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United Methodists stand with arrested workers

Iowans gather in front of the federal building in Des Moines for a vigil in support of workers arrested in an immigration raid. A UMNS photo by Kristin Clark Nolan.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

May 20, 2008

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer

More than 300 "little lights" representing workers arrested in an immigration raid in northeast Iowa were lit and then extinguished during a "service of solidarity" held at First United Methodist Church in Sioux City.

The May 15 vigil was one of a series of faith events across Iowa that have drawn attention to the plight of immigrant workers and their families in the wake of the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history.

Iowa's United Methodist episcopal leader, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, responded by calling for an end to such raids and urging U.S. government leaders to pass a comprehensive immigration policy that recognizes the contributions of migrants to the U.S. economy and culture.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested the workers––most from Mexico and Guatemala––in a May 12 raid on Agriprocessors, the world's largest kosher meatpacking plant, in Postville, Iowa.

The Rev. Jim Perdue organized the May 15 vigil in Sioux City in which candles represented the arrested workers.

"The service was moving and meaningful," said Perdue, pastor of Mission Mateo 25, a Hispanic ministry of the United Methodist Northwest District.

"We now carry those souls in our hearts along the journey of faith."

Connected through Christ

Palmer's May 14 statement declares that all people––regardless of nationality or legal status––are connected through Jesus Christ.

"Release those who have been detained today," Palmer said, "and work with our elected officials to create a just and comprehensive immigration policy, one that will fully incorporate the undocumented among us into the life of this nation in ways that validate their humanity and affirm the many ways in which they contribute and enrich our culture here in Iowa, and our nation as a whole."

His statement was read during the Sioux City vigil attended by about 45 adults and 20 children.

"Release those who have been detained today, and work with our elected officials to create a just and comprehensive immigration policy." –Bishop Gregory V. Palmer

"I believe that people of faith and all persons of good will should join together to embody the new social order of God’s transforming love, power, and justice, which breaks the chains of fear, injustice, racism, xenophobia, and violence," said Palmer, the newly elected president of the denomination's Council of Bishops.

Perdue said the recent "frenzy of hatred" toward immigrants continues a tradition of poor U.S. relations with Mexico and Central America, dating to the early 20th century. He noted that the humanitarian response to thousands of people affected by earthquakes in China this month is a stark contrast to the anger and hatred being shown toward the 389 workers "whose lives and families have been shattered in Iowa."

"Hate is driving this, but it is not a question of law," he said. "It is about the United States becoming brown," Perdue said.

'Biblical mandate for hospitality'

United Methodists were among about 50 people who attended an earlier vigil on May 14 in front of the federal building in Des Moines.

"It was very powerful for me to have them present and supporting the Latino community," said the Rev. Barbara Dinnen, Las Americas Comunidad de Fe, Trinity United Methodist Church.

"When I read the blogs on the Internet related to the newspaper articles on the raid, I am torn apart by the racial tension and blind hate against the Latinos that is clearly revealed in the blogs. Racism and fear remain powerful sins. It is good to see those who support our new neighbors and understand the Biblical mandate for hospitality."

The vigil was planned by Iowa Allies for Immigration Reform, a coalition of churches and organizations that meets at Trinity United Methodist Church.

The Postville raid and a December 2006 raid in Marshalltown have created a sense of fear throughout the area, according to Dinnen. "The community is afraid and they are staying home as much as possible," she said.

Safe haven

Many Christian groups have joined together to help families affected by the raid. St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville has served as a safe haven for immigrants who fled, and St. Paul Lutheran Church has provided shelter as well, according to news reports.

A "service of solidarity" is held at First United Methodist Church in Sioux City.
A UMNS photo by Richard Nevada.

"The ICE raid in Postville is yet another example of the harsh environment of fear that immigrants––documented and undocumented––now face, especially since the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform last summer," said Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore. "Our immigration law is badly broken and desperately needs reform."

Catholic Archbishop Jerome Hanus, Iowa, said the Postville raid highlights the need for comprehensive immigration reform. "Families have been disrupted; parents and children are filled with fear. Many are uncertain whether their loved ones will be arrested, imprisoned indefinitely or deported," he said.

The United Methodist Church supports U.S. immigration reform and, at its recent General Conference meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, the church's top legislative body adopted several resolutions on "welcoming the migrant."

"It is somewhat ironic that these raids took place in the days immediately following the 2008 United Methodist Church’s policy-making General Conference, which adopted resolutions opposing all actions against immigrants that divide families and denigrate human beings," said Bishop Felton May, interim top executive for the church's Board of Global Ministries.

"I pray for widespread ecumenical response," May said. "I pray also that United Methodists will rally to the needs of those in detention and, especially, to the needs of children affected by the arrest and deportation of their parents. As a denomination, we want to make good on the claims of our resolutions to seek justice for migrants and to welcome strangers."

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn. Additional information for this report came from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and from Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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