CBF leader pushes for immigration reform

CBF head Suzii Paynter joined America Online founder Steve Case and others in a telephone press conference urging Congress to approve immigration reform beneficial to business, immigrants and faith.

By Jeff Brumley

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leader Suzii Paynter ramped up her advocacy for immigration reform Aug. 28 in a conference call with reporters urging Texans in Congress to approve moral legislation that takes into account the economic needs of the nation and spiritual and physical needs of immigrants.

Paynter, executive coordinator of the Atlanta-based Fellowship, was joined on the afternoon telephone panel by Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution and co-founder of America Online, and by Steve Pringle, legislative director of the Texas Agriculture Bureau, among others.

As a group, they presented a message to federal legislators that there is a growing and unified voice across party, theological and economic lines favoring a policy that provides a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain some sort of status that enables them to remain and work in the United States.

Wednesday’s Texas-focused event was part of Bibles, Badges and Business campaign, a state-by-state effort of the National Immigration Forum and the National Immigration Forum Action Fund.

Paynter, who served previously as executive director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, said CBF will continue its support of immigrant-friendly initiatives and ministries in Texas and is helping its Hispanic congregations mobilize so they can express the needs of immigrant communities.

suzii paynter

Paynter said Congress has a lot of choices available to it, but the key is it must act when the August recess concludes. It’s also important that members realize that religious groups are mobilizing in favor of such laws.

Paynter said there is “a major leadership voice with other denominational bodies, like the Evangelical immigration Table” that is presenting Congress with “a unified faith voice.”

“It’s very important we understand the moral aspect of our laws,” she added.

Case said business is also becoming unified in its insistence that Congress take action to ensure America can continue to compete in the global economy. That means ensuring enough visas are available to highly skilled foreign workers.

Case said removing barriers to recruitment helps companies attract the best employees and enables foreigners to continue establishing U.S. companies. “Some see it as a security issue," he said. "Others see it as a moral issue and others as a political issue. I see it more as an economic issue.”

Pringle urged representatives to keep agriculture in mind when they craft immigration reform. He noted that it’s a must in Texas, where 70 percent of the agricultural workforce comprises undocumented or illegally documented workers.

Regardless of the wages offered, the typical American worker will not perform the needed-but-tedious agricultural jobs in the state, Pringle said.

“Failure to pass a guest-worker program ...  will drive American jobs and agriculture overseas,” Pringle said. “We must have some sort of system to maintain agricultural production.”

Paynter wasn’t the only faith-based voice on the call. She was joined by Tim Moore, senior pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church in Austin.

Moore said he has the backing of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in urging Texans in Congress to seek avenues through which illegal immigrants can obtain legal status.

Moore said he knows many in that situation who admit they’ve done wrong to enter the nation illegally and who want to get to the back of the line and make amends.

“My frustration is there is no line to send them to, to make that wrong right,” he said.

For Paynter, the event was a continuation of her high-profile entry into the immigration reform debate, which included participation in a July panel discussion in Dallas titled “What Immigrants Contribute: A Special Event on Immigration, Texas and Economic Growth.”