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United Methodists Gather for Detention Center Vigil in New York City
United Methodists support immigrant rights with homemade signs in New York. Photo by Felipe Castillo.
By LEIGH ROGERS*
Saturday, Dec. 13, some 100 United Methodist Women members and United Methodists from across New York Conference held a vigil at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in lower Manhattan calling for an immediate end to raids, detentions and deportations of immigrants.
In the very cold, windy morning, participants met at the Varick Federal Detention Facility in New York City to call on the end of detentions, deportations and raids of immigrants. Women’s Division chief executive Harriett Olson and Bishop Jeremiah Park were among the speakers.
Participants gathered in front of the detention center with signs and banners to
Photo by Felipe Castillo.
The event was organized by United Methodist Women/ Women’s Division, New York Conference United Methodist Women, New York Conference Board of Church and Society, New York Conference Commission on Religion and Race, Hispanic Caucus of the New York Conference, Korean Caucus of the New York Conference, and Methodist Federation for Social Action. Endorsers included the New York Immigration Coalition and the Coney Island Project, a group advocating on behalf of South Asian immigrants.
“Jesus was a refugee,” some home-made signs read, in English, Spanish and Korean. “Ningún ser humano es ilegal” (No human is illegal), another said.
Ms. Olson spoke of the long-lasting commitment United Methodist Women has helping people new to the United States. “Immigrants have been a concern of United Methodist Women and our predecessor organizations for at least 100 years,” she said.
Ms. Olson shared the history of United Methodist Women’s social action for immigrant women. “Not far from this Detention Center in the West Village, at what is now called Alma Mathews House, the women of the church had a home for immigrant women that served women and girls coming to this country through the port of New York and Ellis Island.”
New York Conference Bishop Jeremiah Park, a Korean-born, first-generation
Jeremiah Park, Bishop of New York Conference. Photo by Felipe Castillo.
“Many have come to America seeking a better life for themselves and their families and the opportunity to make contributions to our country but have been met not with open arms but with open raids, arrests, the lack of legal counsels, prolonged detentions and deportations,” he said. “America: we are better than this.”
Mr. Park affirmed the United Methodist Church’s stance on Jesus’ love for the poor and marginalized, overturning oppressive structures. “Jesus’ presence on Earth initiated the Kingdom reality of a new social order based on love, grace, justice inclusion, mercy and egalitarianism, meant to replace the old order of nepotism, racism, classism, sexism and exclusion.”
The vigil recognized and lamented upon the recent murder of Patchogue, Long Island, New York resident Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant and victim of a hate crime, killed by young men hunting down immigrants in the town, followed by the murder of Jose Sucuzhanay, who died Dec. 12, five days after a brutal beating by men who shouted anti-gay and anti-Latino vulgarities.
The Rev. In Koo Chung, pastor of Patchogue United Methodist Church in Patchogue, Long Island, said, “My heart broke when I saw Lucero’s little daughter crying through her father’s funeral service. These horrible hates crime never should have happened.”
Mr. Chung also said that governmental attitudes and practices against immigrants spawn hate crimes like the murder of Mr. Lucero. “Increasing government raids, detentions, and deportations have helped to promote the idea that immigrants are criminals and should be dealt with harshly,” he said. “The community of Patchogue and the Patchogue United Methodist Church will continue to fight to bring justice to the vulnerable in our area, and greater understanding, acceptance and reconciliation between peoples of different races and nations.”
United Methodist Church policy supports immigrant rights, stating, “‘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 US is demonized … is complicity to sin.’” [Welcoming the Migrant to the United States, a new resolution adopted at the United Methodist General Conference 2008]
The Rev. Jeffry Wells, chairperson of the Board of Church and Society of New York
Photo by Felipe Castillo.
“Unfortunately, ‘welcoming the stranger’ has not been the policy of our government lately,” Mr. Wells said. He also called on the new Obama Administration to end raids, detentions and deportations, specifically “to make this one of its first actions.”
The vigil also included a speech by Monika Sharma and her children, all U.S. citizens, whose husband, Bikram Singh, is currently detained in the Varick Detention Facility. “We miss him. Please get him out of prison,” she said.
Carol Barton, Women’s Division executive, accompanied the family into the detention center to visit Mr. Singh after the vigil on Saturday, and spoke of the emotional and mental stress his detention puts on Ms. Sharma’s family. “The kids hadn't seen their dad in weeks,” Ms. Barton said. “He had been bussed to Alabama in shackles, almost deported, and then returned when the lawyer got an emergency stay.”
1. Vigil Invitation Statement (PDF, 16K)
3. Bishop Jeremiah Park's Speech (PDF, 83K)
6. Read Korea Daily's coverage of vigil (in Korean)
7. Read World Journal's coverage of vigil (in Chinese)
8. Read Epoch Time's coverage of vigil (in Chinese)
*Leigh Rogers is a public relations executive with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Global Ministries.