Institutions Politics

Evangelicals boost clinics to help immigrants navigate legal headaches

The Rev. Zach Szmara, far right, pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., started a legal clinic in February and has assisted more than 100 clients. Photo courtesy of Chip Bos, The Wesleyan Church
Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, attended the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast on Friday (April 5). RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, attended the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast in 2013. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) An alliance of evangelical organizations has pledged to dramatically increase the number of church-based legal clinics across the country to assist immigrants with the complicated processes of seeking green cards, visas and family unification.

The Immigration Alliance, a network of 15 evangelical denominations and ministries, on Tuesday (Oct. 21) launched a plan to reduce the gap between the 22 million immigrant noncitizens and the 12,000 private immigration lawyers in the country.

“Churches are a trusted presence in immigrant communities that can — and should — help address this critical shortage of legal services,” said Noel Castellanos, the alliance’s board chair and the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, in announcing the new venture.

The alliance, which was formed in 2013, estimates that there also are 2,800 nonprofit attorneys and accredited staff in the country. The umbrella network includes the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, among others.

As President Obama considers executive action on immigration because of stalled action on Capitol Hill, alliance leaders hope to increase the number of clinics they have provided at churches from the current 29 to 1,000 by 2017. Each clinic must go through an accreditation process with the federal Board of Immigration Appeals before offering low-cost advice and help in preparing documents that can lead to legal status.

The Rev. Zach Szmara, far right, pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., started a legal clinic in February and has assisted more than 100 clients. Photo courtesy of Chip Bos, The Wesleyan Church

The Rev. Zach Szmara, far right, pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., started a legal clinic in February and has assisted more than 100 clients. Photo courtesy of Chip Bos, The Wesleyan Church

The Rev. Zach Szmara, pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., started a legal clinic in February and has assisted more than 100 clients. In one case, he helped a parishioner from Mexico who was a victim of sexual assault obtain a U visa, which is given to crime victims who assist authorities with prosecutions. In another, he helped reunite a family with two children who had remained in El Salvador.

“It changes a life,” he said of clinics like his, noting that clients have sometimes traveled more than 100 miles to get assistance. “Where there was hopelessness and brokenness, there’s now hope.”

Roy Beck, executive director and president of Numbers USA.  Photo courtesy NUSA

Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA. Photo courtesy of NUSA

Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which favors reducing immigration, said he hopes the alliance will “not take actions that encourage further disobedience of immigration laws that are designed to limit the flow of foreign workers in order to protect the ability of this nation’s vulnerable citizens to obtain jobs and earn livable wages.”

Szmara, whose church is affiliated with The Wesleyan Church, said he keeps the text of the Immigration and Nationality Act open on his desk as he does the clinic work.

“I can only work with that,” he said. “That’s the current law.”


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • Thanks for this article, Adelle… We are finding that while it is hard to serve under current laws it is possible… And we are seeing lives transformed and our communities served through our churches!

  • Bigots who support discrimination under the color of law seldom did. 🙂

    I don’t see any links from you disputing any of the articles I linked to.

    Just to add insult to injury:

    “In the 1990s, Roy Beck [Head of NumbersUSA] attended and spoke at the Council of Conservative Citizen’s (CofCC) annual conference. And for those unfamiliar with CofCC, the organization use to call themselves the White Citizens’ Council when it was socially acceptable to wear white-hooded sheets over your head and demand racial segregation.”

  • NumbersUSA absolutely does not demonize any immigrants. In fact, Numbers head, Roy Beck, has always been a proponent of racial tolerance, as per this excerpt from a New York Times article that examined claims that groups advocating reducing immigration numbers were tainted by ties to racists:

    Mr. Beck said the charges of bigotry were especially unfair and let a reporter hear a tape of his 1970 wedding ceremony, which included a song he wrote pledging to fight ”race hate.” He deliberately lives in integrated neighborhoods, he said, and sent his children to integrated schools, including one in a mostly black housing project.

    ”What kind of racist does that?” he said. ”They’ve never accused us of doing anything that’s racist or white nationalist. It’s only that Numbers U.S.A. ‘has ties’ ” to Dr. Tanton.

    Nor does NumbersUSA have ties to white supremacist organizations. NumbersUSA is strictly concerned with policies which it feels are leading to irresponsibly fast population growth in the US (we’ve grown 50% in the last 40 years, mostly due to mass immigration, and we are projected to add another 100 million–the equivalent of five New York states–in the next 35 years). Numbers asserts on its website that immigrants should not be demonized, or treated badly in any way.

