Walter Strickland, first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and North Carolina Christian educator, urged Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and other members of Congress to continue working toward a legislative solution for young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children – often called “Dreamers” – in a press call Feb. 8 hosted by the National Immigration Forum.
“I would like [Tillis] to know the constituents I represent are overwhelmingly for permanent legislative action for Dreamers,” said Strickland, who was elected into SBC leadership in 2017. Strickland also teaches theology and leads Kingdom Diversity Initiatives at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
“In the public eye, Southern Baptists have a picture of being divided amongst ourselves, because there are so many of us – with 46,000-plus churches in the convention. Very rare is the moment when there is an overwhelmingly unified voice, and this is one of those moments.”
Tillis, along with Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), proposed a bill called the SUCCEED Act in 2017 that would provide undocumented immigrants who qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with a pathway to permanent resident status.
“We are excited to cheer [Tillis] in all his efforts to bring about a permanent legislative solution for Dreamers,” Strickland said.
An estimated 800,000 people were protected from deportation and received work authorization through the DACA program, which President Donald Trump has set to expire March 5.
Strickland said Dreamers are “invaluable members” of North Carolina communities, schools, churches and ministries, and called for any legislative solution to uphold the biblical principles of dignity and family unity.
“As evangelicals we believe that all immigrants are made in the image of God,” he said.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, thanked Strickland for his efforts on behalf of immigrants and expressed appreciation for the “Southern Baptist community.”
Kacey Grantham, executive director of Golden Door Scholars in Charlotte, also participated in the conference call.
Southern Baptist leaders, along with other evangelicals, gathered for a bipartisan news conference Feb. 7 on Capitol Hill to ask Congress and the White House to act quickly to find a solution for DACA recipients.
“Dreamers are not some abstract category for us,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Dreamers are teaching Sunday School. Dreamers are leading door-to-door evangelism efforts in our communities. Dreamers are the ones who are baptizing, the ones who are teaching people to read in our communities. Dreamers are leading churches in the United States of America. And when we see Dreamers in jeopardy, we see all of us in jeopardy. What hurts one part of the body of Christ hurts all of the body of Christ.”
Jesse Rincones, executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, said, “For Hispanic Baptist churches, these issues are not theoretical or just statistics.
“These numbers represent people, who are integral parts of our congregations – church members, Sunday School teachers, students, employees, community leaders and even seminary-trained pastors, who are facing very real fears for the future if Congress doesn't act.”
More than a dozen Southern Baptist leaders, along with 2,000-plus others, have signed on to an open letter by World Relief accompanying the news conference that called for legislative action to help Dreamers, refugees, persecuted Christians and immigrant families seeking reunification.