Southern Baptist leaders tour border facilitiescomment (0)
August 7, 2014
Southern Baptist national and state leaders recently toured federal government facilities being used to address the crisis of unaccompanied children crossing America’s southern border.
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), joined SBC lead ethicist Russell D. Moore on July 22 in touring a United States Customs and Border Protection facility in McAllen, Texas, and a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shelter in San Antonio. Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, joined them in San Antonio for the tour of the center at Lackland Air Force Base.
The tours, followed by news conferences in each city, occured as the U.S. seeks to deal with the more than 57,000 under-age children who have been apprehended at the border with Mexico in the last 10 months, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Most of those children — and sometimes children accompanied by a parent or parents — reportedly are fleeing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which are plagued by violence among gangs involved in drug trafficking in those Central American countries.
McAllen, which is near the southern tip of Texas, has been a major entry point for unaccompanied minors.
Thousands of children also are being housed in facilities at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and Naval Base Ventura County in California.
Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery is a possible candidate for housing additional children but no decision had been made at press time.
Floyd and Moore have called not only for the federal government to repair what is generally acknowledged as a broken immigration system but for a compassionate response to the plight of the children who are in the U.S. illegally.
“These children are someone’s children and someone’s grandchildren. They are people, real people,” Floyd wrote July 11. “Their parents, along with other children who are crossing our unprotected borders, are trying to better their lives and futures.
“Yes they should respect the rule of law, but now that they are here, we need to respect the God-given dignity of each of them,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in a statement, “As Christians, our first response to this crisis on the border must be one of compassion toward those in need, not disgust or anger. This situation on the border is a crisis — one that will take careful work from government leaders to help secure a porous border and an even more porous immigration policy that fuels the problem.
“At the same time, this crisis will take a church willing to pray, serve and love these vulnerable ones in need.”
Also participating in the tours and the news conferences was Daniel Flores, Roman Catholic bishop of Brownsville, Texas.
Southern Baptists in Texas have been ministering as they are able, but the federal government has not permitted access to unaccompanied children. HHS is responsible for custody of such children once they are processed. It permits only federal authorities and federal contractors to be in contact with the minors, according to the North American Mission Board. For now, Baptist churches are primarily serving children and adults at a processing center; providing food, clothing and showers; and doing laundry.
The ERLC is among evangelical Christian organizations that have called for reform that would provide border and workplace security; uphold the rule of law; respect family unity; and establish a path to legal status and citizenship to those who want to live in this country permanently and are willing to pay penalties and meet the requirements. Flaws in both the system and its enforcement have resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
In 2011, messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion.