It is time for us in South Carolina to reflect on how to approach the strangers in our midst: immigrants who are a part of our churches, communities and economy.

From our nation’s founding and throughout our history, hardworking immigrants — our ancestors — have come here to pursue the American dream. Today, as in the past, we all value the freedom and opportunity that make America unique — no matter what we look like or where we come from.

But we don’t always remember this important part of our history. Ours is not the first generation of Americans to have some difficulty welcoming new immigrants, even though we are the descendants of people who, like today’s immigrants, moved to this country to seek better jobs and better lives for their families.

At a unique moment in our nation’s history — a time when our political leaders are considering reforms to our immigration system — we, a business leader from Columbia and a pastor from Spartanburg, are joining together to urge our neighbors to look at our immigrant neighbors with fresh eyes.

Evangelical Christians are called to the words of Jesus as we consider the strangers in our midst. Many evangelicals are taking part now in a 40-day prayer challenge that begins with Jesus’ words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

By reading a short passage of Scripture each day and praying for the immigrants in our midst, we can open our hearts to the Bible’s teachings about how we treat the stranger — the new immigrant — in our midst. Whether we welcome or reject the stranger, it is as though we are doing the same to Jesus, the Bible teaches.

More than just our faith encourages us to look at our immigrant neighbors in a new light. Immigrants contribute to our communities not only in our churches and schools but also by owning businesses and shopping in our stores.

The Palmetto State’s economy features a growing high-tech sector and a booming tourism industry, and immigrants are an important part of both. We work best when we all work together, building our economy shoulder to shoulder as producers, buyers and creative sparkplugs.

The nonpartisan Immigration Policy Center has found that immigrant entrepreneurs and consumers add billions to our economy, and that immigrants — including those without authorization — are important to South Carolina’s workforce and tax base. Taking away just those without papers would sacrifice $1.8 billion in economic activity and more than 12,000 jobs.

Our current immigration system isn’t working. For too long, we have been content with an approach that does nothing to strengthen families or build our economy.

That’s why reflection and prayer have opened our eyes to the need for a new, commonsense immigration process that not only ensures fairness to taxpayers and emphasizes border security, but also respects human dignity, protects family unity and promotes economic competitiveness and growth. Improving our immigration process in this way will require finding a path forward for those who are working hard in our communities but who lack documentation.

Reform must include a tough but fair path to citizenship that holds these aspiring Americans accountable but also helps them realize the full rights and responsibilities that make our country a beacon of freedom.

We are encouraging our leaders in Washington — including our own Sen. Lindsey Graham, part of a bipartisan Senate group working on reform — to rise above partisan rhetoric and agree on reform that keeps faith with our legacy as a welcoming society. It is refreshing to see that Graham and others recognize the urgent need to come to consensus.

We look forward to a solution on immigration that strengthens South Carolina’s families and works for our businesses, that keeps our borders secure while welcoming immigrants who breathe new life into our communities, and that respects the human dignity of all of us — for we all are created in God’s image.

Hal SteVenson

President

Grace Outdoor

Lincoln Street

Columbia

Rev. Jim Goodroe

Director of Missions

Spartanburg County Baptist Network

Cummings Street

Spartanburg