This post is by Liza Kittle, president of the RENEW Network, a renewal group that “advocates on behalf of evangelical women in the United Methodist Church” and “promotes mission outreach that offers Jesus Christ.” — Ed.
In March, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly thanked the United Methodist Church for helping secure passage of a controversial health-care law that vastly expands the role and power of the federal government, a firestorm of protest erupted among United Methodists. Many were angry that UM leaders had advocated on their behalf in the political arena, especially in regard to legislation opposed by many United Methodists.
Now, some UM leaders are at it again, this time advocating for “comprehensive immigration reform” — a somewhat nebulous term used often in the immigration debate.
Such advocacy was on display at the quadrennial United Methodist Women Assembly, held three weeks ago in St. Louis, Mo. UMW officials and several United Methodist bishops led a May 1 rally and march for immigrant rights. The event (photos) also featured participation by St. Louis-area interfaith leaders and several “community groups.”
The gathering took on a somewhat defiant tone in the wake of the late-April enactment of an Arizona law aimed at stepped-up border control and stronger enforcement of existing immigration law.
The Arizona legislation (PDF) largely mirrors federal immigration law but authorizes local and state officers to enforce its provisions. The law includes specific provisions aimed at prohibiting “racial profiling” (PDF) in immigration enforcement.
In recent years, Arizona has become ground zero of America’s illegal-immigration battlefield. The state’s citizens and cities have been held hostage to violent crime, drug trafficking, and kidnappings — largely stemming from a lack of enforcement of federal immigration law. Phoenix has become the kidnapping capital of the U.S.
Not surprisingly, a recent Rasmussen poll found that 70% of Arizona voters (including both US.-born citizens and legal immigrants) endorse the new law, known as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.
None of the disturbing facts about Arizona’s immigration crisis was mentioned at the UMW-led rally, nor were there any calls to protect the civil and human rights of Arizona’s law-abiding citizens. Rather, both the U.S. and Arizona governments were lambasted for trying to enforce the legitimately passed immigration laws of a sovereign nation.
The speakers at the rally framed any opposition to illegal immigration as manifestation of “racism,” ignoring the fact that many innocent people are being harmed by crime related to Arizona’s porous border. None of the speakers at the rally seemed to support any means of border control.
|Speakers also ignored the economic strain that a soaring illegal population is placing on medical, educational, and public services for Arizona’s citizens.
Most of the speeches at the UMW-led rally displayed a far-left political ideology that favors both open borders and amnesty for those in the country illegally. This same ideology opposes any detention or deportation for those who break immigration law.
|Speeches by Harriett Olson, Inelda González|
Harriett Jane Olson, deputy general secretary the Women’s Division (the governing body of United Methodist Women), argued that Arizona’s law would lead to a “virtual caste [system]” in the state.
When the combined force of a powerful nation and powerful commercial interests trample on human rights of people without power, people of faith must stand up and speak out….
This is a particularly urgent moment as we witness the signing of a law in Arizona that will criminalize immigrants, leading to virtual caste laws and legalized racial profiling. As people of faith we must proclaim that this is not just!
We follow in the footsteps of our foremothers like Alma Mathews who met young immigrant women on the docks of Ellis Island, providing housing and support as they adjusted to a new country and saved them from sex trafficking.
Immigrant rights are [sic] the racial justice issue of our time. We challenge racial profiling by local and state police, empowered as immigration enforcement officers who in 2008 turned over 45,000 immigrants to federal enforcement and customs agents who turn over immigrants due to racial profiling.
First, it should be noted that when Methodist missionary Alma Mathews welcomed and helped young immigrant women on the docks of Ellis Island, these women were coming to the United States legally.
Further, as reported above, the new Arizona law strictly prohibits racial profiling. Persons can be asked about their immigration status only if apprehended or stopped for questioning in relation to other suspected illegal activity. In such cases, if local or state police find that a person is not a U.S. citizen and doesn’t appear to have a legal resident status, they can turn that person over to federal immigration authorities.
Joining Harriett Olson in speaking at the immigrant-rights rally was Inelda González, national president of United Methodist Women.
My family lives in the border region of Southwest Texas and we are proud to say that we did not cross the border, but the border crossed us. Yet today, we experience the construction of walls and the militarization of the border regions that divides families and peoples who have had roots on both sides of the border for many, many years.
Our broken immigration system is breaking up families and we stand for families. Over the last 10-year period, 100,000 immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children have been detained or deported.
We will continue to challenge violence against immigrant women and the widespread rape of women crossing the border and abuse while in detention and at work. U.S. trade and economic policies that compel millions to migrate in search of livelihoods must also be changed.
