In recent weeks, people of faith have been shocked and moved by reports of immigrant parents and children separated after detention at the southern borders of the United States. Despite an order to stop the family separations, many concerns remain. Parents still might not know where their children are, nor when they will be reunited. In some cases, mothers were told their children were being taken for a bath, only to discover those children were taken to a separate detention facility.
Such situations may cause United Methodists to wrestle with their reactions. How can we respond with a sense of empathy and compassion? How can we represent mercy? What are the ways we can offer relief to all of those who seek release from circumstances that have spurred them to leave their homes in search of life somewhere else?
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church give us a clear lesson that we oppose the separation of families:
"We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all. We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families." [2016 Book of Discipline, Social Principles ¶162.H]
For some of us, the events may be far removed, but there are ways for all of us to help bring families back together — or to at least share some compassion with those who are suffering from separation and despair.
Those seeking asylum or immigration need assistance in communication and legal representation. Organizations like Justice for Our Neighbors provide legal services for immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. Secondary organizations like United Methodist Committee on Relief and Together Rising identify particular areas of need and direct donated funds in support.
Contact elected officials
Your voice matters. Let your elected officials know your thoughts and values about immigration and refugee assistance. In the United States, you can find your elected officials here. It is good to be brief when contacting your elected official, but also share your points of concern and how you hope the official responds.
Attend a rally or vigil
Presence matters. It matters to elected officials and it matters to those who are detained and facing family separation. Presence at a rally or vigil inspires hope for those who are in despair, and inspires elected officials to assess governmental stances and practices. In response to the situation along the United States border, Families Belong Together is helping to organize and advertise rallies and vigils.
Presence does matter. However, well-planned presence matters most. For many, the best way to volunteer may be by simply expressing empathy through attending a rally and prayer. For those who speak Spanish or have some legal expertise, presence in the form of being an onsite volunteer could be greatly beneficial. Many organizations, including Justice for Our Neighbors and the Texas Civil Rights Project are seeking skilled onsite volunteers. The warning here: if you do not have a plan or needed skill, do not just show up.
Teach and extend empathy
Do you have children of your own? Teach empathy and concern for others by volunteering locally. Most cities have refugee populations and agencies assisting them through providing assimilation services, housing, job training and more. In the United States, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants provides references to organizations assisting refugees. The International Rescue Committee also provides opportunities to volunteer alongside refugees.
Find other ways to get involved.
*Ryan Dunn is Minister of Online Engagement at United Methodist Communications.