Immigration officials detain United Methodist leader

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A member of the lay leadership at House of Prayer United Methodist Church in Dodge City, Kansas, was arrested by officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On Feb. 14, the church — which is Casa de Oacion in Spanish – received word that Humberto Barralaga was moved from the Chase County jail to the Butler County jail for detention and that he would be speaking with attorneys.

Barralaga is undocumented, but he does not have a deportation order, said the Rev. Raciel Quintana, associate pastor of House of Prayer United Methodist Church. Barralaga is leader of the church’s evangelism commission and a Sunday School teacher.

“The family is receiving advice from a lawyer, who was able to find out that Humberto does not have a deportation order, so they are seeking bail so he can be released, but everything will depend on the judge,” Quintana explained.

Barralaga’s son is a U.S. citizen, and his wife is a resident. They had plans to apply for legal immigration status under the family reunification policy, which allows undocumented people to receive legal immigration status if they have immediate relatives who are citizens.

Like thousands of other families throughout the country, Barralaga now faces separation from his family, Quintana said.

"As the family’s pastor, we have been accompanying them together with the congregation, who have been visiting them, creating prayer chains and fasting,” Quintana said. “And arrangements are being made through the United Methodist Center of Mexican-American Ministries in our area so the family can receive migrant counseling during this situation.”

Quintana said the congregation has been deeply affected by this situation.

“But we have faith and we are putting the situation in the hands of God,” he said.

Several United Methodist leaders have joined other faith communities in saying a series of executive orders concerning immigrants are in direct opposition to sacred texts to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, states that the denomination opposes “immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”

Corey Godbey, coordinator of Hispanic Ministries for the Great Plains Conference, said the conference stands in solidarity with the Barralaga family as they deal with such a sudden upheaval in their family.

“We certainly ask for prayers for this family and for others who are facing similar situations across the country,” Godbey said. “This a jarring situation for all involved – not just this one family but the congregation and others who know people like Humberto who have been separated from their loved ones.”

Raids by federal immigration officials were conducted in at least 11 states, and more than 600 people were arrested last week, according to news reports.

"Churches are affected because these situations break the unity of families, bonds of faith and the unity of the church itself,” Quintana said. “Our brother is a fundamental leader of our evangelism project, and now this could be seriously affected.

"We in the church are preparing detailed information of families that may be at risk of deportation so we can give legal protection to the children, in case the parents are detained and deported," he said.

More than 60 United Methodist churches have declared they will be sanctuaries to protect immigrants and help families.

Quintana has now experienced this reality first hand.

"I am Cuban and in my pastoral experience in this country, I have seen the injustices that are committed against Latino communities from other countries that do not have the same status that we Cuban immigrants have.

“As a Christian I think we should all have the same treatment and opportunities that this land offers, for those who come to work, do good and practice their faith honestly. ‘Injustice’ has a sister called ‘privilege’ and an enemy called ‘God’s justice.’ That’s the one that really counts.

"In the church we must weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh, we must become part of the family, immerse ourselves in their struggles and tragedies, and make our solidarity visible,” he added.

“We need to have a stronger voice as Christians in political decision-making spaces because these unjust laws, like migratory laws, fracture the relationship between the state and the churches."

Quintana notified Godbey, District Superintendent Don Hasty and Bishop Rubén Saenz of Barralaga’s situation.

The Rev. Gustavo Vasquez is the director of Hispanic/Latino Communications at United Methodist Communications. Todd Seifert, Great Plans Conference communications director, contributed to this story.

You can reach Vazquez at (615)742-5111 or [email protected]

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