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Bishops speak out: Don't villainize migrants

Immigrants who have just been released from a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility wait at the bus station in McAllen, Texas, in this photo from Aug. 1.
Immigrants who have just been released from a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility wait at the bus station in McAllen, Texas, in this photo from Aug. 1.

United Methodist bishops have joined other Methodist bishops in calling on their congregations "to be agents of God's mercy to migrants."

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The United Methodist Council of Bishops joined with Methodist bishops in Mexico and El Salvador in responding to the caravans of people who traveled from Honduras to seek asylum in Mexico or the United States.

"These migrant sisters and brothers have been villainized," the bishops' statement said. "Yet as we have sought to minister to them along their perilous journey, what we have seen on the whole is human beings of great courage and deep faith who have placed their lives in God's hands."

Bishop Elias G. Galvan, who has led The United Methodist Church in Honduras, told the Council of Bishops that the city of San Pedro Sula — where the caravan started — is known as "the murder capital of the world." The city is also home to four United Methodist congregations that try to help.

He said that church leaders in the affected countries felt it important to speak a word on behalf of migrants during this crisis. The Council of Bishops unanimously affirmed the statement.

Both Mexico and the United States have laws that allow immigrants to seek asylum within their borders as well as laws protecting security. Under U.S. law, people without documentation have been able to go to a U.S. port of entry and apply for asylum if they can show they would face persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, political views or membership in a targeted social group.

During the Council of Bishops meeting, the episcopal leaders heard other examples of how United Methodists are helping migrants and other displaced people around the globe — in Germany, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda of East Congo spoke of how conflict in the region continues to force people to flee their homes.

"Thousands of people have been displaced in my area, leaving their homes with their belongings — whatever they can carry on their heads," he said through an interpreter. "They have to leave because of war, because of the ravages of malaria and most recently because of the attack of the Ebola virus."

He said United Methodists in his area are working with church members in Tennessee and California to aid the most vulnerable — women and children.

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, chair of the United Methodist Immigration Task Force, described how United Methodist bishops in Texas rallied church members to take a stand against the separation of families on the border.

Carcaño told her colleagues that experts expect forced migration to be the world's reality for decades to come.

"Poverty, violence and increased climate change will force people to move," said Carcaño, who also leads the California-Nevada Conference.

"Indeed, when we welcome the migrant," she said, "we welcome Jesus himself."

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS

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