DALLAS (ABP) — Faith communities in the United States both serve and benefit from immigrants, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter said July 10 in a conference at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
“Immigrants have brought renewal to the church and the moral character of our country, and they offer vitality to our culture,” Paynter said in the closing session of the half-day summit titled What Immigrants Contribute: A Special Event on Immigration, Texas and Economic Growth.
Paynter was the lone faith leader invited to sit on one of three panels analyzing how immigrants grow the economy, benefits of naturalization and the various ways that immigrants serve the United States.
Others included Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Stephen Moore a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board; University of Southern California professor Manuel Pastor; and Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
Paynter, who worked previously as head of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, said she became interested in immigration issues because of the large number of Hispanic churches within the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“We have over 1,200 Hispanic Baptist congregations in Texas,” she said. "The beautiful nature of the Kingdom of God even here in this one state is diverse.”
Paynter said churches help government and others from the private sector by providing immigrants with services like teaching English as a second language and counseling in getting a green card.
“If you go by Hispanic churches in your town on Saturday morning, you’ll see lines of people waiting outside so they can have their accreditation status evaluated,” Paynter said.
The day opened with remarks by Former President Bush at a naturalization ceremony for America’s newest citizens.
“We must remember that the vast majority of immigrants are decent people who work hard, and support their families, and practice their faith and lead responsible lives,” Bush said. “Some willingly defend the flag, including two about to take the oath here today.”
“At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation,” he continued. “It says something about our country that people all around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to our country. Their talent and hard work and love of freedom have helped us become the leader of the world.”
Bush touched lightly on discussions occurring the same day in Washington, where House Republicans are being pressured to take up immigration reform.
“I don’t particularly want to be involved in the politics, or the specifics of policy, but I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate,” he said. “And I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country.”
The conference was part of the Bush Institute’s 4% Growth Project, an initiative launched in 2011 aimed at solving the nation’s economic problems through sustained economic growth.
Bob Allen ([email protected]) is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.