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How Should Churches and Seminaries Respond to Immigrant Pastors Who Minister in the US Illegally?
Illustration by Amanda Duffy

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Kedri Metzger is senior attorney with Religious Worker Immigrant Legal Services of World Relief, based in Baltimore.

Immigrants are strengthening the church and revitalizing some denominations with significant growth. Many of these churches are started by local leaders who emphasize evangelism and know the culture and language of the growing immigrant population in the United States. But some of these pastors lack valid immigration status and face a complex and painful dilemma.

Alex and his family crossed the border illegally when he was an infant. Years later, after becoming a Christian, he began a ministry in his community that has grown into two separate church sites. Alex serves as a volunteer, unable to work since he does not have the necessary immigration papers. He has a family, including a child with Down syndrome who is a U.S. citizen. This complicates his situation even more: If Alex leaves the States, his child would lose access to crucial medical care. Alex has considered bringing himself to the attention of immigration authorities to plead his case before an immigration judge. But this would risk for being deported away from his child, to a country he doesn't remember.

Like Alex, some pastors came to the United States as small children. Some intentionally crossed the border undetected, while others entered on valid visas and later lost their immigration status through technical mistakes made by themselves or church leaders. Under current law, there are no remedies for these mistakes.

Those without valid immigration status are required to complete the immigration process abroad. If a pastor leaves the country to do so, he will likely face a 10-year bar from applying for reentry. ...

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