A young “dreamer”, a father of a U.S. veteran facing deportation, and an immigration activist from Mexico taking sanctuary in a United Methodist church shared their personal stories at an immigration learning event sponsored by the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) Hispanic/Latinx Ministry Team and the National Hispanic/Latino Plan.
“This is an opportunity to review what’s going on nationally and in our own area around immigration,” said Bishop Sally Dyck to the nearly 120 gathered at Our Saviour’s United Methodist Church in Schaumburg on April 22. “Not everyone agrees on what to do around immigration issues, but when we come together like this we hear from each other, make connections and think about what it is we as United Methodists are called upon to do.”
Seventeen-year-old Rosalinda, a member of El Mesias UMC in Elgin, came to the U.S. from Guatemala at the age of four and never thought being an immigrant was a “big deal.” It wasn’t until recently she discovered the impact it would have on her life.
“My sophomore year (in high school) I wanted to drive, but I couldn’t get a permit because I wasn’t a resident or citizen,” said Rosalinda. “I wanted to get a job, but I couldn’t. I can’t even apply for scholarships, even if I have the grades.”
Miguel Perez, Sr., shared how his son, a Mexican-born legal permanent resident and a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, is facing deportation after a drug conviction.
“He defended the flag of this country in Afghanistan,” said Perez. “If he leaves, I don’t know what to do without him. We are advocating for clemency for my son and others who fought for this country and have a right to live in this country.”
Elvira Arellano, an immigrant rights activist from Mexico who helped bring the sanctuary movement into the spotlight ten years ago after taking a 12-month refuge at Humboldt Park’s Adalberto Memorial UMC, shared how she returned to the U.S. three years ago with her sons to seek asylum fearing for her life. She is back in sanctuary at Adalberto and advocating for fair and just immigration reform.
“I’m here because God has a purpose for me and my church,” said Arellano.
Making a connection
Stacy Williams, a member of Salem UMC in Barrington, came to the event to learn how she can make a difference and advocate for immigrants.
“I want to help and I’m so thankful to be part of a congregation that wants to do something and put faith into action,” said Williams. “I think first we need to listen to their stories and share them…that’s where it all starts.”
Pastor Emma Lozano of Lincoln UMC in Chicago, a predominantly Spanish-speaking, mixed-status immigrant congregation, says the event was so important to help connect with one another and dispel misconceptions about immigrants.
“I talked with members of other churches who may not know what my congregation is going through,” said Lozano. Even though we don’t speak the same language, we speak the same language of love. We can stand up as United Methodists opposed to laws that separate families and come together.”
The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society’s Jeania Ree Moore and Kristin Kumpf provided background on current national immigration policies and outlined how local churches can take action through advocacy, direct action, and sanctuary.
“This journey of immigration is about people who we know and we love,” said Kumpf. “I have stood at the border and watched someone taken away that I loved by border patrol. That’s the kind of moment in our lives that make our faith become action.”
Organizers say some ideas to help put faith into action include: support the Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors (NIJFON), which provides free legal service for immigrants, call your legislators, hold a Bible study on immigration, invite immigrants or immigration rights groups to speak at your church and/or attend an immigration rights rally/march.
Sixteen-year old John Gutierrez, a member of Lincoln UMC, is looking forward to attending college to study computer science, but for the last 10 years, he’s lived with fear and anxiety that his father will be deported to Mexico.
“I’m always afraid my dad will leave us,” said Gutierrez who was feeling less anxious after coming to the NIC immigration event. “I’m really happy I’m not alone. We can help each other out and go through this together.”
Manuel Padilla, strategic leader of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, said the learning event was the fruit of many partners coming together to accompany prayers with actions and an opportunity for all people, church included, to raise the level of awareness of our own ethnocentric orientation.
“It is when we do not only embrace but defend the rights and uniqueness in each one of God’s creation that we can make possible a process to transform our world and our beloved United Methodist Church,” said Padilla.
At the end of the event, Our Saviour’s UMC presented the Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors a check for $1,200.
“Local church support like this, that congregants make happen through special offerings, and through the Advance, are essential to NIJFON’s ability to continue to provide free, high-quality legal services across the conference. The fact that these practical services are provided at United Methodist churches reveals the NIC’s commitment to transform the world,” said NIJFON board member Brent Holman-Gomez.
For more information on NIJFON visit: www.nijfon.org and for a list of other resources provided at the event, including what the United Methodist Church says about immigration, facts and figures and tool-kits for churches, go to: www.umcnic.org/immigrationresources.