By Rev. Bea Soots
“Love Your Neighbor is not an option. It’s a commandment. Not to love is a sin. Christ is calling us to be neighbors to immigrants.” The Rev. Rosanna Panizo, academic dean of the Methodist Seminary in Peru, made these comments during her statement yesterday at the Immigration Vigil, which was held to emphasize the importance of immigration to the United Methodist Church as its leaders gather to vote on related legislation. 14 United Methodist Bishops were present at the rally, along with more than a hundred demonstrators.
Amid shouts of “What do we want? Stop deportation! When do we want it? Now!” the Rev. Panizo went on to remind those who had gathered that when one part of the Body of Christ suffers, all suffer, and when one part is honored, all can celebrate.
The Rev. Jorge Rodriguez spoke powerfully about the Northern Triangle, which encompasses Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In order to escape violence, many people flee from those nations through Mexico to the United States. According to the Rev. Rodriguez, it is not safe for people to return to their native lands because those governments have criminalized their actions.
Undocumented immigrants who come to the United States face discrimination and the violation of basic human rights. For example, the Pew Research Center reports that in 2013 the US deported a record 363,000 people without a trial. That’s 83% of deportations. And many of those deportations represent families being separated.
Accompanied by her 4-year-old granddaughter, an undocumented immigrant named Alejandra spoke about her family and their struggle in this country. Her granddaughter was born in the US and is a citizen, but their family risks being torn apart if any of the adults are deported.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño told the crowd that the Council of Bishops has long supported immigration reform, reminding them that Jesus was and immigrant and a stranger. Whenever we welcome one of these, we welcome Christ. Sending a call to members of the United Methodist Church, she said “We are all citizens of the Reign of God and we have a hell of a job to do. This [hateful attitude toward immigrants] is not who we are.”
Bishop Julius Trimble concluded with prayer, calling the Holy Spirit to come among those who had gathered.The church is called to challenge broken immigration policies and practices. We can be part of the solution as we care for all God’s children.