    Trying to tar Numbers with ties to bad people is the sort of thing that SPLC is doing because it has lost the policy argument on mass immigration. But policies should be debated on their merits, or lack thereof, and not on alleged ties to bad people.

  • NumbersUSA does not oppose immigration in principle. It seeks steep reductions in immigration and strict enforcement of immigration laws for reasons concerning the public interest. Our country and our economy have limits to how many people can be provided for, especially at a standard of living that Americans consider minimally acceptable, and there are numerous indications that the size of the U.S. population already exceeds those limits. The U.S. population is growing almost solely due to immigration. We add more workers to the workforce via immigration each month than our economy creates jobs.

  • This does not make Roy Beck or NumbersUSA a bigoted group. NumbersUSA seeks large reductions in immigration due to ecological and economic reasons. It does not even take a position on the question of whether or not there should be a national official language.

  • Are you kidding me?

    The organization was formed and is funded by White Supremacists. Its head was an editor of a white supremacist journal and was a speaker at a modern day Klan meeting. They actively court white supremacists in their public efforts.

    They can’t avoid the stench of bigots in anything they do.

    You can stop insulting my intelligence.

  • To put it mildly, you are full of crap. Trying to pin this as a SPLC conspiracy is the sort of nonsense hate groups do all the time when they are caught dead to rights as a hate group. Those “bad people” are the ones right at the top of the organization. Its telling all you rely solely on are the self-serving statements of the organization’s leadership.

    Hardcore racists flock to NumbersUSA

    Implied bigotry of NumbersUSA

    Nothing of value has ever come to this country from nativist drivel. Immigration is the one thing in this country which has kept our population from declining as a developed nation.

    NumbersUSA in their bigoted idiocy also opposes citizenship by birth. The one part of our immigration system that has truly worked best of all for turning immigrants into full fledged members of the nation within 1 generation. They want to give the government the ability to declare people born in this nation to be “non-people”. To be able to strip the citizenship of anyone essentially at will. [Much like what the Nazis liked to do] I cannot emphasize how dangerously stupid it would be to give the government that kind of power.

  • NumbersUSA opposes immigration in its actuality and relies entirely on fearmongering.

    As a developed country our population would be drastically shrinking and aging out of the markets if not for immigration and integration of immigrants to our nation. Education and developed economies reduce average family sizes in general. All one has to do is look at Japan’s economic and demographic decline to see what happens when developed nations do not open their doors to immigration.

    NumbersUSA opposes immigration simply because of the complexion of the majority of immigrants. Founded by racists, continuing the legacy of the “Know Nothings” of the late 19th Century in giving nativism a public face.

  • Larry, that is nonsense. The Social Contract Press is a newsletter that addresses ecological and population concerns. And John Tanton is not a white supremacist, he is a nationalist.

  • Larry,

    You are correct that immigration is what has stopped our population from declining. That is precisely why NumbersUSA seeks to greatly reduce immigration. There is extensive evidence that this nation is already overpopulated. Overpopulation is the biggest threat to the well-being of the American nation.

    Birthright citizenship provides a foolish incentive for people to come here illegally. These babies’ only connection with this nation is through their illegal parents. They are not part of our nation, and the law should be made to recognize that. The U.S. and Canada or the only first world nations that still allow that. And last time I checked, one of the most basic powers of government is determining who gets citizenship.

  • Our population needs to shrink. That is precisely why NumbersUSA seeks huge reductions in immigration. We do not have the resources to indefinitely support our current population, let alone an expanding one. A population declining to a point of stability is a necessity for our ultimate survival as a nation and as a species.

    By the way, Japan outproduces us in steel, electronics, ships, and in some years automobiles. Their transportation system and manufacturing base is the most advanced on the planet. That smaller, aging population is kicking the pants off of our “young, vibrant” one. Our economy is driven mostly by consumption, which is unsustainable.

  • NumbersUSA is about the numbers. It advocates lower immigration rates to preserve the quality of life that a rapid, immigration-fueled population increase is eroding. It also points out that less immigration would tighten the labor supply and allow wages to rise. The median wage for male workers in the U.S. peaked in 1973 and the high immigration rate since then has been instrumental in that wage stagnation. Consider: even during the recent severe recession we continued to receive 1.1 million legal immigrants a year. From 2000 to 2014 the working age population (native-born plus immigrants) increased by 14%, but the number employed increased by only 4%.

