Joining efforts of local groups that work with immigrants is one way to get involved
By Hilary J. Scarsella
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA)—Participants in Mennonite Church USA’s biennial convention in Phoenix this July will have various opportunities to learn about and engage issues of immigration. This is, in part, due to the convention location and the controversial nature of Arizona’s anti-immigration law, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB1070).
Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, recommends that those who plan to attend convention prepare themselves by learning about immigration in their own communities.
“It’s important to understand the issues of immigration before coming to Phoenix because while we’re there, we’ll have more intense learning experiences on the subject,” she says. “If you come somewhat prepared, you’ll get a lot more out of convention.”
“Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S., MCC West Coast and the MCC Washington Office all have wonderful immigration resources on their websites, from videos to books to discussions,” she continues. “The MCC Washington Office offers basic information as well as more advanced materials on engaging in policymaking and advocacy work. Mennonite Church USA offers resources designed for congregations, Sunday school classes and small groups.”
In addition, de León-Hartshorn suggests that individuals and congregations contact local groups that are involved in immigration issues and find ways to join their efforts.
“Few communities have not been touched by immigration issues,” she says. “At first, a lot of immigrants moved to cities, but that has changed. Now, many immigrants move to rural areas. If congregations are following Jesus and the Great Commission in the sense that they are to make disciples as they go about their lives, this means we must all learn to be in relationship with immigrant communities.”
Some individuals and congregations have decided not to participate in the Phoenix convention as a sign of solidarity with people who are undocumented. De León-Hartshorn believes it is important to back up such a decision with action.
“I’d like to challenge these congregations and individuals to take the convention week off and volunteer that time with different local organizations that work with immigrants,” she says. “Start calling those agencies now to find out how you might be helpful as a volunteer. This is a sacrifice, yes. It is also an opportunity to meaningfully engage.”
“Become aware of the policies that are being enforced in your area,” she adds. “There is some traction now on Capitol Hill around immigration reform. Be engaged in those conversations, and talk with your representatives.”
De León-Hartshorn’s biggest hope is that those who come to convention will prepare themselves well and arrive “with an open heart” to hear the stories of immigrants and accept them as a part of the church, whether or not they are legally in the United States.
“I hope that what happens in Phoenix goes beyond the political rhetoric that is out there about this issue,” she says. “The tendency has been that people label each other as being on the right or left side of the issue. I’d like to say there is a third way to see the issue—the Jesus way—and I hope we adopt his way of love and compassion.”
Learning opportunities at Phoenix 2013 will include:
- introductory seminars focused on immigration, and two-hour blocks for more in-depth learning.
- an interactive Bible study led by Elaine Enns and Ched Myers on what it means to think of God as undocumented.
- Bienvenido program trainings led by Gilberto Pérez, Jr. Bienvenido is a prevention/intervention program that increases access to mental health services and improves the mental health and quality of life of immigrants. Pérez also will offer informational sessions on the program and on how churches can get involved.
- an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tour of Florence Detention Center, followed by a visit to the Florence Project office. The detention center is where the majority of undocumented immigrants are sent, and the Florence Project coordinates free legal services and related social services for people detained in Arizona for immigration removal proceedings.
- all-day learning trips to the U.S./Mexico border with BorderLinks. These experiential learning opportunities may include a prayer vigil at the border wall, talking with Border Control agents, meeting groups who give emergency assistance to migrants, learning about the justice work of groups based in Tucson who give aid in the desert, and learning about the experiences of immigrants held in detention centers.
- a traveling choir that will sing songs of healing and hope in several locations throughout Phoenix.
- a prayer walk that will bring participants to places of significance around Phoenix.
In addition, a special offering will be taken at convention for the DREAMer Fund, which provides help with application fees for undocumented young adults as they apply for deferred action. The goal is to raise $15,000 to help 50 young Mennonites. (The DREAM Act—Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors—is a proposed bipartisan legislation through which qualifying undocumented youth would be eligible for a six-year long conditional path to citizenship. It has not passed. Deferred action allows undocumented people under 30 who were brought into the country as children to apply to stay in the U.S. for two years, during which time they can receive a work permit and Social Security number and apply for a driver’s license.)
Immigration focus stems from EB commitments
After Arizona SB1070 was passed in April 2010, the Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA began an eight-month process of discerning whether to continue to hold the 2013 churchwide convention in Phoenix as had been decided in 2009, out of concern that the setting would not be welcoming to all potential convention participants—especially Latinos—due to the possibility of increased racial profiling by law enforcement officers.
Issues raised during the discernment process prompted the EB to adopt 11 specific commitments recommended by the Intercultural Relations Reference Committee (IRRC) to help the church “grow toward the biblical vision of being one people from all tribes, languages, peoples and nations gathered together by Jesus.”
One commitment in particular requires that 40 percent of the seminars, worship services, and service activities at the 2013 convention be focused on the churchwide priority of undoing racism and advancing intercultural transformation, and that 50 percent of the planning committees be people of color. Another commitment encourages Mennonite congregations “to teach the scriptures about God’s will in regards to ministering to all immigrants” and “to seek to provide a loving and just embrace of all peoples in the congregations of Mennonite Church USA, regardless of their legal immigration status.”
Immigration education links
Mennonite Church USA Executive Board
- http://mennoniteusa.org/executive-board/immigration/statement-on-immigration/ (2003 Mennonite Church USA Churchwide Statement on Immigration)
Mennonite Central Committee
Immigration education resources
- Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R. (also available in Spanish)
- Strangers in the Land, a six-week study guide from Sojourners based on Christians at the Border. http://store.sojo.net/product_p/sg_sitl.htm
- MCC U.S. Listening Project assesses attitudes about immigration among Anabaptist churches across the U.S. http://immigration.mcc.org/resources#print
- Missio Dei 19—Immigration and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R. http://www.mennonitemission.net/Resources/MissioDei/Pages/ImmigrationandtheBible.aspx (download); http://store.mpn.net/productdetails.cfm?PC=1873 (printed copies)
- Dying to Live: A Migrant’s Journey (33-minute DVD) http://dyingtolive.nd.edu/;
http://dyingtolive.nd.edu/DyingtoLiveREFLECTION%20GUIDE1.pdf (4 sessions)
- Loving Strangers as Ourselves: Biblical Reflections (booklet) http://immigration.mcc.org/resources#print