The Baptist General Convention of Texas and Buckner International have launched a new partnership working with local churches in Texas and beyond to help undocumented immigrants file papers to become U.S. citizens.

Announced Tuesday at the BGCT-affiliated Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas–the largest gathering of Hispanic Baptists in the United States–the Immigration Service and Aid Center (ISAAC) is reportedly the first nationwide effort for local church-based ministry to help immigrants deal with citizenship issues.

“The church has a biblical mandate to speak up on behalf of the alien and stranger in this country,” Suzii Paynter, director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission, said in a press release. “We believe the best way to do this is through the proper legal channels set forth by the United States.”

The new program is aimed at helping congregations across the country start government-accredited immigration centers to provide “compassionate, legal and timely ministry to immigrants of all nationalities,” according to a new Web site launched Tuesday.

The program has two goals: helping churches through the time-consuming process toward recognition by the Board of Immigration Appeals and accreditation of representatives within recognized churches to prepare documents and represent immigrants in the citizenship process.

The ISAAC program expands the Texas convention’s Baptist Immigration Services Network. The ministry dedicated to helping Christians serve immigrants in their churches and communities, has been under development for about a year.

In addition to its work in Texas, Buckner has ongoing ministries in Knoxville, Tenn., Seattle and Atlanta. Albert Reyes, a former BGCT president who now works for Buckner, said services offered through ISAAC will be available to ministry partners in those areas, as well as to ministries and congregations anywhere that want help ministering to undocumented immigrants in their communities.

“In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that the one’s neighbor is anyone we encounter on a daily basis,” Reyes said in a blog. “It could be a stranger, a person living in our neighborhood, a foreigner, an undocumented immigrant, a coworker or a friend.”

The CLC, which claims to speak “to” and not “for” Texas Baptists, advocates for “just and ethical immigration policy,” according to a Web site.

Reyes said when working with undocumented immigrants, the Bible demands a “both/and” response.

“Some well-meaning Christians insist on a looking to Romans 13:1-2 teaching to submit to governing authorities as their point of reference for treating undocumented immigrants harshly,” he said. “Other well-meaning Christians only reference Matthew 25:35-40. Christians who seek the Bible as their guide for faith and practice should embrace both points of reference. This is what ISAAC seeks to do.”

Services offered through ISAAC include assistance in obtaining basic immigration law training, clergy citizenship assistance, immigration ministry center development and education and information for churches

The BGCT passed a resolution in 2003 encouraging “proactive involvement of ministry activity among immigrants, documented and undocumented, through prayer and action.”

“We can’t wait until everything is figured out by the government,” Paynter told an Austin radio station.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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