As immigration-reform efforts in Washington, D.C., have crumbled, Texas Baptists announced in June a new plan to help legal immigrants become citizens.

The Immigration Service and Aid Center (ISAAC) is the first initiative to help churches across the country that want to host government-accredited assistance programs, according to organizers with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and Buckner International Ministries.

ISAAC stems from a five-year investigation, said Suzii Paynter, director of the BGCT's Christian Life Commission. Her group discovered numerous examples of unscrupulous attorneys who promised help with navigating the citizenship process but never delivered.

"The average person seeking help is uninformed and living in fear," said Albert Reyes, president of Buckner Children and Family Services. "They're served by people pretending to be their friend."

ISAAC focuses on helping church leaders find the training they need to make their churches accredited with the government to become immigration centers. ISAAC may also provide scholarships to church leaders who want to attend training classes. A BGCT agency that preceded ISAAC helped seven Texas churches move toward accreditation, and program leaders saw the need for a nationwide program when they fielded questions from churches in other states. ISAAC has largely dodged criticism because the program aids only qualified, legal applicants seeking citizenship.

"Most people are conflicted about immigration," Paynter said. "I don't want people taking advantage of my country. But there are people who could be helped if the system worked better."

Reyes said ISAAC will focus on convening training workshops, leaving other nonprofits and churches responsible for funding ...

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