|Border consultation lays groundwork on immigration|
More than 150 people attend "Embracing My Neighbor," the
United Methodist Border Network Consultation in El Paso, Texas. A UMNS
photo by Humberto Casanova.
By Valerie K. Maravolo*
Feb. 20, 2008 | EL PASO, Texas. (UMNS)
left) The Rev. Edwin Santos, Dionisio Salazar, the Rev. Francisco Cañas
and the Rev. David Maldonado chat during a break. A UMNS photo by
Effective ministry and advocacy related to immigration must begin on
both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border as a partnership of The United
Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Mexico, according to church
leaders along the border.
Possibilities for such partnerships were explored during a Feb. 8-10
border consultation called "Abrazando a Mi Prójimo," or "Embracing My
Neighbor," sponsored by the Methodist Border Mission Network. The
event's goal was to help the church reach across the border and work
together as neighbors in common ministry, particularly as the church
works to respond to the impact of immigration.
Among the outcomes of the United Methodist Border Network
Consultation, the Methodist Church of Mexico resolved to establish
centers and church networks to provide assistance and resources to
migrants along both sides of the border. In addition, the church will
develop and distribute educational materials to inform the public about
dangers that lie ahead for migrants on their journey into the United
United Methodist participants said immigration-related resolutions
would be brought before the 2008 General Conference, the church's top
legislative body that meets this spring in Fort Worth, Texas. In
addition, a prayer vigil and news conference is planned for April 24 at
General Conference, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action plans
to erect a symbolic water station at the convention site.
"As a people of faith, we are called to understand and take action
based on the knowledge we have and the faith we embrace," said Billie
Fidlin, outreach director for the United Methodist Desert Southwest
Conference. "People are willing to risk their lives to come here. Are we
willing to risk our hearts to accept help and value others?"
The consultation drew more than 150 people representing three
conferences of the Methodist Church of Mexico, five United Methodist
conferences, plus United Methodist general agencies and seminarians. Two
years in planning, the event was organized by United Methodist border
bishops in partnership with Methodist bishops in Mexico.
"We have to make people see we are brothers and
sisters under our skin, and must minister to each other accordingly,"
says Chad Richardson. A UMNS photo by Valerie Maravolo.
"This consultation was an incredible experience of sharing,
bilaterally and in a meaningful way, the depth and complexity of the
enormous issues inherent in immigration between the U.S. and Mexico,"
said Bill Sanford, missionary for outreach ministries for the Desert
Southwest Conference. "Attendees could not help but realize more fully
the importance of resolving this life and death situation in a joint and
collaborative way, and that has to be our goal."
In her opening remarks, United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño of
Phoenix emphasized that the church is "called by God to be a faith
community of welcome."
Sharing her vision for the consultation and its outcomes, Carcaño
said "a bilateral ministry between Mexico and the United States is only a
natural way of being by leading with a servant spirit and
While cooperative work between U.S.-Mexican border conferences is not
new, it has taken on new urgency as the United States has slowed the
flow of undocumented people moving north from Mexico and Central America
into the United States. Those who do cross are often in dire need of
human necessities. More and more people are being stranded along the
southern border, and increasing numbers are being jailed or deported by
the United States with no resources to return to their places of origin.
"The challenges, issues and opportunities facing the church in the
border region have never been greater. Partnering between the Methodist
Church of Mexico and the United Methodist Church has never been more
urgent," said an October 2007 letter from organizing bishops on the
importance of the consultation.
Keynote speaker Chad Richardson, professor of sociology and director
of the Borderlife Project at the University of Texas-Pan American,
explained how two strong social issues relevant to
immigration––globalization and nationalism––contribute to the complexity
of the issue.
Billie Fidlin, of the Desert Southwest Annual
Conference, participates in a roundtable discussion. A UMNS photo by
"While globalization attempts to erase borders, nationalism attempts
to establish them," Richardson said. "Social earthquakes and volcanoes
happen where two or more social forces come together."
Richardson highlighted common misconceptions of the reasons that
immigrants migrate north. They include beliefs that the migrants are
seeking government-supported health care and assisted living, or that
the migrants are criminals intent on committing more crimes in the
United States. He noted the challenges in accurately recording data on
immigration and said "bad statistical tracking contributes to faulty
Richardson stressed that changing the pattern of thinking is only the
first step in the right direction. "We have to make people see we are
brothers and sisters under our skin, and must minister to each other
accordingly," he said.
Testimonials were shared at the consultation and served as a clear
call to action. Experiences of personal hardship were described by
migrants and the "good Samaritans" who have looked out for their safety.
"This event provides a foundation for work that is to be done on both
sides, but it really helped demonstrate that we have a lot to learn,
too," said the Rev. Jorge Rodriguez, pastor at Seguidores De Cristo
Mission in Las Vegas.
Fidlin said the plight of immigrants who migrate for economic reasons
is the most difficult. "To hear their journeys opens the door to
compassion," she said. "We must begin with the stories, followed by the
facts of immigration, and seek reform––on both sides of the border."
Call to action
Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights for the United
Methodist Board of Church and Society, called for mobilization to affect
public policy––advocating for comprehensive immigration reform at the
local, state and federal levels, as well as "within our churches."
"There is absolutely no political will in Washington D.C., to take
leadership on this and to get this done," said Mefford. "… The only way
we will get this done is through grassroots organization, through public
Bill Mefford calls for grassroots mobilization to affect public policy. A UMNS photo by Humberto Casanova.
Comprehensive immigration reform, he said, would create a pathway to
citizenship for all undocumented migrants; create a legal, orderly way
for migrants to work for short periods of time in the United States; and
eliminate the backlog of cases in which families are waiting to reunify
because of migration, detainment or deportation.
"We've got to organize," said Mefford, urging individuals and
churches to create networks and coalitions and identify allies to work
with. Even though anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States is
pervasive now, "it is not winning elections. We need to remind people of
*Maravolo is a communications editor with the Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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