As “caravans” of several thousand Central American asylum-seekers join thousands more undocumented immigrants in their persistent quest for U.S. residency, many religious groups, among them United Methodists, are on the southwest border and beyond extending mercy and rallying to their cause. That includes members of the Eastern PA Conference.
Over 6,000 people—their numbers exaggerated by U.S. President Donald Trump—left their homes in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua to escape extreme violence and poverty there. Now amassed in Tijuana, Mexico, and other locations nearthe U.S. border, they are hoping, against great odds, to find asylum for safety and survival as refugees here.
Many are mothers with children and unaccompanied youth. Their vulnerability and distance from home frustrate U.S. authorities who cannot so easily detain and deport them; but not for lack of trying. Those efforts include the dubious deployment of U.S. soldiers to assist Border Patrol agents trying to keep the desperate sojourners out.
Eastern PA Conference Bishop Peggy Johnson again joined more than a dozen other church and community leaders at the Berks County Residential Center near Reading Oct. 21 to pray and protest on behalf of immigrants detained there awaiting asylum hearings. The conference took its turn leading the brief Sunday vigil as part of a year-round campaign run by the Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness, “a network of faith-based organizations and leaders calling for the Berks County detention center to be shut down and for an immediate end to family detention.”
“The continuation of the Berk’s Detention Center is an ongoing concern,” said Bishop Johnson. “We must not give into to ‘justice fatigue’ in the face of numerous unsolved wrongs. Keep talking, keep writing to lawmakers, keep praying.”
Meanwhile, thousands of undocumented immigrants already living here face a constant threat of arrest, detention and deportation. That fate has separated many parents and spouses from their families who reside legally in the U.S., an odious violation of our nation’s high regard for family values.
Bishop Johnson visited Sept. 30 two immigrant families from who are avoiding the imminent threat of capture and deportation by living in sanctuary at First UMC of Germantown (FUMCOG) since late August. With their appeals for protective asylum rejected, Clive and Oneita Thompson of Jamaica and Suyapa Reyes of Honduras are evading the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) to reside with their children here.
“Both families, a total of nine people, faced deportation dates and would have had children and parents separated from each other,” said the Rev. Robert Coombe, FUMCOG’s lead pastor. “Imagine living your daily lives in a building, unable to leave for an unknown period of time.
“But we now have new friends and neighbors,” he added, citing positive benefits. “It has brought churches, synagogues and people of different faiths coming together here, sharing God’s love and hospitality in a country with inhospitable laws. This year, as we remember Mary and Joseph migrating to Egypt to save Jesus’ life, we affirm that Jesus is with these migrant children and families.”
ICE officers avoid making arrests at “sensitive locations,” including churches, schools and hospitals, making them safe though restrictive havens for families continuing to pursue legal residency.
The Eastern PA Conference Rapid Response Team (RRT) and supportive churches monitor and advocate for immigration concerns in our region. Team members will support a live nativity and prayer vigil on Friday, Dec. 21, from 6 to 8 PM, at UM Church of the Open Door (UMCOD) in Kennett Square. The demonstration’s purpose is to gather the community and raise funds to help with undocumented immigrants’ legal costs.
Kennett Friends Meeting, a Quaker community in partnership with UMCOD, has created the sponsoring, nonprofit Friends Fund for Immigrant Support (PO Box 122, Kennett Square, PA 19348). The fund tries to help local families “facing hardship because of their immigrant status.” For information or to donate, visit www.kennettfriendsfund.org/.
Also joining in the vigil and live nativity will be La Comunidad Hispana of Chester Co. and Eastern PA’s chapter of Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).
The conference RRT is part of a national network coordinated and resourced by the UMC’s Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Immigration Task Force. Team leaders participate in national network conference calls to learn of and support grassroots actions happening across the nation. The Rev. Lydia Munoz, UMCOD’s pastor, and Ruth Daugherty of Grandview UMC Lancaster co-chair the Eastern PA team.
”It’s true that ‘Christ has no hands but our hands to do his work today,’ said Daugherty. “With our hands we can sign petitions, write letters to our Congressional Representatives and Senators, and write letters to the newspaper editors to advocate for justice for migrants seeking to live in our country.
“We can use our voices and make phone calls,” she explained. “We can use our feet to stand in unity to witness to actions that reflect our Christian teachings and principles of democracy. If enough of us join to advocate for justice for migrants and potential refugees in the U.S., then we can make a difference. Our Rapid Response Team requests United Methodists to work for humanitarian treatment and just immigration policies.”
Many migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., along with numerous longtime undocumented immigrants, still face the nightmare of separation from their children. Meanwhile, United Methodist advocates—including bishops—have joined the outcry against such extreme enforcement policies. Those policies have helped create a severe humanitarian crisis, worsening the growing movement of immigrants, refugees and other displaced peoples around the globe.
Love Knows No Borders: A Moral Call for Migrant Justice (El Amor No Conoce Fronteras: Un Llamado de Justicia para Migrantes) is the theme for a National Week of Action for Migrant Justice, Dec. 10-18, organized by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and supported by the UM Church and Society agency. Advocates are urged to “stand in solidarity with the migrant exodus and all who seek refuge and asylum in the U.S.”
“Together, we are calling on the U.S. to end the detention and deportation of immigrants, to respect the human right to migrate and seek asylum, and to end the militarization of the border,” say organizers.
The weeklong national observance featured a Day of Action Dec. 10 in San Diego, Calif. More than a hundred faith leaders from across the country, many dressed in religious attire, joined in nonviolent direct action at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. See the related story, “Faith leaders struggle to bring message of hope to migrants.”
A Nov. 29 joint statement was adapted from an Oct. 20 immigration support letter of the College of Bishops of the Methodist Church of Mexico, A.R. The adapted letter was signed by:
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TIJUANA, Mexico (UMNS) — With help from nearly $135,000 in grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, members of the Methodist Church of Mexico are providing food and shelter for more than 6,000 migrants seeking U.S. asylum. The Rev. Gustavo Vasquez reports. Read story