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Immigration bill falls short, United Methodist leaders say

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A UMNS file photo by Rick Reinhard

Tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters rallied on the west side of the U. S. Capitol on March 7 in protest of impending immigration legislation.

May 26, 2006

By Kathy Gilbert*

The immigration bill passed May 25 by the U.S. Senate does improve border security, create a guest worker program and open the door to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, but it is still not just or adequate, according to some United Methodist leaders.

“The Senate bill doesn’t go far enough,” said Bill Mefford, executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. “It doesn’t create a pathway for all, and it doesn’t protect workers’ rights.” He also pointed out the bill doesn’t address family reunification.

“In keeping with positions of the United Methodist Church and the Board of Global Ministries, I call on Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration policy that respects the full human rights of all immigrants,” said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, in a May 25 statement. “This should include full labor protections, family reunification, preservation of due process and a path to genuine legalization.”

However, Bishop Minerva Carcaņo, who leads the denomination’s Phoenix Area, spoke favorably of the bill.

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A UMNS file photo by Jay Mallin

Members of First United Methodist Church, Hyattsville, Md., join demonstrators on the National Mall in Washington during a day of protest April 10.

“I pray that the House of Representatives will be able to see the value of the Senate bill and join the Senate in crafting an immigration policy and system that move us ahead rather than allowing us to continue with our present broken policy and system,” she said. “The latter would only perpetuate the frustration of some of us but even worse, further foster the oppression of some of the most vulnerable persons among us.”

The Board of Church and Society and the Board of Global Ministries passed resolutions at their spring meetings in April calling for comprehensive immigration reform. The Board of Church and Society’s resolution includes earned pathways to citizenship for all immigrants, protection of the rights of workers through safe, orderly and legal avenues to enter the United States, reuniting families separated by migration, and effective and humanitarian border protection.

Last December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill by U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., that would criminalize all immigrants in the country illegally and contains no provision for a new guest worker program. It also carried the threat that anyone aiding illegal immigrants could be fined and jailed.

The House bill is considered by many, including religious leaders, to be “inhumane and punitive toward millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country,” Day said.

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A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin

Bishop Jeremiah Park (center) joins 100 other United Methodists from New York at an April 10 immigration rights rally.

The Senate bill does create a guest worker program, limited to 200,000 temporary visas per year, and establishes a three-tiered path to citizenship program.

But the Senate bill doesn’t address the problems that make people come into the country illegally in the first place, Mefford said.

Rallying in protest

United Methodists have joined with thousands who have rallied against the House’s version of the immigration reform bill.

In a rally April 10, Carcaņo was one of several speakers to address the crowd in the nation’s capital. On the same day in New York, United Methodist Bishop Jeremiah Park led clergy and laity in a prayer vigil at historic John Street United Methodist Church in lower Manhattan before attending a rally with tens of thousands of immigrant supporters at City Hall Park.

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A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin

United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaņo addresses thousands of protesters gathered on the National Mall in Washington during a day of protest April 10.

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

In a May 26 note to United Methodist News Service, Carcaņo said the Senate bill “provides our country with a reasonable and compassionate opportunity to begin to overhaul a broken immigration policy and system.” She cited the guest worker component, the pathway to citizenship and the border security measures contained in the bill.

Day said some proposed amendments to the Senate bill were positive, while others reflected “a fear and dislike of strangers. The White House has also fanned xenophobic flames by making plans to dispatch the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexican border, a gesture more symbolic than practical.”

He appealed to Congress “to approach the matter of immigrant and refugee policy in a calm and unhurried manner that will maintain respect to human dignity and justice under law.”

“At the same time, citizens should inform themselves on the plight of immigrants, including the undocumented, their human motives, and present and potential contributions to the United States,” he added.

*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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