Feds Turn to Churches to Help Welcome Immigrants

May 9, 2008

Author: Amy Green

Source: The Pew Forum/Religious News Service


Adelino Najarro emigrated from Mexico four years ago. Without a job, he said, life was difficult in his country.

Today, to make a living, he works in a restaurant kitchen. And to improve his English, he goes to church.

Twice a week, Iglesia Forest City in northwest Orlando partners with the local school district to offer English-language classes. On one recent evening, Najarro, 29, was among nearly two dozen Spanish speakers who turned out for class. The church also offers a food bank, speakers on the naturalization process and has plans to offer GED classes.

"We the church are the first contact with the United States," said the Rev. Santiago Panzardi, the church's senior pastor and president of the Hispanic Christian Church Association of Central Florida. "The first place they knock is the church."

Now there's someone else knocking at the church door -- the federal government -- but they insist they're not looking to check immigrants' legal papers. They're looking to help.

Washington is lending its help to churches and religious groups that offer services to immigrants. It's a welcome gesture for many, but for some, it may not be enough to assuage deep-rooted distrust among immigrants and their advocates.