Spartanburg Baptist minister lobbies for immigration reform

A Southern Baptist from Spartanburg with no political experience walked the halls of Capitol Hill on Wednesday with his wife, lobbying Congress to support immigration reform as a moral issue.

Jim Goodroe, director of missions for the Spartanburg County Baptist Network, has ministered to the immigrant community of Spartanburg for the last 12 years. His wife, Nancy, teaches young children who don’t speak English as a first language.

The Goodroes are well-versed on visas and green cards and the struggles involved in migrating to a foreign country. But the political arena is a new world to them.

“We had been content to be involved in immigration just from a ministry standpoint,” Goodroe said. “But the political aspect is the one that is most broken right now and needs the attention, so then we can go back and work on the other aspects of immigration.”

The 95 churches in Goodroe’s network are among more than 600 Christian churches in Spartanburg County alone. Many serve significant immigrant populations from countries all over the world.

The Goodroes have endless stories of church members providing shelter and aid and legal assistance to immigrant families who crossed the border for a better life, then found themselves vulnerable to exploitation and crime. Such assistance is a natural extension of the church’s teachings, Goodroe said.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is trying to get Christians to first of all think about anything from a Christian perspective, including immigration... and realize that any immigrant is a person first,” he said.

“Immigration is an issue, a subject, but immigrants are people like you and me. At bottom, we need to treat everybody with respect.”

Goodroe was lured into the politics of immigration reform in March when he taped a one-minute radio commercial for the Evangelical Immigration Table.

The ad, which saturated Christian radio stations in South Carolina for weeks, asked Christians to support “immigration solutions rooted in Biblical values which reflect each person’s God-given dignity, respect the rule of law, protect family unity, guarantee secure borders, ensure fairness to taxpayers and establish a path toward citizenship.”

It’s a hot issue in South Carolina, where Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, and Sen. Lindsey Graham are both intensely involved in the debate.

Graham is a Republican member of the bipartisan group that crafted the compromise plan currently being debated on the Senate floor. It would tighten border security, expand avenues for legal immigration and, after 13 years, provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Gowdy is chairman of the House Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee and is sponsoring one of a series of GOP immigration bills.

Graham, in an interview Wednesday, said the evangelical involvement in the debate has been a “game-changer.”

“Having the evangelical community push for a solution that is tough but practical and making sure we never forget we’re talking about human beings here — it’s been incredibly positive,” Graham said.

Jim and Nancy Goodroe were in Washington on Wednesday morning for a “Bibles, Badges and Business” forum where faith leaders, law enforcement and business leaders campaigned for immigration reform. Afterward, they fanned out across Capitol Hill.

“The faith perspective led to clarity on a law enforcement perspective,” said Mark Curran, sheriff of Lake County, Ill., who was part of the forum. “We need people to feel comfortable to talk with their officer. When a police officer is on their way, we can’t have people run the other way. That is not the way to solve crimes.”

Jim Goodroe readily admits he doesn’t speak for all members of the 95 churches in his network. The Goodroes often hear opposing views from fellow church-goers who believe a chance at citizenship would improperly reward the 11 million people who broke the law by entering the country without permission.

Jim Goodroe‘s response to that is that the Senate bill would require illegal immigrants to pay fines before being becoming eligible for citizenship, and wouldn’t allow those who broke other laws during their stay to become citizens.

“Part of being an American is that if you break the rules, there are consequences,” Jim Goodroe said.

Said Nancy Goodroe, “I just want good people who have proved they would be good citizens to get citizenship so they can get a good job.”

Graham said the Goodroes are effective advocates.

“Whether you agree with him or not, you respect his passion and knowledge,” Graham said.

“He practices what he preaches. He’s out there ministering to the flock he is trying to educate us about. I can’t imagine a member of Congress not being impressed by him personally and admiring his work.”