It is regrettable that families are sometimes broken apart because of the detention and deportation of unlawfully resident aliens. However, this would not occur if the persons detained had not violated the law by entering the country illegally.
|Bishop Minerva Carcaño’s speech (video at left) began with greetings and support from the UM Council of Bishops. Bishop Carcaño is the episcopal leader of the Desert Southwest Conference and chairs the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration (PDF).
Other bishops present were Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri), Bishop John Schol (Baltimore-Washington), and Bishop Jim Dorff (Southwest Texas and Rio Grande).
Making no distinction between those who enter the country legally and those who do not, Bishop Carcaño said immigrant rights is an issue that stands “at the very core of people of faith.”
She then instructed the crowd to sign postcards calling for a change in enforcement of immigration laws. The bishop said the cards would be hand-delivered to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (the former governor of Arizona).
A particularly militant speaker at the rally was Jamala Rogers, founder of the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS), one of community groups that co-sponsored the event along with United Methodist Women.
OBS, according to its website, was founded “to fill a vacuum left by the assaults on the Black Power Movement.”
In her speech, Rogers claimed that some of the measures in the new Arizona law “were due to white backlash at having a black man in the White House.” Her remarks were laced with derogatory comments about the United States and capitalism.
In addition to chairing the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, Bishop Carcaño is vice-president of the General Commission on Religion and Race. This church agency is offering $250,000 in grants for ministries related to “assuring the rights of racial ethnic immigrants and refugees.” Between eight and 15 one-year grants of $40,000 each will be awarded.
“These grants will assist church congregations and non-profit organizations in reaching out to those who have suffered the double indignity of being mistreated because they are immigrants, and because they are racial ethnic immigrants,” Bishop Carcaño said in a statement earlier this year.
The 2010 focus for the grants (PDF) is on programs related to the sanctuary movement, which encourages churches to harbor illegal immigrants in their churches, thereby evading arrest by law enforcement officers. Money for this grant program comes from apportionment dollars.
Top United Methodist leaders have made “comprehensive immigration reform” a priority issue. In May 2009, the Council of Bishops released a statement (PDF) calling on President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to support reform that would:
Americans, of course, have varying opinions on what constitutes immigration “reform” and how it should take place. (“Reform,” of course, literally means “to change into an improved form or condition”; legislative history is littered with so-called reforms that have made matters worse.)
A December 2009 report (PDF) from the Center for Immigration Studies, based on one of the largest polls on immigration views ever conducted, reveals a wide disparity between the membership and leadership of various religious denominations regarding immigration issues.
Those surveyed included likely voters who identified as Catholic, mainline Protestant (United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ), “born-again Protestant” (nondenominational, evangelical, Pentecostal), and Jewish (Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).
The study revealed the following dynamics:
This study suggests that church leaders’ views on immigration are sharply different from those of the “people in the pew.” (The overwhelmingly negative reaction from United Methodists in the wake of the UMC’s involvement in the health-care bill indicates that UM leadership is out of step on that issue as well.)
In response to the United Methodist Women immigration rally, as well as bishops’ statements on immigrant rights, many United Methodists have posted comments on the official UM website, UMC.org. A sampling is below:
|Related articles and information|
|•||Immigration: A brief analysis | Alan Wisdom, Institute on Religion & Democracy (May 24, 2010)|
|•||UM women at Assembly rally for immigration justice | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 10, 2010)|
|•||Bishops urge action on immigration | David Briggs, United Methodist News Service (May 6, 2010)|
|•||March in St. Louis protests Arizona’s immigration crackdown | Leah Thorsen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (May 2, 2010)|
|•||UMW Assembly theme moves from page to pavement | Elliott Wright, UM General Board of Global Ministries (May 1, 2010)|
|•||Bishop Carcaño joins other faith leaders to oppose Arizona law | United Methodist News Service (April 28, 2010)|
|•||Grants offered by General Commission on Religion and Race to assist immigrants | Faith in Action newsletter, UM General Board of Church and Society (March 29, 2010)|
|•||United Methodist Women joins 200,000 on National Mall for just immigration policies | Carol Barton, United Methodist Women (March 25, 2010)|
|•||UM Immigration Task Force travels to Sonoran Desert | California-Nevada Annual Conference (Feb. 2, 2010)|
|•||Religious leaders vs. members: An examination of contrasting views on immigration (PDF) | Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies (December 2009)|
|•||Evangelicals and immigration | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (Oct. 21, 2009)|
|•||A biblical perspective on immigration policy (PDF) | James R. Edwards Jr., Center for Immigration Studies (September 2009)|
|•||Statement on the U.S. immigration situation (PDF) | Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church (May 8, 2009)|
|•||Statement by 28 bishops of the UMC on news President Obama will take up immigration reform in 2009 (PDF) | news release (April 15, 2009)|
|•||Alma Mathews: Pioneer for immigrants rights (PDF—see pp. 4-5) | NEWS, United Methodist Women (Fall 2008)|