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Action Alert

Immigrant/Civil Rights Initiative

By Carol Barton

The United Methodist Women's immigrant and civil rights initiative has actively engaged members in study and action since 2006. The initiative draws on our biblical understandings of God's reign, where all God's children, created in God's image, are valued and welcome at the table, and where Jesus' commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves becomes reality. It is a vision of radical hospitality that is reflective of Wesley's engagement with the world in acts of compassion and justice. Through the initiative we seek to:

  • Reach out in service and advocacy to show hospitality to immigrants in our church and community
  • Advocate for just immigration reform at the national level while also monitoring municipal and state legislation that seeks to deny the rights of immigrants
  • Engage with local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as national policymakers to challenge current detention and deportation policies that separate families, endanger community safety and deny due process and human rights
  • Challenge anti-immigrant hate groups that poison the debate around immigration

Our work for immigrant rights is one way we live out the Charter for Racial Justice, which addresses institutional racism. There is considerable fear and concern in some communities about the changing demographics due to migration, even as U.S. society increasingly relies on immigrant workers to fill jobs in key areas such as agriculture, meatpacking, construction, child care and restaurants. Often, these are racial fears, as white communities experience the presence of new nationalities, cultures, languages and practices and fear the loss of the world they know. Latino, Native Americans, Asian and Pacific Islander citizens or residents are increasingly subject to racial profiling or to backlash against immigrants. The intense national immigration debate is not only about jobs or mechanisms for legal entry—it's about race.

United Methodist Women approaches its work on immigration in many ways: Bible study, seminars and house meetings create spaces for dialogue and listening. United Methodist Women connects with conference immigration teams. We actively support just immigration reform legislation in Washington, D.C., that would create pathways to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers and their families. We have challenged raids, detention and deportation by ICE and the growing role of local police in immigration enforcement, which undermines community safety and has led to racial profiling. On May 1, 2010, some 2,000 United Methodist Women and friends marched from the United Methodist Women Assembly to downtown St. Louis to speak up for immigrant and civil rights, call for an end to local police involvement in immigration enforcement, and affirm family unity. United Methodist Women members and friends signed more than 3,500 postcards that were presented to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in September. Some 700 United Methodist Women members participated in a prayer meeting for immigrant rights. And on the same day, 15 local units held vigils around the country in support of immigrant rights.

Since 2006, United Methodist Women members have studied the Bible, read books from the Reading Program, stood vigil outside detention centers, watched videos and attended seminars, signed petitions and postcards, shared information through Facebook and United Methodist Women online (www.umwonline.net), provided material support to families affected by detention, participated in Justice for Our Neighbor legal clinics, marched on Washington, D.C., held workshops and educational events, supported National Mission Institutions serving migrants, advocated for farmworkers, supported youth mobilized to pass the DREAM Act, worn purple buttons, and much more. From 2009-2011, two Kyung Za Yim interns for immigrant rights, Nikki Bell and Cindy Johnson, are helping to lead these efforts along with a Women's Division staff team.

The Church established a United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, led by representatives from the Council of Bishops and involving United Methodist general agencies and caucuses. United Methodist Women serves on that Task Force, which seeks to build a coordinated response in support of the rights of immigrants. A rapid response network created by the task force seeks to engage people in each state in ongoing advocacy for immigration reform. United Methodist Women also serves on a team within the General Board of Global Ministries to address migrant rights in the context of ministry with the poor, both in the United States and globally. The United Methodist Council of Bishops has also spoken publicly on the rights of migrants.

The Tanton Network, a recognized hate group made up of anti-immigrant organizations, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), is leading the fight against the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which affirms that all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction are U.S. citizens. This was written to give full rights to former slaves, and it is central to the civil rights of African-Americans, overturning the infamous Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, which held that African-Americans were not citizens. These forces claim that women migrate to the United States in order to "drop babies" who become U.S. citizens and gain an "anchor" in the United States. Such claims belie the painful choices women make when migrating due to violence and economic hardship as well as the heart-wrenching separation from their children when they are detained and deported.  Such challenges will not stem the flows of migrants who risk death to come to the United States out of economic necessity. It would mean, however, that everyone (not just immigrants) would be suspect and need to prove that they were born in the United States. This opens a door for racial profiling. The sentiments behind this effort are to deny the changing demographics in the United States, as whites are becoming the minority group. At issue is the very question of who we are as a nation and who has the right to claim citizenship. This question has been at the center of American history, as groups have struggled to claim full rights.


  • United Methodist Women's work for immigrant and civil rights is based on United Methodist policy as affirmed by General Conference in 2008. The Book of Resolutions, which guides our actions, includes "Welcoming the Migrant to the United States,: ¶3281, and "Global Migration: A Quest for Justice," ¶6028. These resolutions can be found on the Web, with group study questions, at:
    new.gbgm-umc.org/work/immigrationrefugees/newsresources/madeinla/. "Welcoming the Migrant" affirms, "To refuse to welcome migrants to this country and to stand by in silence while families are separated, individual freedoms are ignored, and the migrant community in the United States is demonized by members of Congress and the media, is complicity to sin." The resolution calls on United Methodists to welcome immigrants in their communities, speak out against hate and advocate for just immigration reform.
  • Arizona's new law is a watershed moment for its blatant disregard of America's most fundamental values of fairness and equality. Only a vigorous rejection of this dangerous, un-American law will prevent it from spreading to other states. Your representatives need to hear from you that you will not tolerate a dangerous anti-immigrant bill that opens the way for racial profiling law in your state.Write your state representative and governor now to express concern about your state adopting this kind of legislation.
  • Contact Elmira Nazombe at (212) 682-3633 or elmiranazombe@unitedmethodistwomen.org to organize a cross-cultural discussion on race and immigration.
  • Contact Carol Barton at (212) 682-2622 or cbarton@unitedmethodistwomen.org to explore a detention center visitation program in your area or to get involved in action that challenges local police involvement in immigration enforcement in your community.
  • Engage in conversation with your neighbors to share the biblical basis for our commitment to immigrant rights and respond to some of the misconceptions about immigration. (See the 2010 Program Book, "Immigrant Realities," p. 31, or Reading Program book They Take Our Jobs and 20 Other Myths About Immigration by Aviva Chomsky.

Carol Barton is Executive Secretary for Community Action, Women's Division

Last Updated: 10/25/2010

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