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United Methodist bishops asked to advocate for immigrants

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A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Munib Habul (left) visits with United Methodist Ed Caflisch at Habul's home in Kingsport, Tenn., in 2002. Area churches sponsored the Habul family's move from Bosnia.
Jan. 6, 2005

NEW YORK (UMNS) - United Methodist bishops are being urged to help lead the denomination in understanding issues related to immigration reform.

A Jan. 3 letter addressed to each U.S. bishop notes that while it is generally recognized that the U.S. immigration system needs to be fixed, "the question is how it is to be fixed - and if this is to be in a manner consonant with the tenets of our church as well as with the security and economic needs of the nation and also its basic values."

The letter is signed by Bishop Joel Martinez, president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and Bishop Edward Paup, president of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Co-signers are the Rev. R. Randy Day and the Rev. Paul Dirdak, chief executives, respectively, of the board and UMCOR.

UMCOR and the Board of Global Ministries "support a comprehensive approach to reform - one that will enhance border security, implement an effective guest-worker program, provide a path to citizenship with reasonable requirements and reunify families."

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Bishop Edward W. Paup
Such an approach, according to the letter, is provided by the proposed Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 (H.R. 2330), which has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

But another bill, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4437), which passed the House in December, is of concern to the denomination's mission leaders.

"Section 202 of the bill, which broadens the definition of alien smuggling to include family members, employers and immigrant advocates, could jeopardize UMCOR's Justice for Our Neighbors Program, which in 20 sites provides church-based, attorney-supervised, free legal counseling for immigrants in an intentionally hospitable setting," the letter explains.

It is hoped that input from United Methodists and other churches will affect the outcome of the bill in the Senate early this year, the letter says.

In 1988, the United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a statement, "On Undocumented Migration: To Love the Sojourner: A Statement of Concern to the United Methodists in the United States of America," in response to the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act.

A similar resolution was adopted by the 1996 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, and amended and readopted in 2000 and 2004.

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Bishop Joel Martinez
In addition, the 2004 Book of Resolutions contains official church statements addressing the basic rights of immigrants and protection of human and civil rights of undocumented workers.

The Justice for Our Neighbors Program, started in 1999, was a response to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Modeled after a local immigration project in Virginia, it provides church-related legal clinics for immigrants.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline also requires the denomination's annual (regional) conferences to appoint a refugee coordinator to help churches assist refugees. That position, now called a refugee/immigration coordinator, serves as a link with UMCOR and the Justice for Our Neighbors Program.

The letter urges the bishops to ensure that appointments are made to the refugee/immigration coordinator position in their own conferences.

"We hope that our bishops individually and as a body will be as responsive to immigrants today as they were in the 1980s," the letter says. "It is unhappily the case that both refugees and immigrants continue to be in urgent need of both outreach in ministry from the church and of the church voice lifted up in advocacy."

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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