Home Equipping Leaders Hispanic / Latino The Pastoral Ministry and Immigration Raids

The Pastoral Ministry and Immigration Raids

Many of us have witnessed the escalating crusades to chase, arrest, incarcerate, and deport those who have crossed the border illegally or who, after entering this country legally, have overstayed their visas and decided to make this country their home. To fully enforce the law against immigrants who have truly committed crimes is reasonable and necessary. But what should we do about those who, having no other option at their disposal due to the poverty and corruption in their countries of origin, have come to this country to work and support their families? What would we say about families that have been divided and affected financially and emotionally due to the incarcerations and subsequent deportations of heads of households, particularly families with children who are American citizens? At the end of the day, who looks after their well-being? How should we react to cases of immigrants whose constitutional rights have been denied and whom the police and immigration agents have abused and racially profiled? Where are the human rights that this country advocates and takes pride in? Why does the government stubbornly approach the immigration challenges from one perspective only (namely, from the standpoint of just creating and enforcing more severe laws), wasting millions of dollars and bypassing the complexities of this issue? Can't they see that without comprehensive immigration reform, these raids potentially create more dependence on government aid, harm children (many of whom are United States citizens), contribute to people not reporting real crimes to the authorities for fear of reprisals, and solve very little? Haven't they realized that the law-enforcement-only approach doesn't really work because many of the people who are deported return a few weeks later?

In 2008, the Federal Government plans to deport 200,000 people who are detained in various prisons in this country. This plan, of course, does not take into consideration the people for whom there are still warrant arrests pending and other non-criminal, hard-working immigrants who will be arrested in the process. The future is disastrous for many ethnic communities, but especially for the Latino/Hispanic contingent -- which is the largest group and the one taking almost all the heat. Before this situation arises, the pastors and leaders of our churches must take action instead of isolating themselves from the world and spiritualizing the faith, as they sometimes do. The Jesus who makes himself present in the lives of the poor, foreigners and prisoners, expects us to show our solidarity with them, regardless of their migratory condition (Matthew 25:31-46). For this reason, it is necessary that we think about our Christian responsibilities toward people who are here illegally and potentially face jail and deportation, and the families who will be separated from their loved ones.

How can we walk with women and children affected by the voracious attacks of the forces of public order (or disorder), while the government refuses to embrace a comprehensive immigration reform and create an atmosphere in which all of us win -- workers, employers, the government and society in general?

As we seek answers for all these questions, perhaps the following suggestions might stimulate us to be and act as the Body of Christ and face some of the challenges associated with the immigration raids.

  1. First, take a moment during the week, not only to pray personally and with the church about immigration, but also to educate yourselves on this subject, particularly on the proposed and passed legislation at the state and federal levels. Awareness of raids in your area is crucial as well. Study these topics from various points of view, since the migration phenomenon is multidimensional and complex. An uninformed, passive, and simplistic clergy contributes indirectly to the problem.
  2. Offer your pastoral services to grassroots organizations and participate in activities such as boycotts, community gatherings, marches, and town hall meetings. Your congregation must also get involved, but the best way to encourage them to do so is by example. Our praxis must match our beliefs and rhetoric. To serve behind the scenes is as important as providing leadership. We should not always be in charge or be the leading voice as we serve God and our neighbors.
  3. Learn about and help disseminate information that protects persons who run the risk of being arrested and deported; do the same for their families. For example, your congregation should take the time to distribute flyers that speak about immigration or simply organize forums open to the public in the church facilities. Today we have at our disposal many bilingual resources that inform undocumented persons about their constitutional rights or give tips about what to do before and after raids are conducted in the workplace, public areas, and homes. Among the most important rights are the right to remain silent, to request the services of a lawyer, not to sign a document that is not understood, to solicit a bond, and not to open the door to anybody unless the police or immigration agents have a warrant. In addition, they should not allow intimidation of any sort. There are also resources that give practical advice to the families regarding how to find a relative who has been detained and what type of information needs to be on hand.
  4. Dare to preach prophetically or give prophetic Bible studies about the migration phenomena or themes such as hospitality, justice, the love of neighbor, the laws and function of government, the treatment of foreigners, and so on. It is outrageous that, to this day, many pastors and theologians, selling themselves out to earthly ideologies and isolating themselves from the world, have not made a priority of immigration in their pedagogical ministry. There is no excuse for such an omission; we are accountable to God, our conscience, and our community. At the end of this article, you will find some materials in English and Spanish that are helpful for the ministry in the parish.
  5. Serve as a liaison between the prisoners and the families whose members are still undocumented and, for this very reason, cannot go to visit their relatives in prison. After contacting the chaplain in charge of the prison and familiarizing yourself with the visitation requirements and schedule, contact the pastors of the area from several denominations, and make a list of clergy willing to participate in this ministry. Indicate how and when they may be contacted as well. Take turns being on call as you make this list available to organizations that work with immigrants.
  6. Visit the families whose members are in jail or deported and encourage your church to take care of their survival needs. Help them make decisions taking into account various options and the possibilities and risks involved in every one of them. Our role is to be with them in these times of anger, sadness, confusion, and despair.
  7. Do anything in your power to help vulnerable families put together an emergency plan so they know what to do in case some of their members are arrested, imprisoned, and deported. Meeting the needs of women and children must be at the core of this strategy. This emergency plan is as important as a power of attorney that authorizes a friend or relative to have the temporary custody of children, finances, and other related matters. Remember that in many cases, immigrants might be forced to move to another county or state, especially in locations where the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office and the local police have special agreements.
  8. Contact the consulates of the countries of immigrants you serve and inform yourself about the available resources that they can count on in the event that the families need to go back to their respective countries or require legal and financial assistance. To have this information handy and in advance will allow you to refer these families to the appropriate authorities without improvisation.
  9. Have a list of immigration and criminal lawyers who are trustworthy and have a social justice conscience to whom prisoners and their relatives may go whenever there is an emergency. The sad reality is that in many states, once undocumented immigrants are put in jail, and the authorities know this and contact ICE, the majority of people without documents or who have overstayed their visas have no possibilities of adjusting their migratory status and will be deported. In such circumstances, paying the corresponding bond or fine will not make a difference. Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule, and sound advising is necessary. Lawyers need to have the integrity to tell immigrants if they have a real case or not. We have to be careful with attorneys who will take advantage of the poor immigrants.
  10. Report any abuses committed against immigrants to organizations that defend human rights and help them document these acts. Police officers or immigration agents abuse their power when they are physically violent, resort to psychological intimidation, enter a home forcibly and without a warrant, give false information, make immigrants sign documents that they do not understand, use violence to force them to speak, take their money away, deny their right to speak with a lawyer, and so on. Injustices must be denounced publicly and through the media in both English and Spanish. This is part of the prophetic ministry that must characterize the pastoral task ahead of us.
  11. Finally, provide practical and immediate solutions. For example, some cooperatives may be formed to help pay for legal expenses, fines for driving without a license, childcare for families whose parents are in jail or have been deported. Regarding persons driving without a driver's license, perhaps some arrangements could be made for transportation to work in exchange for an affordable small fee. A hospitality fund is a good idea. Please consider the possibility of supporting the New Sanctuary Movement, which is an initiative offering asylum to families whose members face deportation.

