Houston pastors “revive discussion” about Immigration Reform at Roundtable Summit

By Rev. Dave Welch

At the initiation of Dr. Hernan Castano, senior pastor of Iglesias Rios de Aceite and Director of Hispanic Church Development for Texas Pastor Council, an initial roundtable summit for pastors to discuss re-escalating concerns about the immigration issue was held on March 15 at his church.  Over forty pastors representing a wide ethnic spectrum of churches attended and participated in the discussion as a first step in mobilizing Bible-believing churches to again bring a Christ-centered, Biblically-grounded voice.

Pastor Castano raised recent concerns coming from the Hispanic church community in a letter to fellow pastors.  Among the things he shared, he stated that, Right now the Hispanic local churches and in the nation are terrified of the idea that our elected president is issuing immigration directives that put in danger the members of our congregations.”  He added that, “We all perfectly agree that we must secure the border, built the wall or whatever, and we must also send back any person that has a criminal record and is dangerous to our national or domestic security. What is not right is for the good people, many church members and contributors to our economy to get deported under the new directives.”

Pastor Castano’s letter also shocking revealed how broken the immigration system is. “The immigration system has to be fixed, much of this immigration problem has to do with the slow, and political immigration system of decades. I called yesterday and the immigration department is handling cases for people applying for visas in 2004 and if they are from Mexico they are just in 1992 handling petitions. How poor of a system.”

As HAPC led in 2010 to create the “Pastors’ Declaration on Border Security and Immigration Reform”, we believe it vital that pastors are fully informed and stand together to assure that the fine balance between justice and compassion is met in what is carried out with new policies and enforcement.  Pastor Castano shared how important the message coming from leaders like President Trump is to public perceptions. “Scripture tells us that ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…’, so it is important for them to speak rightly,” he shared.

Pastor Steve Riggle spoke that most pastors have ongoing dealings with the immigration system and many if not most of those experiences are negative in some way.  “Many of those entrenched in the system must be replaced in order to assure we treat people as humans,” he said.  “It is also important that we stay on facts and not allow emotion to dictate our responses.  Congress must do their job, and those here illegally must also take ownership of that status to do what is needed to bring them out of the shadows” while we secure both the visible and “invisible” border.  The latter point was referring to the majority of those here illegally who have overstayed some form of visa.

Several pastors who are legal immigrants themselves passionately shared that the system must be reformed to assure just treatment for all, including Pastors Khanh Huynh (originally from Vietman) and Pastor Samuel Amaku (originally from Nigeria).

Nationally renowned immigration attorney and expert Charles Foster in a letter addressed some of the concerns expressed in Pastor Castano’s letter. “I think Pastor Castano lays out very well a lot of the concerns about changes in immigration enforcement by President Trump and his administration and particularly how it negatively impacts the Hispanic community both in reality as well as perception.  As we discussed, this may be a case where the perception is worse than the reality or, as the expression goes, “the bark is worse than the bite.”

Mr. Foster added that, “President Trump’s Executive Order of February 25th allows the individual Border Patrol or ICE agents to detain, arrest and deport anyone who is in violation of the law, which wording is so broad that in theory it means everyone who is in the U.S. in undocumented status is subject to detention, although that contradicts the repeated language of President Trump that he only wants to remove the bad ones.” This is the situation that has caused some anxiety in the Hispanic community and candidly has been taken advantage of by agitators and the media to stimulate unwarranted fear.

He concluded his detailed assessment with encouragement. “ I would simply conclude that I think he is right that the community should be vigilant, should express their concerns and should put pressure on members of Congress, but on the other hand there should not be an overreaction to the point that people cannot go about living their lives, which many have done for decades, but there is no reason to believe that there will be some significant change or broad based impact with respect to immigration enforcement much different than what occurred at different times under President Obama.” 

I reviewed the Pastors’ Declaration on Border Security and Immigration Reform in detail and the pastors unanimously agreed that that the principles and actions outlined in the Pastors Declaration should be reinvigorated, including with a larger citywide summit for more pastors, community leaders, elected officials, law enforcement and immigration officials.  Plans for that summit and a public statement are underway.