United Methodists call for immigration reformBY JOHN W. COLEMAN
SPECIAL TO THE UMCONNECTION
Baltimore-Washington Conference churches were represented among the tens of thousands of marchers who gathered in the nation’s capital March 21 to call for improvements in U.S.
“The time for comprehensive immigration reform is now,” proclaimed United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño of Phoenix, Ariz., leader of the Desert-Southwest Conference.
She joined a diverse procession of speakers representing religious bodies, advocacy organizations, labor unions and other groups. They urged Congress and President Barack Obama to move the issue to the top of the legislation agenda.
Churches from Washington, D.C., to Frederick, Baltimore, Hyattsville, Oxon Hill and other areas of the conference joined the colorful, enthusiastic, noisy throng of marchers, many of them shouting “Si, se puede” in Spanish and “Yes, we can” in English. Parading with signs, banners, baby strollers and even marching bands, they filled nearly five blocks on the national mall near the U.S. Capitol.
“This country says to you, ‘Harvest our fields, build our homes, take care of our children, serve our tables, clean up after us and then be gone,’” Carcaño told listeners.
She and other speakers called for humane, viable policies and procedures that would allow about 11 million immigrants now in the U.S.
illegally to attain legal status and to work and live with their families, safe from intimidation, arrest and deportation.
Carcaño, who chairs two of the denomination’s immigration task forces, called current laws and enforcement “a shameful state of affairs for a country that prides itself on providing justice for all.”
Hundreds of United Methodists were seen gathered and scattered among the crowd with identifying shirts and signs. They came via trains, cars and buses, some from across our region, others from across the nation, many riding all night to be a part of history.
“We have voices and power, and we are here to say we want this to be a fair and just system that treats people with dignity and respect,” said David Hosey, who attends Dumbarton UMC in Washington. He is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries.
Part of the church’s active young adult group, he and others visited both sides of the border in Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico, last October. They met with Mexican migrant workers and high school students through the BorderLinks program. “We saw the economic disparities and pressures they suffer,” he said. “They’re looking for opportunities, jobs and hope for their families.”
Jennifer Mihok, a member of Woodside UMC in Silver Spring and a mission intern at the Methodist Federation for Social Action, coordinated the trip. “I’m here because I don’t need to be in the shadows when so many others have to be,” she said.
“This was an amazing experience and a strong statement for our country to address the need for comprehensive immigration reform” said the Rev. Edgardo Rivera, who coordinates Hispanic/Latino Ministries for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. “Offering a path to citizenship for undocumented people and protecting them from harm and exploitation is an issue of justice and hospitality. I’m pleased to see our church represented here.”
Valerie Hames, of First UMC Hyattsville, worked with others across the conference since December to promote the march and organize buses to bring in church members. “But when I finally saw all the people gathered there at the march, I was overwhelmed,” she said. “The energy there was great, and hearing victims of enforcement and broken families speak their pain — especially one little boy — really resonated with a lot of people and opened their eyes and hearts to this problem.”
Hames, who came here from Sierra Leone 20 years ago, endured her struggles with the inefficient, expensive immigration legal system before finally receiving her green card just this year.
She is a volunteer in the Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) immigration legal assistance ministry at First Church Hyattsville, and she chairs the conference’s oversight committee for the program which operates in three locations.
“I brought JFON volunteers to the march for them to see how important this ministry is to people’s lives,” she said. “And I felt stronger about my own involvement in JFON when I left there.”