When President Barack Obama outlined his plan for immigration reform at a high school in Las Vegas Jan. 29, he made sure The United Methodist Church was represented in recognition of the "hard work" the denomination is doing for undocumented immigrants.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, episcopal leader for the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference and chair of the United Methodist Interagency Taskforce on Immigration, was invited by the president to be at the conference.
"I was highly encouraged that he made it clear immigration reform is a priority ... that he is going to see it happen and see it happen soon.
"We are on his radar and we need to stay on his radar," she said, after the speech at Del Sol High School, a majority Hispanic high school in Las Vegas. In addition to the bishop, two United Methodist pastors were also in the audience, the Rev. Dennis Hutson, pastor of Advent United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Camille Pentsil, pastor at Zion United Methodist Church, both in Las Vegas.
Carcaño has been the spokesperson for immigration reform for the Council of Bishops since 2006, and she praised the work of the council. The bishop, who speaks as a daughter of immigrants, is no stranger to media attention for her stand on immigration. She has faced foes from television host Lou Dobbs to well-known Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
During his speech, Obama said, "A lot of folks forget that most of 'us' used to be them," he said. "Unless you are Native American, you came here from someplace else."
Carcaño said it was apparent that he cares for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and millions of young people who came to the country as children and now are seeking a path to citizenship to complete college degrees or serve in military service. They are called DREAMers in reference to the DREAM Act or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
During his speech, Obama pointed out audience member Alan Aleman, a DREAMer who is pursuing his education but is undocumented. He said the young man was an excellent example of the type of young person who would benefit from passage of the DREAM Act.
"It was a marvelous moment; I felt a cultural shift," Carcaño said.
The church needs to step up and show extravagant hospitality to take extra care of those who will be coming out of the shadows. — Bishop Minerva Carcaño
However, some of the things in his plan concern her, she said, such as linking a pathway to citizenship with increased border security.
"What are the markers, when will the borders be secure enough? Why should 11 million people be doubly punished? How will they feed their families?"
The church needs to step up and show extravagant hospitality to take extra care of those who will be coming out of the shadows, she said.
Carcaño said Justice For Our Neighbors, free legal clinics offered by some United Methodist conferences, and Rapid Response teams, who come to the aid of a family when someone is suddenly deported, need the church's support now more than ever.
Support from faith leaders
National faith leaders from Catholic, Protestant — including United Methodist - and Jewish traditions affirmed the President's call for immigration reform.
In his speech, President Obama outlined the key principles he said are necessary for immigration reform:
- Continuing to strengthen border security
- Cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers
- Earned citizenship
- Streamlining legal immigration
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society praised the bipartisan framework for comprehensive immigration reform announced by eight U.S. senators Jan. 28.
Jim Winkler, chief executive of the Board of Church and Society, however, said the emphasis on increased border security is disappointing.
"We have spent billions on border security. We have deported more than a million people in the past several years, including 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children. What more needs to be done?" he asked.
The Rev. Saύl Montiel, a border missionary with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in the California-Pacific conference, rejoiced at the news of the bipartisan bill but agrees it does not need to be linked to border security.
"When I heard the press conference yesterday that eight senators, four Republicans and four Democrats, were taking the lead on an immigration bill, it was like an explosion of an atomic bomb," he said. "I was overwhelmed by sentiments of gratitude to a God who has been present in the immigration struggle since the very beginning. Yesterday, I joined in with the shout of joy of millions undocumented immigrants who heard the good news of a coming immigration reform."
Montiel warned the process will be slow and long.
"The church should respond with joy because it played a significant role since the very beginning of struggle. The involvement of United Methodists was instrumental to get to this point."
To learn more about The United Methodist Church and immigration, visit www.umc.org/immigration.
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Bachus is United Methodist Communications' Spanish resources director.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].