United Methodist Women to explore immigrant rights

As a national debate on immigration legislation continues, the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has decided to make immigrant and refugee rights a priority.

The division will explore with its constituency, United Methodist Women, how best to pursue this priority, directors agreed during the division's March 31-April 3 spring meeting.

In her address to directors, the division president, Kyung Za Yim, pointed out that UMW has responded in the past to the issue of immigrant rights. "Our history shows that we have been there time and time again to 'welcome the stranger and offer hospitality to all of God's children, including the least of these,'" she said.

Establishing a renewed focus on immigrant and refugee rights would:

  • Enable UMW members to better understand the changing realities in their own communities and the nation.
  • Encourage women to explore the faith imperatives relevant to these realities through Bible studies and worship materials.
  • Encourage UMW members to open dialogue on responses to these realities with others inside and outside the church.
  • Prompt women to promote and support action on behalf of justice for immigrants, refugees and migrants, with special attention to public policy advocacy for women, children and youth.

Recommendations for an initiative on immigrant and refugee rights will be brought to the Women's Division meeting in October.

A bill passed last December by the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 4437, "The Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Control Act of 2005," would not only make it a federal crime to live in the United States illegally but also would leave churches and other organizations or individuals who assist undocumented immigrants liable to criminal prosecution.

"This is the biggest attack on immigrant communities in modern history," Yim told the Women's Division directors. "If ever there was a time to voice our moral outrage, I hope you will determine this is the time."

All U.S. citizens, except for Native Americans, have an immigrant history, she noted. "Some of us came to escape poverty or oppression. Others of us were forced here on slave ships. Still others came seeking opportunity," she said. "The new immigrants thus reap the benefits of the path carved out for them by predecessors who faced the same kind of struggles."

On March 27 two days after a half million people marched in Los Angeles on behalf of immigrants and as religious leaders and others rallied at the Capitol the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that differed significantly from the House bill.

The committee's legislation which went before the full Senate the next day and is still being debated would remove the criminal penalties, both for undocumented immigrants and those who provide humanitarian assistance. It also would create a temporary workers program and help guide immigrants to citizenship.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of four Republicans voting in favor of the legislation, called the plan for immigrants an 11-year journey to citizenship, according to the New York Times.

United Methodists have long been involved in immigration work. "Justice for Our Neighbors," a program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has helped local congregations respond to the needs of immigrants since 1999.

With its national network of clinics, "Justice for Our Neighbors" provides free legal services, encourages cross-cultural community building, promotes education for ministry and advocacy and encourages deeper theological reflection on moral issues raised by the U.S. immigration policy.

On an international level, division directors affirmed the recent appeal of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan "for a long-term visionary approach to the problem of nuclear arms proliferation." They joined the international community in calling for a peaceful resolution to the current crisis regarding Iran's nuclear activities and affirmed that Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency lead the process in finding that resolution, with support from the U.N. Security Council.

In other legislative matters, the division expressed support for the CARE (Children's Act for Responsible Employment) Bill, H.R. 3482, to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to increase penalties for violations of child labor laws. Directors also supported the AgJOBS bill, S. 359 and H.R. 884, which offers benefits and rights for farm workers.

The division will promote the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, on May 3, and is calling on the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect children from mercury-containing drugs.

Directors endorsed the Global Priorities Campaign and the One Campaign to Make Poverty History and joined the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood.

In action related to the May 4-7 Women's Assembly in Anaheim, Calif., directors voted that prayer shawls received in honor of the assembly be distributed throughout the denomination's five jurisdictions by Dec. 1. As of April 1, more than 1,600 handmade shawls had arrived in the division's New York office.

Jan Love, the division's chief executive, told the directors about how the boxes of shawls "now fill every corner of every office and, truth be told also spill over into hallways, desktops and any other space we can find." She saluted that witness "all these shawls carefully, lovingly and beautifully crafted by United Methodist Women to wrap someone in special need of prayer."

Love also reported during the meeting that she had received correspondence regarding the appearance of the Rev. Don and Emily Saliers, a father-daughter duo, at the Women's Assembly. They will offer an intergenerational dialogue on the connections between faith, spirituality, music and engagement in the world.

Rev. Saliers directs the masters in sacred music program at the United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology, Atlanta and his daughter is one-half of the "Indigo Girls" singing group. Emily Saliers, a lay person, also has identified herself as a lesbian.

The division has been criticized about their participation by RENEW, an evangelical women's organization. As of March 30, Love said she had received more than 55 pieces of correspondence with more than 200 signatures from a variety of sources -- requesting the Women's Division reconsider the decision to invite Emily and Don Saliers to the assembly.

Love added that the division also had received "a large number of letters, email and voice messages requesting that we keep them on the program." The total number of messages supporting the Saliers was 1,800.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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