United Methodist justice agency calls Senate immigration bill inadequate

by Wayne Rhodes, Special Contributor*

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) of The United Methodist Church praises the U.S. Senate for its initiative in finally passing a bill to reform immigration laws. Unfortunately, though, the agency believes the legislation passed is not what is needed to truly repair the broken U.S. immigration system.

“The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, & Immigration Modernization Act” (S.744), which passed 68-32 June 27, represents important steps forward by including a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants — though the pathway is arduous — and by eliminating the visa backlog for some immigrant families, assessed Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights at GBCS.

“I pray the U.S. House of Representatives has the fortitude to keep those aspects of reform in their legislation,” Mefford said, “though they need to go further than the Senate for the reform to be humane and effective.”

The Senate bill contains many aspects, however, that make this legislation unworkable, according to Mefford.

The Senate bill creates a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented individuals. It places a stay-of-removal on deportations of individuals qualified for the pathway, and includes their spouse and children under age 21 in their application, enabling families to go through the process together.

DREAMers, defined as persons who entered the United States before they turned 16, and agricultural workers would have a shortened pathway to citizenship.

All of this, however, is contingent on a dramatic, documentable increase in border security. The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) would have to submit border security plans to achieve 90% effectiveness in apprehensions and returns through additional fencing, surveillance, technology and personnel.

The bill allocates$46 billion to improvements, including 20,000 additional patrol officers — in effect doubling the force on the U.S.-Mexico border — and completing 700 miles of fencing. No permanent resident green cards would be issued until those enhancements and others are in place according to DHS. The contingency also includes an employment verification system for all employers.

“The ‘border surge’ represents more of the wrong direction that we have been following for years,” Mefford declared. “Border communities reject this Senate bill because they do not want to live under the occupation of 40,000 troops, nor under the military hardware that includes layers of fencing for hundreds of miles, drones, sensory fencing and helicopters.”

Mefford pointed out that United Methodists have long advocated for genuine immigration reform that is focused on upholding the civil and human rights of immigrants through providing a pathway to citizenship with minimal obstacles and reuniting families, including same-sex families. The United Methodist Social Principles urge recognizing “the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”

“Unfortunately, S. 744 does not include these crucial elements,” Mefford said. “While we are not opposing S. 744, we cannot endorse this legislation.”

The attention to immigration reform now turns to the House of Representatives, which is developing its own legislation.

“We will continue to build a movement among United Methodists dedicated to preserving and protecting the rights of all immigrants,” Mefford said. “We will continue to work for genuine reform that is humane and effective.”

In response to Mefford’s statement, John Lomperis, United Methodist Director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a Washington D.C. based conservative lobbying group, said: “[Mefford’s] statement falls into the larger pattern of the GBCS setting its positions and priorities according the partisan loyalties and secular political ideologies of the GBCS staff, even when this leads to directly contradicting clear biblical and United Methodist teachings, while enjoying little to no effective accountability.  The GBCS’s agitation against rule of law in U.S. immigration and for effectively open borders, whether or not they use that phrase, runs against the importance of obedience to government (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17) and an official United Methodist resolution stating that “All nations have the right to secure their borders…” (Resolution #3821: “Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S.”).  Indeed, in a recent Congressional testimony, the GBCS appeared to directly violate its own Disciplinary obligation to fully represent UMC positions “without elaboration” (Para. 509.2) by selectively quoting from that resolution in order to avoid mentioning any concern for border security. “

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.

*Wayne Rhodes is the Communication Director at the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. The statement from John Lomperis was not part of Rhode’s original story. 

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