Unjust Immigration Policies a Hometown Issue for Women
by Yvette Moore*
Fort Worth, TX, April 25, 2008 -- United Methodist Women participants in the April 24 lunch-break rally for immigration rights during General Conference see the impact of the unjust immigration policies each day in their local communities. While the women's opinions on the solution to immigration-related problems differed, they were united on the need to protect the human rights and dignity of new immigrant communities in the United States.
Janice Whitecotton of Acton United Methodist Church in Granbury, Texas, said immigration is a controversial and divisive issue in her hometown. She said she came to the rally in a stand for love.
"We see a lot of immigrants fearful of becoming a part of the community in my area, fearful that their children will be taken from them," Ms. Whitecotton said. "I hope that folks in The United Methodist Church stand up and take immigration seriously, and recognize much opposition to it as a form of racism. We need to bring love and healing."
Sue Sidney, president of Southwest Conference United Methodist Women, and other women from her conference came to rally, keeping in mind the immigrant families (including about 75 children) in the privately owned detention center in their area.
"Hutto Detention Center used to be a private prison about three years ago, but now it's a detention center for immigrant families," Ms. Sidney said. Despite community opposition to the facility, county commissioners keep renewing the contract with the facility's owners. "The best we've done is to get schooling for the children in the center," she said.
United Methodist Women in the area wrote letters in support of the local human rights coalition's campaign to get the public school system to supply teachers for children in the detention center, Ms. Sidney said. United Methodist Women also support many immigrant families in the area through the Montopolis Friendship Community Center. It was founded by Austin District United Methodist Women 50 years ago to provide early-childhood programs, activities for seniors, and scholarships for local students.
Women's Division director Inelda Gonzalez came to the rally with thoughts of the immigrant families held in the Bay View Detention Center near her hometown of Harlingen, Texas. While the families in the Hutto center were detained through workplace raids, most of the families at the Bay View center were arrested through raids on coyotes, people whom immigrants pay to transport them over the border. When a coyote is arrested during a raid, he identifies people he's helped cross the border, and border patrol detains the whole family--even the American children.
"They're American, but they're underage," Ms. Gonzalez said. "If there are family members who will take them, they'll let them go with relatives. Otherwise the children stay at the detention center."
Part of the Bay View center is just outdoor tents. Some families stay in tents while the adults' cases go through the court system, Ms. Gonzalez said.
"We said we didn't want families torn apart, but that's not what we meant," Ms. Sidney said.
A retired English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, Ms. Gonzalez said many of her former students were members of immigrant families like those detained in the local tent city. She is aware of the race and class biases faced by these families in the community and echoed in some local attitudes about immigrants and immigration.
"For Hispanics, if you're well educated or own a business, you're more accepted. If not…" Ms. Gonzalez's voice trailed as she shook her head.
For Delrayne Roy-Leftwich of Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, standing for immigrant rights is a simple matter of following Christ's golden rule to do unto others as you would have done unto you.
"There's a lot of confusion and conflicts about immigration, but we're Christian, and they're human just like I am," Ms. Roy-Leftwich said. "What if something happened, and I had to go to their country to live? I would want to be welcomed."
"Our people have always been open to people coming here," added Nellie Long, social-action mission coordinator for Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference United Methodist Women. "We didn't know we weren't supposed to share and take care of each other."
Ms. Long also sees the global economy at work in Oklahoma City that gives rise to immigration.
"My brother-in-law is from Mexico," she said. "He said workers in the General Motors plant there get paid $60 a week. My sister-in-law was making $18 an hour when the plant was here."
The racial diversity of rally participants was important to Ruth E. Robinson of Hamilton Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. Indeed, to help span the oft-cited "black-brown divide" on immigration is among the Women's Division's and other rally organizers' ongoing goals. Ms. Robinson said the diversity at the rally illustrated the breadth of the impact of immigration legislation, which she stresses when talking to other African Americans about the urgent need for just immigration policies.
"We're reminded of what happened to the people from Haiti," Ms. Robinson said, referring to the hundreds of Haitians whose bodies washed up on Florida beaches in the 1990s when unjust immigration policies led US Coast Guards to turn away their leaky boats to the sea as a watery grave. "My biggest example to my own conference is how Haitians were treated. If we revisit the Social Principles and work to implement them, we will uphold the human rights of all immigrants."
While Ms. Robinson stands firm for immigrants' human rights, she also said many in her community express concern that immigrants' willingness to work for low wages negatively impacts the local job market.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the Desert Southwest Conference, rally speaker and co-chair of the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, said depressed wages that hurt workers all around is a mark of the current globalized marketplace.
"That's a fact of globalization that pits poor people against poor people," Bishop Carcaño said.
Bishop Carcaño said whole categories of jobs are done by undocumented workers that US citizens are unwilling to do--like doing laundry or busing tables at restaurants. But it's the big businesses' global search for the lowest wage area that depresses wages and impacts immigration. Relocation of factories from the United States to Mexico and from Mexico to Asia to pay the lowest wages hurts workers, she said.
"When there's a whole category of underclass people, the job market takes advantage of that," she said. "There are civil rights and human rights violations occurring against immigrants. We can't let that happen. The truth is human and civil rights protections need to expand until the whole globe is included, until we are all regarded as beloved children of God."
*Yvette Moore is an executive secretary for communications for the Women's Division.