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United Methodist Bishop Helps Lead D.C. March for Liberalized Immigration Connor EwingMarch 24, 2010
On Sunday March 21, while the U.S. House of Representatives prepared for the final health care vote, tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to demand “Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR).” The United Methodist Board of Church and Society, at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, served as a staging area for the marching immigration activists. Phoenix-area United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño helped lead the demonstration.
Carcaño and many other religious activists were organized in part by the annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) conference. EAD was sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women’s Division, the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and numerous other mainline Protestant and liberal Catholic groups. About 700 church activists attended this year.
This year’s EAD, themed “A Place to Call Home – Immigrants, Refugees, and Displaced Persons,” was intended to equip participants with the resources and knowledge to lobby for CIR. (As previously reported by the IRD, CIR is legislative shorthand for liberal immigration policies that include a pathway to citizenship, increased visa quotas, a robust guest worker program, and an emphasis on family reunification.) The conference ran throughout the weekend and into Monday, reaching its climax in the march on the Mall.
The keynote speaker on EAD’s opening night was Bishop Carcaño, a familiar face in CIR circles. Bishop Carcaño is an outspoken advocate for immigration reform, speaking at rallies and events across the country. Her well-received talk focused on the story of Postville, Iowa, where, in May of 2008, federal agents raided the Agriprocessors plant and arrested 389 immigrants on charges ranging from aggravated identity theft to document falsification. Invoking anecdote after anecdote, Carcaño sought to convince the audience that comprehensive reform is the only solution to our “broken system.”
In its current form, she argued, immigration policy has at least two serious flaws. Primarily, it focuses too heavily on the rule of law. Citing a woman’s experience in the Postville episode, Carcaño said, “We saw the integrity of law enforced, but the integrity of individuals and persons forgotten.” The second flaw of American immigration policy is the use of the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, which she calls “that despicable wall.” Carcaño said that the wall “has brought a shadow upon this country as dark as night.” Recounting the recent news of the halt in construction on the border fence, Carcaño declared victoriously, “As people of faith, we knew it was coming because the God we serve won’t let walls of oppression and separation stand.” What Carcaño didn’t mention was that she was referring to the virtual border fence, the funding of which has been frozen by the Homeland Security Department because of cost overruns and inefficiency.
Continuing to interpret current events through the lens of the fight for CIR, Carcaño explained how the pillars of the border fence that had been erected in the coastal waters were recently toppled by the waves. “The sea had refused to let those pillars stand. And then it came to me,” she said, beginning to wax prophetic, “If the waters of the sea could do that to the pillars, what could we Christians do if we let the waters of our baptism…topple the pillars of injustice? “ In case her belief in divine sanction for her cause wasn’t clear, Carcaño concluded her talk by saying that opponents of comprehensive reform are opposing “the reign of God.”
Following Friday night’s introduction, participants spent the weekend preparing to lobby congressmen and to join the “March for America” demonstration. Conference-goers had the choice of various educational tracks dealing with a disparate group of topics. The options read like a list of Democratic legislative priorities, featuring classes with titles ranging from “Immigration Reform: Why we need it and how to get it” and “Who Owes Whom: Climate Debt” to “Ending Torture at Home and Abroad” to “Nuclear Weapons-Free World.”
Another highlight of the conference was Sister Helen Prejean’s keynote address on Sunday evening. Sister Prejean is best known for her opposition to the death penalty as well as routinely, and emphatically, taking more liberal positions on social issues than the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In her talk, Prejean told the story of her conversion to social justice activism and identified immigration reform as a cause of equal significance as the fight for civil rights in the 1960s.
Based on presentations and conversations during this year’s EAD, it’s clear that many of the church activists believe that the passage of the Democrats’ health care bill is a great success, both in itself and in terms of providing momentum for pushing CIR. Indeed, on Sunday night, a few hours short of the final House vote, Sister Prejean whipped the crowd into a frenzied celebration of the impending victory. Fresh off a hard fought battle, and self-styled victory, on health care, the mainliners look to be gearing up for their next legislative fight. While the issue may be new, we have little reason to expect anything other than the liberal politicking and rubber stamp endorsing of Democrat legislation that characterized their engagement in the health care debate.
[For additional commentary on immigration from the IRD, see Mark Tooley’s “Biblical Open Borders?”and “Evangelicals and Immigration,” as well as Alan Wisdom’s “Who Speaks? Reflections on the National Association of Evangelicals’ Resolution on ‘Immigration 2009.’”]
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