|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)
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."
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
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
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."
Imam Ahmed Elkhaldy, Iowa president of the Muslim American Society in
Cedar Rapids, expressed disappointment in the U.S. government’s
Maria Garcia has spent 20 years trying to legalize her immigration status.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.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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