Women March for Immigrant Rights

May 06, 2010

By Linda Bloom*
May 3, 2010 | ST. LOUIS (UMNS)  

Guided by a century-old history of assisting immigrants, members of United Methodist Women joined others across the nation May 1 in making a public witness on the immigration debate.
 
Their rally and march – which drew about 2,000 people, including residents of St. Louis – occurred during the April 29-May 2 United Methodist Women's Assembly.
 
For many of the participants, including Claudia Knight, a member of Pahraump Valley United Methodist Church in Nevada, the march was a way "to show we care about immigrant rights."
 
Those rights, they believe, include freedom from racial profiling, an end to detentions and deportations, and a just reform of immigration laws.
 
As the women spilled out of the St. Louis convention center and onto the street, a sprinkling of identical printed signs made the march's purpose clear to any passersby: "Because we believe … we act for immigrant rights."
 
C.J. Shell, a member of First United Methodist Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, carried one of the purple signs as the marchers began walking down Sixth Street toward Kiener Plaza.
 
Close to 200 women had come from the Oklahoma Conference to the assembly, and Shell estimated that at least half were participating in the march. She was moved to do so by "the feeling that I had to do something. I'm frustrated by what's going on in Arizona."
 
Imhyoung Staudinger – a social worker and member of Monmouth (New Jersey) Grace United Methodist Church, who saw the march as a way to help people – said she has a positive view of immigrants. "They work just as hard as any American, maybe harder," she said.
 
Rally at the plaza
 
With the famous St. Louis arch in the background, marchers spread across steps and sat on the grass at Kiener Plaza, singing songs of justice.
 
Francisco Liman of St. Louis, who had received an e-mail alerting him of the rally, carried a homemade sign that read "Racial Profiling, Is This Why We Fought."
 
A Vietnam veteran who was born in Mexico, Liman said he wanted to participate as a way of enlightening others about the issue. "It's an ill wind that's crossing the United States," he declared. "I think it's time to stand up and do something about it now."
 
Speakers at the rally included local organizers, immigrants, and members of the interfaith community.
 
Monsignor Jack Schuler, Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, got straight to the point in his opening prayer to God. "We're all created in your image and the image is in danger of being trashed," he said. "We must get this right, for the sake of human rights."
 
Of particular concern is the new Arizona law requiring police officers to question people they suspect might be in the country illegally. A slightly altered version of the law was signed April 30, which says such questioning can occur only when the officer is enforcing another law or ordinance.
 
Arizona law
 
United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who is based in Arizona, said the new law was not good for Arizona or the country as a whole.
 
"Arizona is ground zero for our broken federal immigration policies and laws," she explained. "We need comprehensive immigration reform in this country and this is what the polls in Arizona really were saying."
 
UMW President Inelda González, the organization's first Hispanic president, lives in a part of Texas that borders Mexico. She said she knows how militarization of the border "divides families and peoples that have had roots at the border for many, many years."
 
With detentions and deportations, the broken immigration system is breaking up families as well, she said.
 
An end result of the rally was the collection of signed postcards to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asking the Obama administration to end abuses in detention centers, restore due process, stop arbitrary family separation, ban the practice of using local police to enforce immigration law, and work with Congress on just immigration reform.
 
González and Harriett Olson, top staff executive of the Women's Division at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, plan to deliver the postcards personally to Napolitano's office.
 
A petition was circulated for local participants calling for ordinances to outlaw racial profiling.
 
"Secretary Napolitano, we have high expectations of you," Carcaño said. "We will be praying for you."
 
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.