we to NOT welcome others into the family? When we move from charity to the greater vision of family, we see that in the end the church has just as much to receive as it does to give from our future family in Christ. 

By / May 29

Seeking justice and righteousness, especially for those who are most vulnerable, is fundamental to our faith and an essential part of Christian living. God directly commanded us to seek justice through the prophet Micah, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8 ESV). 

The Biblical Call for Justice

Throughout Scripture, God calls his people to care for the vulnerable and to seek justice on behalf of our neighbors. As God gives the Law to the Israelites, he instructs them to care for the poor (Lev. 19:9-10, 23:22), to welcome immigrants and refugees (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34), and to be fair in their financial dealings (Lev. 19:35-36). The prophets carry on these themes of justice and often indict the people of Israel for their failure in this area. Isaiah directly admonishes the people that caring for and fair treatment of the vulnerable is an essential part of faithful worship.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard” (Isa. 58:6-8 ESV).

In the New Testament, Jesus says of those who are his sheep, “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matt. 25:35-36 CSB). Later, in James, we are instructed as to what true faith entails: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27 ESV).

Areas of Advocacy 

It is this clear mandate from God that both defines and motivates our advocacy for justice. Though injustice and tragedy run rampant in our fallen world, God’s people are to work for the good of our neighbors to push back the darkness and lift up the vulnerable. In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unfairly marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is the ultimate just Judge, who deeply cares for the oppressed, and who proclaims a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality.

Immigrants and Refugees

Within our larger advocacy for immigration reforms that uphold ideals of dignity and fairness, the ERLC has strongly advocated for Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents, at no fault of their own. These Dreamers, who often have known no other home than the U.S., face continual uncertainty and potential future deportation unless Congress can deliver a solution allowing them to remain here legally. 

Additionally, in recent years, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has been devastated, along with the network of nonprofits and service providers that support resettlement. The U.S. has largely abdicated its role as a refuge to the vulnerable at a time of historic levels of refugees and internationally displaced people worldwide. The ERLC is deeply engaged in advocating for the rebuilding of this safe and legal program to restore our country’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.

Criminal Justice Reform

In 2018, the ERLC advocated heavily for the passage of the historic First Step Act, which worked to reduce recidivism in prisoners, prevented the shackling of most pregnant prisoners, and made other important steps toward a more compassionate criminal justice system that maintains public safety. Since then, the ERLC has continued to advocate for the RE-ENTER Act and the EQUAL (Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law) Act. 

The RE-ENTER Act would allow eligible individuals with federal convictions to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation from a district court, attesting to a law-abiding future and a commitment to successful reintegration into society. The EQUAL Act would remedy the disparity in federal sentencing for crack and powder cocaine related crimes that unjustly and disproportionately targets people of color. 

Predatory Lending

Payday lending is the term used to describe the practice of lending small amounts of money to people for two-week periods, until their next payday. The average annual interest rates on these short-term loans is 391%, often leaving already impoverished families with crippling debts. These unjust lending practices are exploitative and predicated on consumer loss, trapping families in poverty. In response, the ERLC is advocating for the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act that would extend the same lending protections currently established for Active Duty military members under the Military Lending Act to all consumers, including veterans and their families. 

While Christians can have good-faith disagreements on the contours of our nation’s policies, the Bible is clear that all image-bearers are worthy of dignity and respect. As we face injustice in our world, indifference is not an option afforded to believers. God has called us to fervent prayer, advocacy, and service for all our neighbors. It is ultimately in this work that we will experience a taste of his kingdom on earth.

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 / Sep 2

As the United States departed from Afghanistan, there remains an urgent humanitarian crisis in the country, both for the U.S.’s Afghan allies and those fearing persecution from the Taliban.

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Matthew Soerens, the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief to discuss how and why Christians can serve Afghan refugees who qualified for the Special Immigrant Visa Program and the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, where he helps evangelical churches to understand the realities of Afghan refugees and immigration and to respond in ways guided by biblical values. He also serves as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms consistent with biblical values.

