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Photo by Jay Mallin, UMNS

United Methodist and other faith leaders, labor leaders and immigrants face arrest after a prayer vigil on Feb. 17 in front of the White House in support of progress on immigration reform and an end to deportations.

Chicago Area bishop to join immigration rally

Sam Hodges
March 19, 2014 | DALLAS (UMNS)

A third United Methodist bishop soon may be arrested in protest of the Obama administration’s deportation of immigrants.

On Feb. 17, Bishops Minerva Carcaño and Julius Trimble, co-chairs of the denomination’s Interagency Task Force on Immigration, were among those police placed in custody during a protest in front of the White House.

Bishop Sally Dyck, who leads the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, said she will join a March 27 rally in Chicago. While she’s not sure how the event will play out, she said she is prepared to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

Dyck has met United Methodists families separated by deportation.

“They need to know that the leadership of The United Methodist Church cares,” she said.

Concerns within church grow deeper

The Obama administration is under increasing pressure from United Methodist leaders and many others over the pace of deportations and lack of immigration reform.

Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said the Obama administration has had a get-tough approach — deporting nearly 2 million people since 2009 — to try to persuade Republicans in Congress to join Democrats in reforming immigration policy.

A bipartisan measure that would have given legal status and the promise of citizenship to many of the 11 million people in the United States passed the U.S. Senate last summer but died in the U.S. House.

Meanwhile, the pace of deportations has remained brisk.

“The administration is hearing that there is deeper and deeper concern for the policies they’ve implemented over the past five years and the fact that they don’t work,” Mefford said.

President Obama announced March 13 that his administration would consider changes in the deportation policy, giving hope to those who have overstayed visas or who entered the country illegally, but who otherwise have not been in trouble with the law.

“We see that as a very small step in the right direction,” Mefford said. “We just need to shut these (deportations) down until we pass immigration reform.”

Mefford noted that The United Methodist Church has been on record since the 2008 General Conference in opposing deportations until immigration reform is passed.

Series of events scheduled in April

He was among those arrested with the bishops in Washington, as was Harriet Olsen, top executive of United Methodist Women.

Mefford is encouraging United Methodists to participate in early April in a national series of deportation awareness-raising and protest events, a project of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. The Board of Church and Society and the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church are among the groups endorsing the effort.

“I expect there will be a lot of (United Methodist) folks who will be doing full-scale prayer vigils, and a number spending worship service time in prayer and hearing stories of people impacted,” Mefford said.

Long history of Chicago-area activism

The March 27 event will occur in downtown Chicago, beginning at 2 p.m. CT, and the sponsoring organization is The Coalition of Faith, Family and the Next Generation, of which the Northern Illinois Conference is part.

The conference has a long history of activism on immigration issues and operates three Justice For Our Neighbors legal clinics, said the Rev. Michael Mann, conference associate director of mission and advocacy.

“I meet a lot of folks in there who are trying to do everything they can to keep their families together and step out of the fear of deportation,” Mann said.

Dyck said she was invited to be part of the March 27 rally by Walter “Slim” Coleman, pastor of Adalberto Memorial United Methodist and Lincoln United Methodist churches in Chicago.

Both have significant immigrant attendance, and Adalberto provided sanctuary from deportation for Elvira Arrellano and her son in 2006-2007 — an episode that was covered widely in the news.

Dyck said she plans to meet March 21 with Northern Illinois Conference pastors for a briefing about the rally and the deportations issue.

If, as she expects, she is arrested March 27, it will be a new experience.

“Not only have I not been arrested for something like this before, I’ve never been arrested before,” she said.

Dyck added that her concern for families helped push her to be willing to take this step.

“Sometimes it’s important to take a stand.”

*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.