UM Voices Are Loud on Immigration Reform Issues

December 09, 2010

Timing of immigration training event in San Francisco is opportune

The General Board of Church and Society is asking all United Methodists to call both of their U.S. senators and tell them that as their constituent, you're relying on them to bring the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as the DREAM Act, into law. The DREAM Act was passed by the House of Representatives last night; a vote in the Senate is being delayed in an effort to muster stronger support for the measure.
Bill Mefford, GBCS Director for Civil and Human Rights, says, "Please do everything you can to have the pro-DREAM calls overpower the anti ones; [the opposition] will also be in full force on this." (The Senate number is 202.224.3121. Be sure to be transferred to both your Senators, Mefford says.)
If enacted, the DREAM Act would create a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrant students. Students would be eligible for the pathway to legal status if they:
  • entered the United States before age 16;
  • lived in the U.S. for at least five continuous years immediately before the bill becomes effective;
  • graduated from high school or gained admission into an institute of higher education;
  • have "good moral character" and have not committed certain crimes; and
  • are younger than 35 when the bill becomes effective.
The DREAM Act would make a huge difference in the lives of undocumented youth who were brought to the United States by their parents and who now, because of their lack of legal status, face obstacles to their future. By removing such barriers, the DREAM Act will allow immigrant students to pursue their dreams through college education or, if they choose, through military service.
UM Pastor is arrested, fasts
United Methodists already are making themselves heard when it comes to the DREAM Act and other immigration reform issues.
A UM pastor in Texas who staged a sit-in in support of the DREAM Act voluntarily stayed in jail for nine days, following her arrest – and engaged in a 13-day hunger strike which other UMs are continuing, as a yearlong fast, on her behalf.
The Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith, pastor of Westlawn United Methodist Church, joined a group of students from the University of Texas at San Antonio as they staged a sit-in at the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R.-Texas. Their goal was to get the senator to talk to them about why she decided not to support the legislation that would allow illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to apply for conditional legal status after attending college or serving in the military for two years.
Hutchinson had previously been in favor of the bill, but in a statement her office released Nov. 30, said she supported giving temporary student visas to those seeking relief under the bill.
The students know the visas will not help them when they graduate and start looking for jobs, said the Rev. John Feagins, United Methodist campus minister at the University of Texas, San Antonio.
Before the sit-in at the senator's office, the group of about 15 students fasted for several days and marched 16 miles to the downtown campus to stage a demonstration in a main plaza.
"I am not on a hunger strike, but rather a spiritual fast," Smith said from the Bexar County Adult Detention Center Dec. 2. "I will break this fast when other clergy and laity join the fast by committing to relieve me of one or more days, to have fasting and prayer for the DREAM Act students going on all year."
Smith refused bail after the others arrested in the protest were released, choosing to remain in jail to await a vote on the legislation. When she was released on Tuesday as the DREAM Act neared a vote in the House, Smith was in the 13th day of her fast and in the last 24 hours of her jail stay had refused even water and juice, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Drop the I-Word
On Monday of this week the General Board of Religion and Race announced it has joined a national campaign, "Drop the I-Word," which seeks to eliminate use of the word "illegal" in conversations about immigration reform.
"GCORR is proud to endorse the 'Drop the I-Word' campaign because it is a tangible way to engage The United Methodist Church in moving from racism to relationships," said GCORR General Secretary Erin M. Hawkins.
The public education campaign was launched by the Applied Research Center, a racial justice think tank, and is designed to help communities understand and respond to the damaging and racist impact the term "illegal" has on the immigrant community. It urges media outlets and other organizations across the country to stop using the term "illegal" and its derivatives.
"We as United Methodists cannot tolerate any attempts to dehumanize or devalue immigrants or any racial ethnic community," Hawkins said.
GCORR is looking for 10,000 United Methodists to take the pledge by Dec. 6, 2011.
Immigration Training event is well-timed
United Methodist voices are loud on immigration reform issues. And with a petition drive underway that would place an "Arizona-style immigration law" before California voters, it would not be surprising to find the volume ratcheting up in 2011.
Thus the timing of a Western Jurisdiction immigration training event, "A Call to Radical Hospitality," being hosted by the California-Nevada Annual Conference in January, could hardly be more opportune. The training event will take place Saturday, January 22 at the San Francisco Airport Hyatt Regency Hotel, and is designed to "equip, inspire, and mobilize leaders for just and compassionate immigration reform."
All lay and clergy who are "committed to creating safe places for our immigrant brothers and sisters" are urged to attend. The cost is just $63 (includes lunch).
Attendees will participate in a variety of workshops and plenary sessions and will interact with key resource people in the UMC, to increase their knowledge, awareness, commitment, and understanding of the current issues facing the immigrant community.
While the immigration issue is one of great complexity, support for the immigrant is at the heart of the Church's Social Principles:
We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize  the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.
In these days of Advent, you are urged to give a gift to yourself in commemoration of the immigrant birth of the Christ Child, by taking a moment to register on line to attend "A Call to Radical Hospitality" on January 22.
Download flyer for more information and schedule.

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