SBC leaders to tour border facilities

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist national and state leaders will tour federal government facilities being used to address the crisis of unaccompanied children crossing America's southern border.

"[W]e need to respect the God-given dignity of each of them." –- Ronnie Floyd
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will join SBC lead ethicist Russell D. Moore Tuesday (July 22) in touring a U.S. 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, will join them in San Antonio for the tour of the center at Lackland Air Force Base.

The tours, followed by news conferences in each city, will occur as the United States seeks to deal with the more than 57,000 under-age children who have been apprehended at the border with Mexico in the last 9 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.

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 United States illegally.

"These children are someone's children and someone's grandchildren. They are people, real people," Floyd wrote in a July 11 piece published in Baptist Press. "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," Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in a statement for BP, "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 July 22 will be 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 Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. For now, Baptist churches are primarily working to help children and adults crossing the border together by serving them 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 United States.

In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion.

The U.S. Senate passed broad reform legislation last year, but the ERLC has said it needs improvement. So far, House of Representatives committees have approved bills dealing with such matters as strengthening border and national security, providing visas for guest workers and requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check employees' eligibility. The full House has yet to act on those bills, however.


Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).