A growing number of immigrants have flocked to Northwest Arkansas each year for the past few decades.
According to NWA Online, “About 1 in 6 Benton and Washington county residents are Hispanic immigrants from more than 20 Latin American countries. They number some 74,000, 20 times the Hispanic population in 1990.”
For local immigration lawyers, such as recently retired John Brown University professor of business, Donald Balla, these numbers represent a growing group of people that might need their help.
Balla emphasized that immigration lawyers do more than help people get into the country and aid refugees who are already here. They also help with naturalization and deportation situations.
“Lawyers are highly involved in helping immigrants involved in other parts of the law, such as certain crimes that immigrants are more likely to be backed into—driving without a license, for example,” Balla said.
Balla said he strongly believes in the need for immigration reform. He used slavery as an analogy for how many Christians are dealing with the issue: “Slavery was initially supported by Christians, but looking back, we wouldn’t want to be a part of that. It really comes down to belief in basic human rights.”
April Smith, immigration attorney at Catholic Charities of Tulsa, agreed that there is a need for immigration reform and that the Bible is the basis of this need.
“Deuteronomy 10:19 tells us to love foreigners,” Smith said. “Exodus 23:9, 22:1 and Leviticus 19:33 tell us not to oppress foreigners. Jesus and his parents were foreigners (or immigrants) in Egypt when fleeing Israel, much like people fleeing violence in Central America and Mexico.”
Balla emphasized that even those who don’t plan on careers in law can help the immigrant community simply by supporting basic human rights and encouraging the country to be better.
“Unless Christians decide to battle the unfair treatment of immigrants, it won’t change,” he said.
The Voices of Immigration conference on Oct. 30 will provide JBU students with the opportunity to learn more about immigration and how they can make a difference in the community.
“It’s totally okay if you know nothing,” said Kelly Escarcega, one of the conference event planners. “It’s for everyone … because immigration affects everyone.”
Fellow event planner, Mikayla Roberts said she hopes students come away with better understandings of why immigration is important.
Frank Huebert, director of service and outreach ministries, also has high hopes for the conference, especially considering its timing. While the timing of the event wasn’t necessarily intended to coincide with a national election, there will be midterm elections for senators, representatives, governors and a variety of other politicians within a week of the conference. Huebert hopes this event will encourage public discourse, and that such discourse among Christians will influence public policy.
“We want to influence public policy in ways that are going to help make the United States a better place to live out the command of loving God and loving neighbor as self,” Huebert said.
Balla’s great desire stands out as an unspoken motto for the conference: “I want to change America.”