Immigration a "missionary opportunity" in California

By Karen L. Willoughby on December 01, 2015

FRESNO — The United States accepts about a million immigrants a year, plus another million migrant workers, followed by at least 300,000 who enter the country without legal permission, according to the Pew Research Center.

The US Census Bureau estimates California’s population in 2014 was 38.8 million, up about 400,000 from its 2013 estimate and 1.5 million from 2010’s official count. California, while the nation’s third-largest state in geographical area — Alaska and Texas are larger — is one-and-a-half times larger in population than Texas, which at 26 million is the second-largest in population.

According to the World Population Review, based on the Census Bureau’s current estimates, California is larger than all but 34 nations across the globe.

“We’re trying to reach everybody,” said Don Overstreet, California Southern Baptist Convention church planti

The Convention’s churches include 838 English-speaking; 451 that worship in an African-American context; 345 Hispanic, 195 Korean, 71 Chinese and 329 “other ethnic,” at which about 500,000 people worship regularly in 80 languages and 60 ethnic groups.ng catalyst for Los Angeles and Long Beach-Harbor Baptist Associations, referring to CSBC’s 2,229 congregations across the state. “We’re looking for ‘people of peace’ who might not be a Christian yet, but who would be willing to host a Bible study in their home that would attract others in a culture known to the people of peace.”

In 2014 CSBC registered 61 new Anglo, 48 language and 13 African-American congregations.

The need for church planting to reach the spiritual lostness of 33 million unchurched Californians is overwhelming, but God and His power are greater than any obstacle, say the 16 CSBC church planting catalysts scattered from orthern to Southern California.

“We need to see this as a missionary opportunity rather than hurting us,” Overstreet said, referring specifically to the rising number of immigrants.

How did there come to be so many foreign-born Californians?

Fifty years ago, on Oct.3, 1965, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an immigration bill that, he said, “is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives.”

It turned out to be all those things.

Under the pre-1965 system, admission to the US depended for the most part on an immigrant’s country of birth. Seventy percent of all immigrant slots were allotted to natives of just three countries — the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany — and went mostly unused, while there were long waiting lists for the small number of visas available to those born in Italy, Greece, Poland, Portugal and elsewhere in eastern and southern Europe.

The new system in 1965 eliminated the various nationality criteria, supposedly putting people of all nations on an equal footing for immigration to the United States, and substituted a system based primarily on family reunification and needed skills.

The connection between civil rights legislation and abolishing the national origins quotas was explicit. As Rep. Philip Burton (D-CA) said on Aug. 25, 1965, in Congress: “Just as we sought to eliminate discrimination in our land through the Civil Rights Act, today we seek by phasing out the national origins quota system to eliminate discrimination in immigration to this nation composed of the descendants of immigrants” (Congressional Record, Aug. 25, 1965).

To start at the beginning, however, in 1882 came the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred the entry of any Chinese for 10 years, but which ended up not being rescinded until 1943.

The 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement barred the entry of Japanese and Koreans. The 1917 Immigration Act created the “Asiatic Barred Zone” which virtually prohibited immigration from Asia.

The 1921 Quota Act set the first immigration quotas in the nation’s history, equal to 3 percent of the foreign-born of any eastern hemisphere nation as of the 1910 census, with no limit on immigration from western hemisphere nations.

The 1924 Immigration Act set an annual ceiling of 154,227 for the eastern hemisphere, with each nation’s quota representative of its population in the US as of the 1920 census.

The 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act reaffirmed the basic provisions of the national origins quota system, and the annual ceiling remained 154,277. It abolished immigration and naturalization exclusions against Asians and allotted 100 visas for each Asian country.

In addition, the act instituted a system to give preference (within the national origins quotas) to foreigners with education or skills, as well as relatives — the predecessor of today’s preference system.

As the number of immigrants increased, so did the number allowed in as part of each nation’s percentage quota. Presently, according to www.immigrationpolicy.org, the US admits 675,000 immigrants a year, plus several thousand others exempt from the maximum, for a total of about 1 million, a number expected to continually increase because of the “family preference” immigration policy.

(Editor’s Note: Third in a series on immigration and how California Southern Baptists are ministering among the many people groups in the nation’s most populous state.)

This Convention serves our culturally diverse congregations as we fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.