United Methodist Women Joins 200,000 on National Mall for Just Immigration Policies
United Methodist Women members from more than 14 conferences joined other United Methodists and some 200,000 immigrants and allies calling for just reform of immigration policies in an historic “March for America” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., March 21.
“This is a big boost for moving from a culture of fear and hate directed at immigrants to a culture of ‘one family, one humanity,’” said Sung-ok Lee, national head of United Methodist Women’s Christian Social Action work. “We are encouraged by the presence of so many United Methodist Women from across the country. We are affirming our support for immigrant rights, family unity and just immigration reform.”
Today’s immigrants, who grow the nation’s food and take care of its people, “have become nothing more than a means to an end,” Bishop Carcaño said in her address to the diverse crowd. She spoke of her migrant father, who worked with his family in the fields, and lamented the work-then-get-out message current U.S. policies send to immigrants. “This is a shameful state of affairs for our country -- a country that prides itself in ‘justice for all,’” she said, urging President Obama and members of Congress to reform immigration laws immediately.
President Barack Obama spoke to the rally via satellite, reiterating pledges to advance an agenda for comprehensive immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has introduced immigration legislation in the House, was joined on stage by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as he urged marchers to push for reform now.
Bishop Carcaño chairs the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, which organized the denomination’s contingent at the rally. Busloads of United Methodists came from North Texas, Rio Grande, Southwest Texas, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois Great Rivers, Northern Illinois, North Carolina, New York, Eastern Pennsylvania, California-Pacific, California-Nevada, Iowa and other conferences. The Baltimore-Maryland, Virginia and New York conferences were well represented; and Justice for Our Neighbors, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, MARCHA, and Global Ministries mission interns were part of the group also.
United Methodist Women members came to the march from Cal-Pac, Rocky Mountain, Desert Southwest, Oregon-Idaho, North Texas, Southwest Texas, Rio Grande, Eastern Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, New York, Eastern Pennsylvania, Baltimore-Maryland and Western New York conferences.
Women’s Division Director Myung Rae Kim of New York Conference drove to Washington, D.C., with a carload of Korean United Methodist Women members. “As a Korean-American first-generation immigrant, I feel a duty to be here standing for human rights,” Ms. Kim said. “This will open the door for a brighter future for those who want to be part of the United States and contribute to this nation. Jesus Christ was an immigrant. The Bible is a story of migrant peoples. Most of us have migration stories in our own history. This is about human rights.”
Four members of Desert Southwest Conference United Methodist Women’s new immigration team came to the march. With a representative from each district, the team will engage United Methodist Women in education, service and action for immigrant rights in the conference. The women also attended “A Place to Call Home” Ecumenical Advocacy Days in D.C., March 19-22, which focused on the biblical call to affirm immigrants’ rights as a justice issue. United Methodist Women and General Board of Church and Society were among the event’s sponsors. The women visited their congressional representatives’ Capitol Hill offices and urged them to support just immigration reform.
“It is an awesome privilege to share in this momentous time with so many committed people,” said Chris Spencer, a leader of the Desert Southwest Conference United Methodist Women immigration team. “When I go home, I will be working hard to make sure we have immigration reform.” Lori Murphy, another member of the Arizona team, was impressed by the courage of the thousands who came to the rally. “This is democracy in action -- we are making our voices heard!” she said. “Many here do not have documents and have come at great risk. It takes a lot of courage. I’m in awe of the many cultures represented here.” Team member Marjie Hrabe added, “My favorite Bible story is the persistent widow because the only weapon she has is her voice. Too often, immigrants do not have a voice in our country, and we in United Methodist Women have to be persistent in giving them voice.”
Donna Veatch, a United Methodist Women member who serves on the Wisconsin Conference Immigration Task Force and the National Hispanic Plan committee, said, “Our nation’s laws and the enforcement of those laws need to better match the ideals of our country and the values of our faith. We need an effective way to bring people out of the shadows that will both help our economy and keep families together.”
Brenda Moland, social action mission coordinator for Rocky Mountain Conference United Methodist Women, traveled from Utah to be part of the march and was already planning how to strengthen ecumenical efforts for immigration reform in Salt Lake City. She had spoken with the Catholic Archbishop about collaboration. When asked why she came, Ann Michel of Baltimore-Washington Conference said, “because United Methodist Women reached out and encouraged me to be here! If the church cannot stand up for people who have no rights, who else will?”
Monalisa Tuitahi, a Tongan-American United Methodist Women leader, a representative of Pacific Islander United Methodist Caucus and an immigration lawyer, traveled from California with her husband. Looking out over a sea of immigrant faces, she observed, “Those here today are the bedrock of America. For them, this is not just a matter of policy but a matter of survival. They endure immense hardships. So I have to be here to do my part, to add my voice to their stories.”
United Methodist Women members will build on this action by co-hosting a march and vigil for immigrant rights on May 1 during their quadrennial Assembly in St. Louis, Mo. Bishop Carcaño will again give leadership as United Methodist Women members and hundreds from the St. Louis community stand vigil for just immigration policies. Simultaneously, United Methodist Women members not at Assembly will conduct an array of public witness events to affirm their commitment to immigrant rights.
Carol Barton is United Methodist Women’s national staff for community organizing.