Matthew previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor at World Relief’s local office in Wheaton, Illinois and, before that, with World Relief’s partner organization in Managua, Nicaragua. He’s also the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016).

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jul 13

Forced displacement is a growing and urgent global crisis. A multitude of conditions, including religious persecution, force people from their homes to pursue safety and the well-being of their families. As the worldwide refugee crisis becomes increasingly dire, churches have an opportunity to profoundly affect displaced people by extending compassion, hospitality, and advocacy. 

Tariq is a refugee from Pakistan who arrived in New York City in 2007. Upon arriving, he connected with an SBC church that helped him settle and assist his family in joining him in the United States. Tariq and his family started a ministry in their neighborhood that serves immigrants in getting settled and integrated into life in the United States. I had the privilege of interviewing Tariq about his family’s journey.

Tell us about your experience in Pakistan before you moved to the United States?

In Pakistan, I worked for a nonprofit called CARITAS, a Catholic organization that serves impoverished communities with assistance in development and poverty alleviation. I worked to coordinate agriculture development and identify community needs to figure out how the nonprofit could help them. Some more extremist groups in Pakistan were opposed to the organization I worked for because it was faith-based. I began receiving threats that if I didn’t cease my community work, I would be killed, and my family would be harmed. My family started receiving threats as well. 

In Pakistan, there are blasphemy laws that are used to persecute religious minorities. These blasphemy laws are often abused. Christians, as well as other minority religions, are often falsely accused. If two people can confirm someone has broken the blasphemy law, an individual can be thrown in jail, even executed, and are often attacked by mobs. 

How did you come to the United States?

Given the threats against my family and me, I decided to flee Pakistan to the United States while my family moved to another place in Pakistan and went into hiding to avoid threats. In 2007, I applied for a visa through my job at the nonprofit. I was connected with someone in New York City who worked for the organization. It took a while to get all of the paperwork confirmed, but I moved to New York once I received my visa. 

What was your experience like when you arrived in the United States?

I felt like a stranger because I was in a new country and didn’t know anything about the city. Thankfully I met a friend from Pakistan who gave me a place to stay for the first year. 

I got connected through a reference to a church called New Hope in Queens. They prayed for my family and me to be able to be reunited. They prayed for me to get a green card and for my wife to get a visa, and both of those eventually happened. They encouraged me. 

They also paid my rent for several months while I could not find work and invited me to share my testimony at church. After a few years, they helped me earn my Master’s degree and begin my career in social work. 

When my wife arrived with our first child in 2010, she felt we should start an organization that could help people in our same position. That year, we created a nonprofit in our community called International Community Care Foundation. Our objective was to support new immigrants to the United States in order to empower them, build their links to communities and churches, and help them adjust to a new home. We also sought to help people who were being persecuted back in Pakistan.

How do you serve other immigrants in your community?

Our church helped us to start our community organization by supporting us financially and with volunteers. We host an ESL program, a children’s program, we connect immigrants to job opportunities, and we help them apply for green cards and citizenship. We have helped over 40 women train in English and eventually get connected to jobs. All of our programs are hosted in our apartment complex. 

We started the children’s program when we realized some moms could not attend because they were watching their children. At the children’s program, we teach English and math, share Bible stories, and put on fun activities. 

The community of immigrants who join us is diverse. We have Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and people from South Asia, Latin America, and Africa. 

What would you like people to know about those who are seeking asylum?

In many countries like Pakistan, life is tough for groups that are persecuted. You are very vulnerable because the blasphemy laws are set up to be used against you at any time. Often women are forcibly converted. It is very dangerous and frightening to be persecuted, but it also puts you in a situation where you lack financial opportunities and often lack basic needs like food. Also, being in that situation can affect your faith, and Christians need encouragement to persevere. I would love to see more people from the United States support and encourage those persecuted worldwide. There are organizations that you can support that help persecuted Christians. 

