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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

GBCS Statement on President Obama's Support of Immigration Reform

United Methodist Church Agency Welcomes Presidential Leadership on Just and Humane Immigration Reform

The General Board of Church & Society applauds the announcement made today by President Obama in Las Vegas, Nev., calling for necessary reform in order to fix our broken immigration system. President Obama called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including undocumented youths or “DREAMers,” and to strengthen the family immigration system by reducing the large backlog of visas. Both of these areas are crucial to strengthening the country and upholding the rights of immigrants and their families.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, episcopal leader of the Los Angeles area and co-chair of the United Methodist Interagency Task Force on Immigration, attended the president's announcement. "I applaud the president's leadership in addressing the broken immigration system,” the bishop said. “For too long our communities have lived in fear as immigrant families have been torn apart through unnecessary harsh enforcement policies. The immigration problems we face as a nation are complex and difficult.”

President Obama’s clear commitment to provide leadership and full engagement in the legislative process toward immigration reform will be critical, according to Bishop Carcaño. “United Methodists have long been active in working with other faith leaders from across the country in mobilizing thousands of people through hundreds of public-witness actions and meetings with members of Congress and their staffs,” she pointed out. “Comprehensive immigration reform is a major concern for us.”

The bishop said United Methodists will continue to advocate for reform that will provide a pathway to full citizenship for undocumented immigrants and reunify families that have been separated. “I look forward to working closely with President Obama and Congress to enact effective, just and compassionate reform," she said.

Following on the heels of the Bipartisan Framework on Comprehensive Immigration Reform presented Monday by eight senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — the announcement by President Obama creates a real sense of momentum to finally passing immigration reform, hopefully that can be effective and humane.

The emphasis on increased border security is disappointing, however. The president called for further border security, and the senators' plan makes access to the pathway to citizenship contingent on increased border enforcement. This emphasis creates a stumbling block towards real reform.

Jim Winkler, chief executive of the General Board of Church & Society, said following the president's announcement: "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?”

Winkler pointed out that Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has testified that the border is secure. “It is long past time to get serious about creating a pathway to citizenship free of any further enforcement measures and to reunify families,” he declared. “That is the kind of reform that we need and that will move us forward as a nation.”

United Methodists are organized like never before, according to Winkler. He said they stand ready to advocate for just, humane reform. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

GBCS Statement on Bipartisan Framework on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

United Methodist Bishops and Church Agency Welcome Step Forward on Immigration Reform Though More Changes Needed

The General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church welcomes the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform presented by eight U.S. Senators Monday, January 28. This framework offers necessary steps towards policy solutions, particularly regarding a pathway to full citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and the strengthening of the family immigration system, both of which are crucial aspects of any legislation that is both effective and humane. The Framework is being put forward by Senators Michael Bennet, D-CO; Richard Durbin, D-IL; Jeff Flake, R-AZ; Lindsey Graham, R-SC; Robert Menendez, D-NJ; John McCain, R-AZ; Marco Rubio, R-FL; and Charles Schumer, D-NY.

“These principles offer necessary steps towards immigration policy solutions that are just and humane. A pathway to full citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and policies that will allow the reunification of immigrant families are crucial aspects of any legislation that strives to be effective and humane,” said Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Bishop of the Los Angeles Area. "The steps that are being recommended help us move toward immigration reform, but there is much more work to be done. One specific area of concern is making a pathway to full citizenship contingent on even stronger and potentially harsher border enforcement. We will continue to monitor the plan for implementing these principles for immigration reform. I do, however, applaud our Senators for their hard work and look forward to working closely with them in moving these principles toward effective, just and humane legislation.”  

The Framework contains essential elements such as a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants called "DREAMers" and agricultural workers. It would also reduce waiting times for separated families to be reunited thereby strengthening the family immigration system and would protect the rights of workers with strong labor protections. Unfortunately, the Framework also makes the pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants contingent on more onerous border enforcement, some of which could take years or even decades to achieve. "The enforcement-first proposals must be rectified before these proposals can be effective legislation," stated Bishop Robert Hoshibata, President of the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society and resident Bishop of the Phoenix area.

“The United Methodist Church has led in the grassroots mobilization of the faith community across the United States, organizing hundreds of public witness events in support of just and humane immigration reform. United Methodists are calling for humane and common sense solutions because they see firsthand how our current immigration system tears families apart, exploits workers, and keeps entire communities terrorized under our current enforcement policies. And as United Methodists have led in the struggle to defend and support the rights of immigrants, United Methodists are organized and ready to work closely with Congress and the President to see the principles in this Framework that are just and effective enacted into legislation.” 

The United Methodist Church believes that “at the center of Christian faithfulness to Scripture is the call we have been given to love and welcome the sojourner…to refuse to welcome migrants to this country and to stand by in silence while families are separated, individual freedoms are ignored, and the migrant community in the United States is demonized…is complicity to sin.” (“Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S.”, 2008 Book of Resolutions)

“We need Congress to show the moral courage necessary to enact immigration reform,” Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society said. “The Framework has created a first step towards just and workable reform, and with some changes, can improve the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Immigration reform must be both moral and practical. It will secure both the future of the United States and the rights of immigrants and their families. We applaud the leadership by the Senators and we urge all members of Congress to work towards enactment of just reform as soon as possible.”

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Struggle Between Skepticism and Hope

I have always loved history books, particularly the history of significant social movements such as the Civil Rights Movement. Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. And so is John Dittmer's Local People, Charles Payne's I've Got the Light of Freedom, Jack Mendelsohn's The Martyrs, and John D'Emilio's The Lost Prophet to name just a few. There are so many more. These books changed me, challenged me, enlightened me, and game me language to articulate new dreams and visions. These books brought me closer to God than practically any theological book I have read (though there are some good theology books as well!).

