U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is serving on an bipartisan panel of eight senators working to hammer out an acceptable measure for immigration reform. As part of the proposed legislation, Graham wants a tough, yet compassionate path to citizenship for undocumented persons already living in this country.
Graham has been consulting with members of the evangelical community about the issue, including Dr. Jim Goodroe, Director of Missions for the Spartanburg County Baptist Network. Goodroe said Spartanburg County has the highest international population by percentage of any county in the state and his church network provides a clear example.
“I have one church that averages 10 ethnicities in its weekly worship service. I have another church that has three ethnicities as pastors and has conducted classes to help 50 people earn their (U.S.) citizenship,” he said after meeting with Graham Tuesday, “I have another church that has had students from 50 countries in its ESL (English as second language) classes.”
Goodroe says his network also includes four Hispanic churches and a Ukrainian church. Selective services are also conducted for Asians in their respective native languages.
Goodroe says the issue of immigration has provided a lot of heat, but not much light. But he believes the illumination becomes clear if you begin to see and hear the various stories of undocumented aliens. Goodroe attempted to put a human face to the issue as he spoke about a young Asian woman that his family has known through her college years. She came to the U.S. with her parents while her father was doing work on a doctoral degree. He returned to his native land, but she and her mother remained here in the U.S. and Goodroe noticed that she had become “Americanized” when she participated in a recent worship service.
“We asked her to read in Thai, but I could tell from the way that she read the passage that she is no longer fluent in her native language,” he said. “She has been here for 16 years. So the path toward citizenship for her needs to start here rather than go back to a land where she has not lived for 16 years and no longer speaks the language.”
Goodroe says he is working with others to raise money for the woman and her mother for their green card applications.
He also says the need for immigration reform is very evident as he tells the plight of a pastor from South America, who now lives in Spartanburg County even after his family split up. “He has been here for three years with two of his children, while his wife is back in South America with their other child. The problem is that she overstayed a previous visa.” So here’s a family that has been disrupted and separated for three years because we need that worker here and he feels that is where God has called him to be.”
Goodroe said that pastor fills an important need because there is a shortage of Hispanic clergy in Spartanburg County.
Goodroe says, for people who come from different cultures and governments, the test to become a U.S. citizen is not easy. “A woman on my staff, who is a college and seminary graduate, failed the citizenship test the first time,” he said, “They asked, ‘Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’ and she answered, ‘Not in this country.’ Well, in Romania where she grew up, every school child is a member of the Communist Party. So she had to start over.”