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Immigration Concerns Build Bridges

Among North American Methodists

General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115

Tel: 212/870-3921


By Elliott Wright

Tucson, Arizona, December 5, 2006—Concern for people migrating across political borders is motivating increasing mission collaboration between the United Methodist Church in the US and Methodist Church of Mexico.

Simultaneously, United Methodist general agencies are stepping up their collective attention to US immigration policy and legislation.

Bishops and others from annual conferences north and south of the US-Mexican border met in Tucson on December 1-2 to formalize what will be called the Methodist Border Mission Network. It was the third meeting of its kind in the last 15 months.

The day before, meeting in Phoenix, representatives from a majority of the general agencies and the Council of Bishops set up an Interagency Task Force on Immigration, a possibility projected by the Church’s legislating General Conference six years ago. This panel will focus on federal, state, and local immigration policy and on education about immigration issues within the denomination. The emphasis is on just immigrant policy and comprehensive US immigration reform legislation.

Bishop Minerva Carcano of Phoenix, leader of the Desert Southwest Conference, convened the interagency group as chair of an immigration committee of the Council of Bishops.  As host bishop, she also presided at the meeting that set up the border mission group.  Most of the participants in the interagency group also attended the Tucson sessions to make presentations on existing programs dealing with immigrants.
Cooperative work between US-Mexican border conferences is not new, but it has taken on new urgency as, acting under current laws, the US has slowed the flow of undocumented persons moving north from Mexico and Central America into the US. Those who do cross are often in dire need of human necessities. More and more people are being stranded along the southern border, and increasing numbers are being jailed or deported by the US with no resources to return to their places of origin.

Bishops or their delegates from three Mexican and four US annual conferences began meeting in 2005 to consider mutual concerns related to immigration. The series of meeting were made possible by a grant from the General Board of Global Ministries. Bishop Joel N. Martinez of San Antonio has strongly promoted the initiative.

The new bi-national group envisions a time when God’s people engage in mission in a world without borders. Its mission is to “manifest our Wesleyan heritage in cross border ministries through mutually empowering collaboration between the Methodist Church of Mexico and the United Methodist Church.”

“This new border mission network will begin with the acute matter of immigration, but we want to anticipate an expanded agenda in the future,” said Bishop Martinez. He also noted that his conference and others along the northern border have sustained relations with corresponding Mexican Methodist conference to the south. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission form one of the major means of interaction.

The Rev. Felipe Ruiz, who heads the immigration ministry of the Mexican Church, said that 82 per cent of the persons crossing the border into the US are from Mexico, with Hondurans, Salvadorians, and Brazilians forming the next largest groups.

A major concern at both the border consultation and the interagency meeting was that of how the churches serves acute human needs and works to prevent the loss of life among migrants. Both gatherings acknowledge that migration—the movement of people—is a global reality challenging the churches.

Considerable attention in Tucson focused on the different ways in which the Church in the US and the Church in Mexico experience the current immigration situation. For the US conference, the concern is that of hospitality and life-saving services; in Mexico, the ministry opportunities arise in relation to three groups: Central Americans passing through on the way to the border, the concentration of hopeful crossers along the border, and those being deported by the US. Many people are being assisted by the Methodist Aid Center for Migrants, sponsored by the church in Mexico.

The Council of Bishops of the Methodist Church of Mexico last September adopted a resolution questioning certain aspects of current US immigration policy. The action questioned the wisdom of the proposal to build a wall along 700 miles of the 2,000 mile border. Such a wall, the bishops said, “will result in more immigrants dying in their attempt to enter the USA.” Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries endorsed this perspective in a resolution passed in October of this year.

Bishop Milton Velasco Legorreta of Chihuahua and Bishop Jaime Vasquz Olmena of San Ysidro took part in the Tucson deliberations. In addition to the Desert Southwest and Southwest Texas Conferences, the California-Pacific and New Mexico Annual Conferences took part, although their bishops could not be present.

Agencies and other United Methodists organizations taking part in the Interagency Task Force on Immigration at this point include: Council of Bishops; General Board of Church and Society; General Board of Discipleship; General Board of Global Ministries and its United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) organization and Women’s Division; General Commission on Religion and Race; General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; General Commission on Finance and Administration, and the National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries.

Among the program highlighted were UMCOR’s Justice for Our Neighbors, which sponsors 22 congregation-based legal clinics for immigrants in the US, and the educational work of United Methodist Women on migration-related conerns.

Date posted: Dec 05, 2006