By the later 90s, after being done with seminary the first time and having read a number of history books I was haunted by a question in a cheesy made-for-TV movie called The 60s, wherein one of the main characters was talking about feeling a lack of direction in life and, as a history major in college, he said, "I keep thinking I am tired of reading about history when I should be a part of making it." At that time I was a pastor of a small rural church in West Texas and also a campus minister at a Wesley Foundation and his statement pierced me. It's not that I thought that pastoring a church or a Wesley Foundation was not worthy or valuable at all, but I felt a deep calling at that moment - more like a hunger - to want to be a part of where history was being made, where justice was being waged against injustice and oppression.

Now, I won't bore you with the step-by-step journey of West Texas to Washington DC - though I wonder how I got here many times myself. It is enough to say that that was a significant moment in my life and I still think on it often. I think of it often because of what I do: building movements among United Methodists to defend and support the rights of immigrants and to end mass incarceration for people of color. In the seven years I have worked in Washington DC what has changed for me though is how I remember that night.

When I first got to DC I felt overwhelmed and excited; excited at the enormous responsibility given me and the opportunity to be a part of where I saw history being made. I wanted to be a part of the fight for those whose voice is never heard and against those whose voices too often dominate. I quickly discovered - though I felt like I knew this all the time and just had to be briefly reminded - that my voice and actions, in defending and supporting the rights of immigrants and in ending mass incarceration for people of color, had to reflect the voices of those most directly impacted by the broken immigration and criminal justice systems. And I knew that my voice would not reflect those voices, that my words could not channel the words and stories of those most directly impacted, just by reading books or reports or going to coalition meetings.

I had to leave DC and connect with folks experiencing the suffering and the brokenness, and so I did.

I started spending more and more time travelling and meeting and connecting with United Methodist folks who were themselves directly impacted by broken immigration or criminal justice systems, and/or those who worked incarnationally among impacted communities. It changed me and it changed my focus and how I talk about these issues inside and outside of DC.

Gone for me are the dependence on all of the messaging talking points that are put together by the so-called messaging experts and get passed around by DC advocates almost as holy writ. Gone for me is the belief that passing something, no matter how weak or incomplete the legislation is, is the only thing to fight for. Gone for me was the belief that wisdom lay with those whose primary goal seems to be preserving their access to positions of power rather than a utilization of that access to power for redemptive means, no matter what the sacrifice. Gone for me was the belief that funders know best what needs to happen to make justice happen. However, I must say this belief is one I have never held.

I connect with folks doing amazing mission and try to connect them with other people doing amazing mission across the United Methodist connection and I have never met such amazing people in my life. What has resulted is that as an advocate in Washington DC speaking to the White House, the Administration, and House and Senate offices about where the United Methodist Church stands on important civil and human rights issues I can now do more than just pass written statements or policy positions to people in positions of power. I can tell them, for instance, that between 2011 and 2013 - in just three years - United Methodists engaged in over 600 public witness actions in support of just and humane immigration reform. That averages out to a public witness action every 42 hours. I can tell them specific stories of what amazing United Methodists are doing in their state and district among the people who are victims of a system that incarcerates more people per ratio than in any country in the world. That is powerful stuff.

But yet, as I get ready for a new Congress this year and the second term of a President who has openly spoken of his support to pass immigration reform (though he speaks way too often of it in terms of securing borders and not in terms of granting full citizenship) and preventing gun violence - two of my primary issues, I have to admit I have a deep level of skepticism.

I am skeptical because of a House of Representatives that better resembles an episode of the Simpsons more than elected leaders charged to address and solve important issues (though I hate to disparage the characters on the Simpsons by comparing them to some members of the House). I am skeptical because I see far too often (though definitely not always) too many supposedly advocacy groups spend far too much of their time ensuring that they maintain "access" to people in positions of power rather than redemptively utilizing that power to gain that same access for those who are denied access. I am skeptical because I see elected leaders more beholden to monied interests and virtually ignoring the passionate actions and public witness events of their constituents, even when those constituents exhibit amazing creativity and organized power as United Methodists have done in many parts of the country in the last few years.

It has been, in part at least, my skepticism that has driven me to leave DC and to travel. But it is my skepticism that has driven me to hope. You see, my hope is rekindled by the young clergy person in South Carolina who is slowly building a team to mobilize the conference to advocate for just and humane immigration reform. My hope is rekindled  by the pastor planting a congregation in Lexington, KY for persons of African descent, dedicated to ending  mass incarceration and creating a just and fair criminal justice system. My hope is rekindled by the many local Justice for Our Neighbors affiliates, legal clinics for low-income immigrants, who are staffed by the most passionate, dedicated, and brilliant people on the face of the earth. Yes, I have hope. I found it through my skepticism with Washington DC and its utter dysfunction and narcissism that drove me to want to folks throughout the country facing oppression and suffering head on.

I still think back to that night in Sundown, Texas when I knew I wanted to be where history was being made. But I have realized that that place is not Washington DC. Washington DC definitely has a place in the creation and distribution of justice. But the history that best reflects the world-changing Kingdom of God is made in places like Sundown, TX, Osage, IA, Macon, GA, Columbus, OH, Florida City, FL, San Jose, CA and in so many other places. A movement for justice is created when all those amazing people from all of those places come together and demand an end to mass incarceration or an end to the continued oppression of immigrants and their families.

I spend most of my days somewhere caught in a struggle between cynicism and hope. But when I read history and when I connect with United Methodists doing the socially transforming work of God's Kingdom I know that cynicism may win today or this week, this month or even this year, but hope ultimately will win out. And that's the only thing that keeps me doing what I do.