Washington, D.C. | March 23, 2011 – According to a news release from the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), GCORR is "gravely concerned" by remarks from a Kansas State House of Representatives member, who suggested during a State House Appropriations Committee hearing that using violence and air attacks could solve the state's immigration problems.
Virgil Peck, who serves as chairman of the House Committee on Public Safety in the Kansas Legislature, likened controlling illegal immigration to the state's plan to control its wild hog population – by shooting from helicopters. He was quoted in the Wichita Eagle as saying, "Looks like to me, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem." Peck initially called his statement a joke but later, after the urging of fellow lawmakers, including Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Peck agreed to apologize, calling his comments inappropriate.
Peck's remarks were shared by Bishop Elias Galvan at last week's GCORR spring board meeting, held at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bishop Galvan, acting executive director of the United Methodist Hispanic caucus, Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos (MARCHA), described Peck's comments as incendiary, adding that as a public leader, he was in effect sanctioning violence against the Hispanic/Latino(a) community and immigrants. In an interview with GCORR, Bishop Galvan said, "By saying those things it incites people who are a little more violent, radical people, to commit crimes against people of color ... because a respected leader, an elected leader of the community is saying these things."
GCORR Board members responded quickly, drawing up a letter urging Mr. Peck to resign as Public Safety Committee chair and step down from the House. "That a public official can make such a remark is appalling," said Bishop Linda Lee, president of GCORR. "His apology, while necessary, may not be enough to remedy his conduct. We have been in contact with United Methodists in the Kansas West Annual Conference, which is the Episcopal area represented by Representative Peck. This is an issue we want to support them on. We also recognize that as the agency in our denomination tasked with eliminating racism in the church and society and the world, and working for a more inclusive church, GCORR has a role to play here as well."
Bishop Galvan said he believes Mr. Peck's comments prove the term "illegal immigrant" has developed into a dangerous synonym for persons of color. Hear more of Bishop Galvan's comments about the "I-Word," its impact, and how United Methodists must respond: