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Clergy rally in protest of immigration reform bill

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A UMNS Web-only photo by Magdalena Balderas

United Methodists Sondra Wheeler (left), Kelly Ray-West (center) and Ruth Balderas, all of the Washington area, join the March 27 protest.
March 28, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

United Methodist church leaders stood with clergy from other denominations March 27 in Washington to protest the strict immigration bill passed by the House that, among other things, would make it a crime to provide assistance to undocumented immigrants.

The bill has really “awakened the faith community,” said Bill Mefford, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

“We have this rhetoric about national security that is almost willing to sacrifice a major, prominent theme in Scripture of welcoming the stranger, showing hospitality to the poor and loving those people on the margins of society,” he said. “We would be sacrificing that for supposedly securing our borders, which these bills will not do anyway.”

Recent rallies in support of immigrants have attracted large crowds. More than half a million demonstrators marched in Los Angeles on March 25, according to the New York Times, and a March 10 rally in Chicago drew an estimated 300,000 people. Tens of thousands also have gathered in Denver, Phoenix, Milwaukee and other cities.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Magdalena Balderas

The Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castañon with the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, speaks at the immigration rally.
The March 27 rally of religious and community leaders drew 4,000 to Washington — including 100 clergy. The Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castañon, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, estimated about 50 of the clergy were United Methodist.

A number of clergy waited outside the room where the Senate Judiciary Committee was meeting to discuss the immigration reform bill. “We were there to let them know clergy oppose the legislation,” he said.

The Senate committee approved an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would allow churches, charitable groups and individuals to assist undocumented immigrants without fear of prosecution. The bill also would create a guest worker program and give illegal immigrants the chance to work toward legal status without first returning home.

Debate over the bill in the full Senate was to start March 28. Any legislation that is passed must be reconciled with the House bill.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Magdalena Balderas

The Revs. Miguel Angel Balderas (center) and René Knight-Peguero are among the United Methodist clergy attending the protest.
The Rev. Miguel Balderas, associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) United Methodist Church, said the rally was “a wonderful effort by God’s people to do God’s will.”

“This is not just an issue for Latinos; this is an issue for all the people of God to do justice.”

The rally also was an opportunity to announce a larger event scheduled for April 10, according to Valentin-Castañon. “We are calling for folks to come to Washington but also to gather in other cities across the United States,” he said.

“I think when people, especially politicians, see the kind of energy and emphasis on this issue, they will hear there is a significant amount of people that really see this as unjust,” Mefford said.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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