Women’s Division Joins Immigrant-Rights Network
Press ReleaseDirectors of the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries voted to join the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights at their October annual meeting in Stamford, Conn.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Dana E. Jones, 212-870-3755
The division is a longtime partner of the network, which works with more than 100 local immigrant- and refugee-rights groups, and labor and faith-based bodies across the United States. The division will pay a $200 annual membership fee to the network from its racial-justice budget.
The action was part of the division's historic commitment to immigrant rights and civil rights.
"This is not a new concern for us," said Director Mary Baldridge. "Women have been supporting immigration since the opening of Ellis Island. We decided that today is the time to develop an immigrant- and refugee-rights movement like the Civil Rights Movement."
At their April 2006 board meeting, division directors voted to make immigrant and refugee rights a priority and called for integrating the emphasis into the division's existing work on racial and economic justice. Joining the network was in response to that direction.
At the October meeting, they also voted for the division to develop Bible studies and worship materials on immigration and refugee rights and to promote dialogue on the issue across barriers of race and economic status.
Isabel Lopez, an immigrant from Honduras and organizer with the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, helped kick off that dialogue in an address to the directors about the experience of women immigrants, an experience she knows well.
"Immigrant women in this country and worldwide are being exploited sexually and physically, putting in more than 16 hours of work a day for low wages," Ms. Lopez said.
"A lot of time, media doesn't cover what is going on with the families because of an unjust immigration system. Agents come into our homes in the middle of night and take people away - fathers and mothers who are supporting families. There is great human suffering. Families are being torn apart by a broken immigration system."
Ms. Lopez coordinates legal clinics for immigrants and other workers in Chelsea and New Bedford, Mass. She is a member of St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., one of the oldest Spanish-speaking United Methodist congregations in New England. Ms. Lopez said her work is an important part of her Christian discipleship.
"I am here doing what Jesus called me to do," she said. "When Jesus comes in his second arrival, he will not judge me by color. He will judge me by what I did. In the final judgment, Jesus said we would be judged by how we welcomed him when he was the stranger. Welcome the stranger and open our doors. Know that we are pilgrims in the world. We're are here for just a time."
Eric Ward of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Center for New Community in Chicago, Ill., talked to division directors about the impact of racism on the immigration debate. Mr. Ward asked the directors to close their eyes and form a visual image of the word immigration.
"I promise you when the majority of Americans envisions the word immigration, they're not seeing a bunch of Canadians coming down from the North," he said. "What they're seeing is a lot of brown people.
"We could go into a long discussion about the impact of immigration, but I want to make the argument today that we don't have an immigration problem. What we have is a lack of creative will. The real debate that is occurring is about who is American and what will America look like. This debate occurred before the Civil War when United Methodist predecessors expelled slaveholders from the church. It occurred in 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. It's a debate in a country that debates what it could be."
Mr. Ward said the current national immigration debate is being conducted in language "coded in bigotry and steeped in racism." While African Americans are not the stated targets of anti-immigrant legislation, that community will ultimately bear the brunt of it, he said.
Mr. Ward cited the impact of a new law enacted to stop undocumented people from voting by requiring voters to present state-issued photo identification at polling sites.
"5,000 people who were eligible to vote in one California county were turned away from the polls," he said. "Do you know how many of them were undocumented immigrants? None. They were Black and they were elderly."
Mr. Ward said anti-immigrant legislative efforts are also threatening the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which after the Civil War, ensured the citizenship of formerly enslaved Africans born in the United States. The efforts are also threatening Civil Rights Movement gains in fair housing, employment, and access to health care and services, he said. He called on United Methodist Women members to help their neighbors decode the current national debate on immigration.