Churchgoers stand with immigrant Dreamers

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A number of United Methodists are urging Congress to act on behalf of unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Their calls come as the Trump administration moved to end the program that shields these immigrants from deportation.

Specifically, United Methodists are calling on Congress to pass — and for President Trump to sign — legislation that allows “Dreamers” to remain in the U.S. and provides them with a pathway to citizenship.

“Democrats, Republicans and independents need to access their better selves and act swiftly,” said the Rev. John Feagins, senior pastor of La Trinidad United Methodist Church in San Antonio.

La Trinidad is the church home to several “Dreamers,” and the congregation hosted an ecumenical prayer vigil Sept. 4 to seek the welfare of immigrants. Many of those at the vigil broke down in tears — both immigrants and their friends.

The Rev. Orlando Gallardo was commissioned in the United Methodist Great Plains Conference as a provisional member last year. He serves as associate pastor at United Methodist Trinity Community Church in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Orlando Gallardo

The Rev. Orlando Gallardo was commissioned in the United Methodist Great Plains Conference as a provisional member last year. He serves as associate pastor at Trinity Community Church, a United Methodist congregation in Kansas City, Kansas. Photo courtesy of Orlando Gallardo

The Trump administration announced Sept. 5 that in March it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which has allowed about 800,000 young immigrant “Dreamers” to attain temporary legal status and enter the work force for the past five years. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a United Methodist — called the Obama-era policy “unconstitutional” and an “overreach of the executive branch.”

The plan to end the program comes after many of Trump’s evangelical advisers defended DACA and urged the president to extend compassion to Dreamers. The move also comes after 10 state attorneys general warned they would mount a legal challenge to DACA unless the administration began phase out the program by Sept. 5.  

To qualify for DACA, recipients had to be under 31 as of June 15, 2012. They also had to come to the U.S. before reaching their 16th birthday and needed to be a high school graduate or have obtained an equivalent certificate.

DACA recipients needed to pay $495 and undergo an extensive criminal background checks to ensure they had a clean record. To remain DACA recipients, they went through same process, including payments, every two years.

“For the opportunity to stay in the country they were brought to without any say on their part, DACA recipients have had to work hard — and they have brought great benefits to the U.S.,” wrote Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who leads the California-Nevada Conference, in a commentary for Time magazine.

Now, the Trump administration says it will no longer accept new applications for DACA, and those receiving protection under the program must renew their two-year legal status by Oct. 5.

That leaves many DACA recipients facing an anxious future. Among them is the Rev. Orlando Gallardo, an associate pastor at Trinity Community Church, a United Methodist congregation in Kansas City, Kansas. Gallardo was 15 when his mother decided it was worth the risk to send her youngest child across the border of Mexico to give him a chance at a better future.

“There is no reason not to let these people to stay in this country,” Gallardo said. “We’re here, we grew up in this country and we participate in our communities.”

Gallardo, a graduate of United Methodist Saint Paul School of Theology, said he decided to apply for DACA as soon as it became available in 2012 because he wanted to serve his community as a pastor. He was married last year to Kansas-born Emily Gallardo, and is in the process of trying to get a spousal visa. But that process takes at least a year and half, and it may not be concluded by the time DACA expires.

Feagins of La Trinidad noted that the DACA recipients pay taxes and have shown their allegiance to this country. Welcoming these immigrants is in the national interest, he said.

The New York Times reports that among the DACA recipients in Texas is Jesus Contreras, a paramedic who spent last week helping people during Harvey’s floods. Another was Alonso Guillen, who died while trying to rescue people from the storm.

What the Church Teaches 

United Methodist Board of Church and Society offers an overview of church teachings and other resources on global migration.

United Methodists long have advocated for immigrants. In May, the Connectional Table — a denominational leadership body — designated $100,000 to help United Methodists organize to help immigrants.

Church leaders also have designated Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent, as a special day of prayer and offering for migrants. The collection will occur during the season when Christians around the world remember that  Jesus and his family were at one time migrants on the run from political violence.

Across the country, United Methodists also help support and operate Justice for our Neighbors, which offers free legal assistance to immigrants.

Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of National Justice for Our Neighbors, said the network has filed more than 2,000 DACA applications.

The United Methodist Immigration Task Force has issued “A Call to Action,” encouraging U.S. United Methodists not just to call their Congress members but also to offer hospitality. The task force invites churchgoers to “engage in conversations with immigrants in your community” and “create a safe in your church” for immigrants to gather and share what they are experiencing. It is an anxious time. 

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, who leads the Baltimore-Washington Conference and serves on the immigration task force, spoke at a rally outside the White House to champion DACA recipients.

“We in The United Methodist Church and we in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition understand that this is not just an immigrant issue,” the bishop said. “It really is an issue that tears at the fabric of who we are and who we say we are as Americans.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Erik Alsgaard and Melissa Lauber of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, contributed to this report.  Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

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