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Mission Leaders Ask Bishops To Push for Justice In US Immigration Reform

NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 2006-Top mission leaders of The United Methodist Church are appealing to the bishops of the denomination in the United States to get involved in advocating just and fair immigration reform legislation affecting 11 million undocumented persons in the US.

The letter, dated Jan. 3, was stimulated by the House of Representatives' passage of the Sensenbrenner-King immigration bill last month. A key point of this bill, anticipated to reach the Senate floor in mid-January, is to turn "any relative, employer, co-worker, co-congregant, or friend of an undocumented immigrant" into a criminal. The bill (HR 4437) is known formally as "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act." If enacted, the letter states, the bill will "have a devastating effect on immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers."

Bishop Joel N. Martinez of San Antonio, president of the General Board of Global Ministries, and Bishop Edward Paup of the Alaska Missionary and Pacific Northwest, president of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), urged their colleague bishops to see that the voice of the Church is heard on Capital Hill.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the mission board, and the Rev. Paul Dirdak, who heads UMCOR, also signed the appeal to the bishops.

"UMCOR has general and specific reasons for alarm," said Rev. Dirdak. "Section 202 of the bill could jeopardize UMCOR's Justice for Our Neighbors program," he said. Under this provision, a church group that provides assistance to undocumented immigrants could be considered an "alien smuggler" and a criminal, he explained.

United Methodist bishops have a long history of supporting justice for immigrants and refugees. In 1987 they issued a statement urging United Methodists to follow the gospel imperative of "loving the sojourner" with genuine hospitality. The letter urges comprehensive immigration reform and further appeals to the bishops to ensure that a refugee and immigration coordinator is appointed in each annual conference, as stipulated since the 1980s by the church's Book of Discipline, or constitution.

Cash gifts help UMCOR continue to support work of volunteers in the 20 local churches where Justice for Our Neighbors offers free legal counseling to immigrants. Checks can be mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write UMCOR Advance #901285 in the memo line. One hundred percent of every donation to any appeal goes to support the ministry a donor designates.