By Ashleigh Bugg
Since 2017, Ruth Project: Immigrant Services has served over 400 immigrant families with low-cost legal immigration, social services and educational forums on relevant immigration topics. The Ruth Project in collaboration with Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth, Texas, aims to build bridges and empower immigrants.
“Through our ministry, we have seen family reunifications and immigrants becoming United States citizens, being able to have a voice and a vote in our country, said Carlos Charco, director of the Ruth Project. “Victims of crime have gotten the protection they need through humanitarian visas, and we have educated churches and the community on immigration issues and how to show hospitality.”
The program is recognized and accredited by the Office of Legal Access Programs under the Department of Justice. This recognition and accreditation enables individuals who are not attorneys to provide immigrants with assistance in the preparation of immigration forms and, under certain circumstances, represent them in special immigration courts before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is a model for other churches and sites who seek this special accreditation. By providing guidance and support, other groups have obtained this same recognition.
“We believe we can be a resource nationwide for those in the Fellowship who are wanting to serve their immigrant communities in this way, as we can guide them through the process of becoming recognized and accredited,” Charco wrote. “At the same time, our program has provided meaningful opportunities for individuals and churches to put their faith into practice by learning ways to engage the immigrant community.”
Charco explained that another way this can be replicated is by producing an educational toolkit that churches can use to minister to their neighbors. Additionally, churches can be trained on how to best use the toolkit and how to either begin an immigration center or know where to refer immigrants to get the right type of help.
The program will use funds from a CBF Ministries Council Grant in order to expand its services and upgrade marketing materials, including creating the comprehensive immigration education toolkit for churches.
“The need in our area is so great,” Charco said. “We have individuals coming from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for services. Due to our excellent track record with USCIS (so far, we have had no denials in any of our cases), we continue to have an increased number of direct referrals by USCIS and community partners and have seen the need to expand.”
The Ruth Project has faith-based and community partnerships and collaborates with similar programs in providing educational forums for the community. Since the program began, leaders have established a network of community resources for clients. The goal is to offer comprehensive and compassionate legal and social services using these community partnerships to refer clients to get food, clothing and counseling services as needed.
The Ruth Project also partners with social work programs in the community and nearby cities. Charco has a master’s degree in social work, enabling him to supervise and provide field placements for master’s and bachelor’s level social work interns.
“We are looking for volunteers who can coordinate and work as case managers who go to other agencies,” Charco explained. “If I have a family who needs food or clothing, I can find volunteers to work with this family, guiding them to different agencies who can supply the need.”
The organization works with various communities seeking asylum, including people from Venezuela, Iraq, Russia, and African countries. Our goal is to help people receive legal status and become documented. “We are here to obey the law. We try to help people become documented. Our projects are the key to obeying the law and helping people,” he said.
Charco explains his motivation for aiding immigrants is moral. “One of the motivations for me, and I can point you to many Bible verses, but a personal one for me is in Genesis when God creates humankind in his image,” Charco said. “Every time I see an immigrant, a little boy or girl separated because of immigration policies, I’m seeing the image of God. I’m seeing in them a reflection of the suffering in how difficult it is to be accepted in U.S. society.”
Charco further points to Biblical scripture in the New Testament, citing Matthew 25:35.
“I feel when Jesus says to welcome the stranger, that I am a stranger here. Jesus was a stranger when he went to another part of the world to flee persecution. People come here because they are escaping persecution,” Charco said.
He maintains that his church will continue to work with CBF, legal entities, diverse partnerships and neighbors from around the world to make sure everyone involved can move forward. “Our priority is to help the immigrant community because Jesus has called us to do it,” Charco said. “Any support is welcome.”
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission. Learn more at www.cbf.net.