    How does that breakdown? From 2000 to 2014 the working-age, native-born population increased by 16.8 million, yet the number employed fell by 0.1 million. The number of working-age immigrants increased by 8.8 million and the number working rose by 5.7 million. Employers are replacing American workers with cheaper immigrants. Those most harmed are the poorest Americans, and particularly black Americans. Americans also deserve compassion, and immigration policies that allow them experience the American dream.

  • As an American Atheist who grew up poor, through no fault of my own, I find it disturbing that government and churches are actively working to make life harder for citizens.

    Many Americans are struggling but our tax money is used to feed, house, clothe, educate, provide medical care, school supplies and now legal services to foreign nationals here illegally.

    The Sanctuary Movement was much like Abortion Crisis Centers; just get them here then dump the expense on the taxpayer.

    Did churches ever use their own money to help others? Churches got reimbursed for aid to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Helping others is big business ;no matter what the national debt is there is always lots of money in the trough. Baptist Child and Family Services — has received more than $280 million from the federal government in 2014. Nearly all the money religious organizations use to help others is tax payer money, which they do not pay. It’s not charity it’s another business.

  • Actually no. It needs to stabilize. We do that by ridding our politics of anti-contraception and anti-choice nonsense, equalizing education/career opportunities for women and all sorts of things reactionary and bigoted people hate doing.

    “By the way, Japan outproduces us in steel, electronics, ships, and in some years automobiles. ”

    Much like your rhetoric, the facts you cite are musty and out of date. Japan in the last 30 years has dramatically declined in production of all of the above. Steel is hardly produced there anymore and electronics dominance was lost to Korea and China over a decade ago. Their transportation system is 1/10th the size of ours.

    “A population declining to a point of stability is a necessity for our ultimate survival as a nation and as a species.”

    Eugenics talk, you can’t even pretend to divorce your nonsense from white supremacist/neo-nazi nonsense.

  • Birthright citizenship is the bedrock of the civil liberties of the majority of Americans. It keeps the US from falling into the morass that Europe has with multigenerational ethnic slums. We have the longest and largest successes with 2nd+ generation immigrants out of any country outside of Canada and the UK.

    Taking it away allows the government to declare anyone in this country to be “non-citizens” for pretty much any reason. Citizenship is controlled by the Executive branch. To create a system where essentially the president can rob anyone of their citizenship by fiat is too dangerously stupid to contemplate. Your “cure” is far worse than the problem.

    The whole reason for such proposals is so much bullcrap. Citizenship by birth has zero effect whatsoever on the rates in which people immigrate to our nation legally or not. People come to our country because of conditions in their places of origin. Our laws have NEVER had an effect on this.

    What you would call “anchor babies”, our law rightly calls NATURAL BORN US CITIZENS. People with the same rights as you and me. People who you would turn into “non-people” bereft of all civil liberties. Only the most virulent bigoted moron would go out of their way to strip the rights of sections of its citizenry for such ridiculous reasons.

    “Overpopulation is the biggest threat to the well-being of the American nation.”

    White English speaking Americans need “breathing room”.

    Nativism is dangerous stupidity fueled by ignorant bigotry.

  • Hey Tom, maybe you should look at management/executive salaries for the same period or salaries for people in finance industries. While the average worker in most industries has faced wage stagnation, their compensations have increased almost exponentially.

    Immigration to this country legal or otherwise drops off when our economy falters as it has in the last 6 years. Having nothing whatsoever to do with any nonsense from nativists about enforcement of the existing immigration laws.

    NumbersUSA is about lying and making ridiculous statements to demonize people. It is always foolish when mainstream media reference them. Its like asking the Klan to chime in on civil liberties issues. But then again considering the Klan makes up a large amount of NumbersUSA’s support base, that is usually the case.

  • Really Larry?

    Barbra Jordan believed in limiting immigration to protect American workers. Was she a hater too?

    Barbara Jordan
    “It is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.”
    – Barbara Jordan She also said. Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave.

  • “Barbra Jordan believed in limiting immigration to protect American workers. Was she a hater too?”

    Well she threw her hat in with them whether she knew it or not. Nobody is perfect. Like many people spouting off about immigration, she didn’t know a damn thing what she was talking about.

    Nice try in appealing to authority.

    There is something about immigration which gets people going on and on about upholding the law and strict enforcement of it, yet not one of them can tell you a thing about those laws themselves. There is something dangerously stupid about such behavior in a democracy. People in general should understand laws they want to uphold.