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Hispanic church leaders voice support for immigrants

Sept. 21, 2006

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A UMNS photo by Cintia Furtado Listenbee

"We're challenged to take care of the foreign among us," Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen says.

By Cintia Furtado Listenbee*

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) -- Leaders of the United Methodist Church's Hispanic caucus are seeking ways to care for immigrants, as political debate over U.S. border policy continues to heat up.

Members of Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans (MARCHA) devoted their Sept. 14-17 meeting to immigration issues.

MARCHA has always had a stand on the immigration issue, said President Ana Haydee Urda. During the meeting, members adopting resolutions voicing solidarity with immigrants in the United States and with those working for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress.

A three-member panel analyzed reasons why immigrants come to the United States, what happens to them while they are here and what the church can do help.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Cintia Furtado Listenbee

Speaking at the MARCHA meeting, Mayuris Pimentel shares her experience working with immigrants.
"We're challenged to take care of the foreign among us," said Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen, top staff executive of the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Through the immigrants, the Lord of life is saying, 'Here I am without papers, far away from my country and alone.' Jesus' first experience was when he went to Egypt as an immigrant for political reasons. Since then, the protection of immigrants is a challenge and commandment of the gospel. To help the immigrants is a form of our faith and mission as a church," the bishop said.

Coming to a new country changes the identity of the immigrant, Etchegoyen said. "It's like the identity has been through an earthquake. In little time, the person is found in the midst of drastic changes in a new country, with a new language, new people, new friendships, new requirements, new jobs or the lack of, new values and bad values -- they may have to lie for example.

"The eruption of the new and the lack of the old habits can produce anxiety, emptiness and loneliness," he said.

Desperate people

Mayuris Pimentel, an attorney and a student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, talked about her experience working with immigrants through her Asbury United Methodist Church in Camden, N.J., and also working for immigrants in New Jersey.

"The immigration process starts when a family decides they are coming to the U.S. They don't have enough money for food, and they can't educate their children," she said.

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A UMNS photo by Cintia Furtado Listenbee

The Rev. Eliezer Valentín-Castañón addresses the MARCHA gathering.
"The church needs to talk and eat with these people and see what it can do to help," said Pimentel. "Some immigrants are so desperate that saying, 'Jesus loves you, things will get better' is not enough. It's not enough for the church to have open doors for people to come in. It's important to go out and seek the people who don't want to be invisible."

The Rev. Eliezer Valentín-Castañón, a staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, said the constant use of the words "illegal aliens" serves to undermine the confidence of immigrants.

"They use these words to demoralize the Latin population in this country. The perception is that they are not even human and on top of that, they are not of this world. Combining the two things constantly brings the thought that we're murderers and undesirable," he said.

The sin of inertia

Reflecting on the panel presentations, the Rev. Eduardo de La Cruz of Janesville, Wis., said the church needs to be more active on immigration issues. "It's too bad that our organizations are in a state of inertia; they are not doing anything in favor of the millions of the undocumented immigrants. I believe (inertia) is a social sin," he said.
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A UMNS photo by Amanda Bachus

From left, Bishop Juan Vera, Bishop Elias Galvan, the Rev. Cristian de la Rosa and Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen celebrate Holy Communion.

Isamary Velazquez of the United Methodist Church's Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference said the panel was good and the church should be involved with the issue. "It is very important because immigrants are the majority of people we work with and they get paid so low. Immigration issues are very important, and I hope the church will be the pioneer," she said.

Some United Methodist churches provide legal advice through legal clinics, such as the Eirene Immigration Center in Camden, N.J. Such clinics offer not only legal advice but sometimes training and other support for immigrants.

Pimentel urged churches to "give messages of hope, work in advocacy, send letters to Congress, and take care of immediate needs such as clothes and food. Ensure there is change in the way the immigrant community is perceived. We, the church, are the conscience of the nation; we need to be in the forefront of this."

*Listenbee is a communications specialist with the United Methodist Church's Southeastern Jurisdiction.

News media contact: Amanda Bachus or Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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