By Nathan White, BGAV Web Minister
On Wednesday, December 10, Virginia Baptists hosted two 3-hour information sessions about ISAAC, or Immigration Service and Aid Center. ISAAC is joint ministry between the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and Baptist University of the Americas (BUA).
Dr. Jesús Romero, the Director of ISAAC, led the sessions. He explained that several years ago, the federal government recognized that there are not enough immigration lawyers in the country to help immigrants navigate the bureaucracy.
In response, the BGCT and BUA developed ISAAC as a way for nonprofits and churches to receive accreditation to provide basic legal services to immigrants and in some cases, provide representation in immigration court.
Dr. Romero noted that he has yet to run into immigration lawyers or law firms who view this ministry as competition because they know they’re overwhelmed.
Seven BGAV churches, one association, and five other denominational bodies were in attendance.
Dean Miller, Team Leader for the BGAV Glocal Missions team, noted that those at the sessions were already working with and ministering to these populations.
“Everyday they see the need for this type of help for immigrants, but legally, they cannot do anything.” According to federal immigration law, those that give advice without legal certification could be sued for legal malpractice.
Dr. Romero shared that the high cost of lawyers coupled with the complications of dealing with the system poses significant hurdles for immigrants.
ISAAC requires that accredited ministries charge a nominal fee, which saves money for the immigrant. Additionally, the fees collected by the accredited ministry could be rolled into other similar ministries such as classes for ESL or citizenship.
“This is a highly relational ministry with folks who are marginalized,” Miller explained. “As you sit down with a family to go through the time-consuming process of filling out paperwork, you learn their story. In turn, there are opportunities to share your faith.”
To be accredited, ministries undergo a one-week 40-hour training led by immigration lawyers. At the end of the week, participants are required to pass a test.
Upon passing, the test along with other paperwork for accreditation is sent to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals for review. If everything is found to be in order, they will then grant accreditation. Virginia Baptists hope to offer the training sometime next summer.
Miller is hopeful that this unique opportunity will have a powerful impact across the Commonwealth. “This is a systemic answer to a broken system.”