How can churches support displaced people in the United States?

The support of a church and community can transform a refugee’s life. It certainly transformed my life. The most important thing for me was that I had a community that welcomed me and encouraged me to grow in my faith. This helped me persevere through difficult times. 

Beyond that, financial support and guidance can help get refugees on their feet. It is costly to get legal aid to apply for asylum. It can cost up to $10,000. If you are new to the country, this can be very difficult. Sponsoring someone for asylum is a great way to help. 

Once refugees are established, they can turn around and support other people who are new to the country and need help. Each church can make a significant impact by even helping one person. Also, finding organizations that support refugees and immigrants is a great way for churches to help. 

The answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you would like to learn more about Tariq’s organization, International Community Care Foundation, visit their website, Facebook page, or e-mail [email protected].

To learn more about how the refugee and asylum process works in the United States, visit this ERLC explainer.

By / May 5

Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Matthew Soerens of World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency, to the roundtable to talk about what happened with President Biden’s decision on the refugee admissions ceiling. The group also discusses the Evangelical Immigration Table advocacy both for refugee policy and for solutions to the ongoing migration humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border.

“Rhetoric is no refuge for the persecuted — we need action. The refugee resettlement ceiling should be raised immediately so our nation can welcome those we already vetted. … We know the program is a secure and thorough process by which America can serve as a beacon of freedom and safe harbor for the oppressed, including persecuted Christians and other imperiled religious minorities.” — Russell Moore on April 16, 2021

“I’m thankful President Biden revised his decision on the refugee ceiling. This action is the first step in bringing admissions back to the historical average and our nation back to our own ideals as a beacon of freedom.” — Russell Moore on May 4, 2021

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens serves as the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization and Advocacy for World Relief and as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations of which both World Relief and the ERLC are founding members. He previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited immigration legal counselor for World Relief’s local office in suburban Chicago. Matthew is the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016) and Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2018). Matthew earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College (IL), where he also has served as an adjunct faculty member for the Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership graduate program. He also earned a Master’s degree from DePaul University’s School of Public Service. Originally from Neenah, Wisconsin, he now lives in Aurora, Illinois with his wife Diana and their four children.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Apr 20

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 20, 2021—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, will join former President George W. Bush and Yuval Levin, director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies for the American Enterprise Institute on May 6 at 12:30 p.m. EST for a virtual event on “Immigrants and the American Future.”

The event, a collaboration between the George W. Bush Institute, National Immigration Forum and the ERLC, will feature a conversation moderated by Moore with Levin and President Bush about his upcoming book, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of American’s Immigrants,” The book is a collection of 43 portraits, of which Yuval Levin is one of the American immigrants featured, painted by President Bush and accompanying stories that exemplify the promise of America and our proud history as a nation of immigrants.

Members of the press are encouraged to attend and cover this FREE event by registering at the following link.

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 19

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Jenn discuss the Georgia massage parlor shootings, the White house no longer getting daily COVID-19 tests, federal efforts reducing poverty, and March Madness. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including the Policy Staff with “Explainer: The crisis unaccompanied minors are facing at the border,” Jordan Wooten with “Does the value of children depend on their usefulness? Children are a gift not a liability,” and David Dunham with “Why addicts must learn to practice honesty: Deception’s role in aiding addiction.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Jenn Kintner for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Jenn

Jenn Kintner serves as the Office Coordinator for the Nashville office of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. She holds a Doctorate of Education from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to her work at the ERLC she spent 10 years discipling and teaching women in Christian higher education. You can connect with her on Twitter: @jennkintner

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Georgia massage parlor shootings: What we know
  2. White supremacy and hate are haunting Asian Americans
  3. Suspect in Atlanta-area spa shootings might have intended more shootings in Florida, mayor says
  4. White House staff no longer tested for Covid-19 daily
  5. Explainer: New federal efforts could reduce poverty in America
  6. Chelsea & Michael Sobolik adoption
  7. March Madness returns

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