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Two churchwide ethnic caucuses call for immigration reform

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A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin

Thousands of protesters gather on the National Mall during a national day of protest April 10, on behalf of immigrants.
April 27, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

May 1 has been designated “a day without immigrants,” and two United Methodist associations representing Asian Americans and Hispanic/Latino concerns have joined in the call for comprehensive immigration reform.

The statements from the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists and Methodists Associated to Represent the Cause of Hispanic Americans come as Congress grapples with the reform issue.

“Asian-Americans are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants,” said the Rev. Mark Nakagawa, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. “Therefore, we identify with the social, economic and political struggles of contemporary immigrants.”

MARCHA will be joining the May 1 protest, which calls for the entire immigrant community in the United States to abstain from working, buying or even going into the streets.

“This is an effort to demonstrate what it would be like in the U.S. without the presence and contributions of immigrants from all ethnic backgrounds (legal and illegal),” said Mary Silva, executive director of MARCHA. “Many in our new Hispanic congregations are putting their jobs and futures on the line in deciding to join this initiative.”

MARCHA will close its office that day “in support and solidarity with our growing Hispanic community,” Silva said.

“We are a nation made up primarily of immigrants,” said Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, associate professor of Old Testament and director of the certificate of ministry studies program
at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. “Nonetheless, our nation’s history in its treatment of immigrants is less than stellar and leaves much to be desired.”

Faculty and students at the Pacific School of Religion will be joining a rally and march May 1 in San Francisco.

Ensuring rights

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A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin

Bishop Jeremiah Park (center) joins some 100 other United Methodists at a rally for immigrants at City Hall Park in New York.

“ Congress must ensure the rights and dignity of all immigrants and foreign visitors, and ensure the protection of the basic human rights of immigrants and refugees, such as the right to an education, adequate health care, and due process of law,” said the statement from MARCHA.

Both statements called current legislation on immigration “an affront to the biblical mandates to treat the alien and strangers among us with fairness, justice and love (Leviticus 19, Deuteronomy 24), and not exploit the most vulnerable of God’s people among us.”

“As an Asian American, I am reminded of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII,” Kuan said. “HR4437 passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that will criminalize illegal immigrants will have the greatest impact on communities of color, most particularly the Hispanic/Latino/Chicano communities.”

MARCHA’s statement urges Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and to grant permanent residence to college-bound students who have grown-up in the United States.

Reuniting families

Both statements also addressed the issue of reuniting families of immigrants.

“Congress must work to reform our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce the time families have to wait in order to be re-united with their loved ones,” said the MARCHA statement. “Congress must create legal avenues for migrant workers and their families to enter the U.S. and work in a safe, legal and orderly manner with their rights fully protected.”

“Asian-Americans have been exploited as sources of cheap labor throughout America’s history,” Nakagawa said. “Many great fortunes have been made off the backs of Chinese immigrant railroad workers, (and) Filipino and Japanese farm workers in the early part of the 20th century. Thus, we understand that the viewpoint of immigration issues from a legal/illegal context is just too simplistic a viewpoint.”

“This is not merely an issue about immigration and borders, but also about race, class and economic exploitation. It is a justice issue,” Kuan said.

“There are so many Asian Americans who would benefit from immigration reform,” said Inday Larot Day, executive director of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. “There are Asian Americans who did not take advantage of the amnesty offered years ago because they were afraid of being deported. Of the estimated 12 million undocumented persons in the U.S., I would say there are at least 3 million Asian Americans included in that count.”

“I would encourage everyone to prayerfully consider how they can best respond to the growing challenges that the immigrant population face,” Silva 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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