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Group urges compassion for immigrants

Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, speaks at a Dec. 4 press conference held by the Iowa Interfaith Immigration Coalition.
UMNS photos by Arthur McClanahan.

A UMNS Report
By Arthur McClanahan*

Dec. 5, 2007 | DES MOINES, Iowa (UMNS)

United Methodists at the press
conference included the Rev. Brian Carter (left), Eloise Cranke (third from left), co-chairperson of the Iowa Conference’s board of church and society, and retired pastor Kathleen Clark (third from right).

Representatives of the Iowa Interfaith Immigration Coalition are urging presidential candidates of both parties to conduct the debate over immigration policy in a civil manner "that respects human dignity."

The coalition held a press conference Dec. 4, one month before the Iowa caucuses and just hours before the Democratic candidates engaged in a radio debate sponsored by National Public Radio and Iowa Public Radio.

Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, led a group of speakers who gathered to "change the negative, public attitudes and rhetoric which demonize and dehumanize our immigrant friends and neighbors." Terrell said this "destructive attitude has permeated our nation," making the discussion about immigration a more "complex and difficult debate."

In a four-week period, more than 3,600 signatures from across the state of Iowa were gathered on a "Creating a Welcoming State" petition, the group said at the press conference.

The petition states, "We pledge ourselves as people of faith and good will to stand with our immigrant neighbors who have come to the United States from throughout the world. Recognizing the moral imperative to welcome the stranger in our midst, we commit ourselves to support laws that affirm their dignity, preserve their families, and acknowledge the value of their presence among us."

More than 100 faith and civic leaders and groups attended the press conference. They included United Methodist Bishop Gregory Palmer, episcopal leader of the Iowa Area, the United Methodist Iowa Annual (regional) Conference Board of Church and Society, the Iowa chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, Justice For Our Neighbors, and United Methodist clergy and congregations.

A mean tone

Rich Pleva, conference minister of the Iowa conference of the United Church of Christ, said he grieves "the mean-spirited tone to our contemporary debate on immigration."

"Certainly the issues confronting us are difficult and complex," he added, "but at least it ought to be possible for people of faith and, in particular, people who value devotion to Christ, to engage in this conversation with grace and respect."

Maria Garcia has spent 20 years trying to legalize her immigration status.

Imam Ahmed Elkhaldy, Iowa president of the Muslim American Society in Cedar Rapids, expressed disappointment in the U.S. government’s immigration policy.

"Our country’s current immigration policy runs counter to the humanitarian aspirations the country once aspired to," he said. "It is a shame that our modern democratic government perpetuates a basically aristocratic system by protecting the children of the very rich against real competition from children of the poor."

Treated like animals

Maria Garcia, who has been working toward achieving her legal immigration status for nearly 20 years, spoke about raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. She spoke in particular about a raid on meatpacking plants in Marshalltown, Iowa, which was part of an operation by immigration agents in several cities resulting in the arrests of 1,200 people nationwide.

"During the raid in Marshalltown on Dec. 12, 2006," she said, "people were treated like animals. Women were treated in a way that women should not be treated. For example, when they needed to go to the bathroom, they went with their hands tied and didn’t have any privacy." She also described how her son, Moises, was confronted when he went to a local Wal-Mart on the evening of the raid. "He was asked by a lady why he was not taken in the raid."

Following the press conference, held at the First Christian Church near Drake University in Des Moines, teams visited the offices of both Democratic and Republican candidates, delivering copies of the petition.

Most of the Democratic contenders were engaged in a debate sponsored by National Public Radio. One group however, had an opportunity to visit with Sen. Barack Obama and members of his campaign staff. During that conversation, representatives of the Obama campaign pledged to stop using the term "illegal aliens" and to look back through their literature and remove the offensive language.

*McClanahan is director of communications for the Iowa Annual Conference.

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


Connie Ryan Terrell: "All people should be treated with dignity."

Connie Ryan Terrell: "Need to change the tone of the conversation."

Maria Garcia: "People were treated like animals"

Maria Garcia: "It took me 22 years to be a citizen."

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Iowa Annual Conference

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

National Public Radio: Iowa debate

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