As we prayerfully and critically reevaluate our pastoral ministry to serve the migrant communities, may we walk closely with them as God blesses our effort to welcome our fellow sojourners.

Key Organizations

  • American Civil Liberties Union
    (Both English and Spanish)
  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
    Suite 300, 1331 G Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20005-3142
    Phone: 202-507-7600
    (English only)
  • General Board of Church and Society
    Washington, D.C. Office
    100 Maryland Ave, NE
    Washington, D.C. 20002
  • General Commission on Religion and Race
    100 Maryland Avenue, N.E., Suite 400
    Washington, D.C. 20002-5620
    Phone: 202-547-2271
    Fax: 202-547-0358
  • Georgia Association of Elected Officials (GALEO)
    P.O. Box 29506
    Atlanta, GA 30359
    Office: 404-745-2580
    Fax: 404-759-2671
    E-mail: [email protected]
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center
    1663 Mission Street, Suite 602
    San Francisco, CA 94103
    (English & Spanish)
  • Immigration Advocates Network
    (English only)
  • Justice for our Neighbors, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), General Board of Global Ministries represents the response of the United Methodist Church and its local congregations to the needs of immigrants seeking to reunify their families, secure immigration status, and enjoy the right to work.
    Panravee Vongjoerenrat
    475 Riverside Drive, Room 330
    New York, NY 10115
    Phone (Toll free): 800-554-8583; 212-870-3807
    E-mail: [email protected]
  • List of Mexican consulates in the United States
  • Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
    National Headquarters
    634 S. Spring Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90014
    Telephone: 213-629-2512
  • National Council of La Raza
    1126 16th Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20036
    Telephone: 202-785-1670
    Fax: 202-776-1792
  • National Day Laborer Organizing Network (Red Nacional de Jornaleros y Jornaleras)
    675 S. Park View Street, Suite B
    Los Angeles, CA 90057
    Telephone: 213-380-2784
    Fax: 213-380-2787
    E-mail: [email protected]
  • The New Sanctuary Movement
    E-mail: [email protected]
  • Pew Hispanic Center
    1615 L. Street, NW Suite 700
    Washington, DC 20036-5610
    Telephone: 202-419-3600
    Fax: 202-419-3608
  • Women's Division, General Board of Global Ministry
    Carol Barton, Executive Secretary for Community Action
    FAX: 212-870-3736
    E-mail: [email protected]

Bilingual Resources for the Work at the Parish

Immigrant Resources for the GALEO website

General Board of Church and Society

General Board of Global Ministries

Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa Hispano/Latino Americana (MARCHA)

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