United Methodists Join Protest against Arpaio
by Kathy L. Gilbert
March 2, 2009: Phoenix, Arizona -- United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño offered a blessing and words of peace to thousands gathered to march in protest of the treatment of immigrants by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
"Help us, O God, help us to move the people of this country toward a reformation of these unjust laws of immigration," said Carcaño, United Methodist leader of the Phoenix area. "We pray you will touch the heart of Joe Arpaio, that you will turn it from stone to a living heart of justice."
Her words stirred strong emotions in a crowd of up to 5,000 that gathered at Steele Indian School Park on Feb. 28 to participate in a "March to Stop the Hate." The march ended about four miles later at the federal courthouse, after passing more than 100 Arpaio supporters gathered at the Wells Fargo Tower where the sheriff has his office.
Arpaio supporters held up signs that read, "We Support Joe" and "We Support 287g Enforcement" while thousands streamed by carrying signs declaring, "Arpaio is Not My America," "Revoke Arpaio's 287g" and "Reform Not Raids."
Several United Methodists from the area joined Carcaño in the march, carrying red signs proclaiming, "The United Methodist Church supports Immigrant… Civil… Human… Rights!"
The protest was organized after Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, marched more than 200 detained immigrants dressed in prison stripes through the streets of Phoenix to a tent city facility in the desert earlier in February.
Arpaio and his deputies have contracted with the federal Department of Homeland Security under a program identified as 287g that allows local police officers to enforce immigration laws. The sheriff has said he is enforcing the laws that he was elected to uphold.
"But we believe he has gone beyond the law, beyond the contract, certainly beyond the civil and human rights and constitutional rights of these people because even undocumented immigrants have human and civil rights and certain rights under the constitution of this country," Carcaño said in a United Methodist News Service interview before the march began.
The United Methodist Church has a clear stand on immigration that is based in Scripture, she said.
"Holy Scripture says we should walk with the immigrant, we should welcome them as our own, we should love them as we love ourselves," she said.
"Jesus calls us to be compassionate toward the immigrant, to love our neighbor without condition, and so we come to this task out of our biblical understanding of Christian discipleship."
'We Are Human'
After praying in the park, Carcaño joined other religious and community leaders at the head of the crowd holding a banner, which read, "We Are Human."
Men, women and children walked in the hot Arizona sun for several hours holding signs, chanting and calling for change.
Activist Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state lawmaker, stood beside Carcaño during the march and praised her for her stand on immigration reform.
"This is the fundamental message of Christianity isn't it?" he said. "How one treats another human being, that is the fundamental message. What we have here is a sheriff who is using the laws to abuse -- in increasingly horrendous ways -- a particular community, the Hispanic community. He is doing it on the basis of race. He is using the excuse of law and abusing it for the purposes of exploiting a particular group of people in Arizona."
Zack de la Rocha, who described himself as a "poet, activist and singer" with the rock group Rage Against the Machine, also took his place in the front of the march. Speaking through a megaphone after the march ended, he read a prepared statement about Arpaio's actions.
"By parading human beings shackled in chain gang stripes in a misguided effort to collectively humiliate and to dehumanize an entire population, he reopened the wounds from which we all still suffer, by invoking the painful memories of the era of slavery and segregation. ... By doing so, he has not only brought shame upon the state of Arizona, but is bringing shame upon the entire nation."
Stand for Justice
Carcaño said she hoped the march would bring attention to the sheriff's actions in Maricopa County and open people's eyes to abuses that may be happening in their communities.
"We are hoping people across the country will see what is happening here and notice that perhaps it is happening in their communities and join us in facing these very racist actions that we are experiencing.
"We are hoping our march will bring attention to the violation of human and civil rights that can so easily lead to the violation of all our human and civil rights. We are hoping we will inspire persons of faith to join in taking a stand for God's justice."
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.
Video: Bishop Carcaño
Video: Renee, protest participant
Date posted: Mar 02, 2009