For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the [immigrants] living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to [immigrants], for you yourselves were once [immigrants] in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17–19, NLT)
The eighth annual Immigrant Connection (IC) conference, September 2023, commenced with a reflection on Deuteronomy 10:17–19. Reverend Zach Szmara, Immigrant Connection’s executive director, reminded attendees that God’s people are undeniably called to extend love, welcome and care to immigrants. The whole of the IC movement is united in this foundation of God’s profound love for immigrants and his clear call to us to love them. At IC conferences, passages like this are a deep source of affirmation for attendees who are IC Legal Network members and committed to serving immigrants across the country by providing immigration legal services.
While each IC annual conference is an invaluable time of training and professional development for the IC Legal Network, this gathering was also an important time of celebration. With a conference theme of “Better Together,” nearly 100 staff people from the IC Legal Network celebrated the impact they are collectively making across the country.
Immigrant Connection is now made up of 32 local sites across 22 states. Sixty-five Department of Justice accredited legal representatives and nearly as many additional legal support staff and volunteers meet with immigrant clients and their families day in and day out to assist them in various immigration processes — processes which bring stability and strength to immigrants and the communities where they reside. In the first three quarters of 2023, the IC Legal Network already surpassed the total number of clients served in 2022, and the network is on track to serve over 8,000 clients by the end of December. This month, IC marks the milestone of having served over 25,000 clients since 2014!
In addition to celebrating the growth of IC’s legal network and its impact, special guests of the conference also helped mark unique ways that IC is impacting not just the immigrant families and local communities but also the church in the United States, the immigration legal services field and industry nationwide, and the marketplace and corporate world.
In a plenary session, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, Immigrant Connection board chair, shared about how IC’s mission, vision and programs are giving the church various opportunities to live out and model true Biblical hospitality. Her conversation with Rev. Szmara also highlighted how the work of IC is also helping to change the narrative about immigrants in churches — that immigrants are not threats, burdens or opportunities, but they are image-bearers, and when we journey with immigrants, we are truly reflecting Christ and his kingdom together. In addition, Dr. Garrett Dolan of Tyson Foods, who co-leads the Tyson Immigration Partnership program with Rev. Szmara, shared how IC is changing the face of immigration legal services across the country by making sure it is immigrant-centered and innovative in its approach. Dr. Dolan also highlighted how IC is impacting the narrative about immigrants in the marketplace and other significant places of influence.
The Immigrant Connection movement is looking forward to even bigger celebrations in 2024. The IC Legal Network is expected to continue to grow in number and reach nationwide; the growth of IC church partnership programs will equip many more churches across the country to extend love, welcome and service to immigrant neighbors; and the growth of IC corporate partnership programs will continue to ensure that many more immigrants are able to access vital services that strengthen families, futures and whole communities.
As 2023 closes and IC enters its tenth anniversary year in 2024, we are forging ahead with an even clearer vision of what we’re able to do when God’s people and his church answer the call to love immigrants as he does.
You and your church are invited to join the Immigrant Connection movement and our church partnership program. The IC church partnership program is for all churches — not just those interested in legal services. We believe that every church is called to love and welcome immigrants, so IC is prepared to journey with your church and congregation to learn more and act.
For more information on Immigrant Connection church partnerships, visit www.icwelcome.org/mychurch.
Sera Han leads Communications for Immigrant Connection.