Delegates call for reunification of families separated at U.S./Mexico border

Convention delegates approve resolution urging that policies separating immigrant families be permanently abolished and that divided family be reunited.

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Xavier Piña encouraged delegates to remember that they are God's family and to think about the message they are sending Hispanic congregations as they discuss the resolution asking that the government keep families together that try to cross the U.S./Mexico border. "That message is, yes, you are part of the USMB family but there really isn’t an intent to work in harmony. There really isn’t an intent to work together as the body of Christ." He urged delegates to stand with ethnic churches as they struggle with immigration issues.

Delegates to the 2018 USMB National Convention unanimously approved a resolution asking leaders of the United States government to “permanently abolish the practice of separating (immigrant) families and actively work to quickly reunite families already separated.”

The resolution was discussed, revised and then passed by delegates on the final morning of the U.S. Conference of MB Churches (USMB) biennial National Convention held July 26-28, 2018, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

More than a dozen delegates participated in a lengthy conversation that covered a variety of viewpoints and at times became emotional. Some who spoke noted that the discussion illustrated the challenges that come with living out the convention theme of “Celebrating our diversity and unity.”

Delegates who critiqued the resolution focused on the opening sentence: “We deplore any immigration policies of the United States government which exist to separate children from their parents.”

“My concern is the first statement: We deplore any activity that separates families,” said Dwight Carter of Inman, Kansas, noting that some children that cross the border do so with adults involved in human trafficking and drug trafficking.

“I don’t want to jump on the media bandwagon and find a demon under every bush,” said Winnie Bartel of Shafter, California. “As a peacemaker I would rather approach (this) with a more humble statement. We know there is a problem, and we want to be part of the solution and not be pointing fingers and name calling.”

As chair of the Pacific District Conference Hispanic Council, Xavier Piña, Hanford, California, said he was speaking on behalf of the approximately 35 congregations that form the council.

“I (will) go back to them (PDC Hispanic congregations) and report that the national conference was about celebrating diversity and unity and yet there this is a disconnect with how our USMB family views the struggles that are going on in our congregations. That is going to send a message.”

Piña said that if the delegates do not support the resolution, that will send a message that “will clash with what I think this event was supposed to be—a celebration of diversity and unity,” said Piña. “Yes, we understand there are government structures and yes, we understand there are laws, but at the end of the day we are God’s family.”

Piña noted that ethnic churches were not equitably represented at the National Convention. “The decisions being made are being made by the structures of people who are in power and are not representing the essence of our USMB family,” he said.

Several speakers verbalized their support for immigrants, including families separated by the previous immigration policies.

“I stand with you,” said Terry Hunt, Lenoir, North Carolina, addressing Piña. “My heart bleeds as well with our neighbors…. I come from a race this country deemed as three-fifths of a man, and I’ve fought all my life to be equal. I will not stand and hear my brothers and sisters be denied an opportunity that everyone in this room (and their ancestors) had (to immigrate); none of you are Native Americans. Why can’t we be united for the sake of humanity?”

At this point, the discussion shifted to the narrow nature of the resolution, and a number of delegates offered suggestions as to how the document could be revised.

“I read this as a narrow statement,” said Ed Boschman, Bakersfield, California. “We’re not trying to declare every reality but fundamentally we’re saying that as a matter of policy, taking children from parents is not a God thing.” Boschman went on to recommend reworking the order of various paragraphs and removing a “bomb word or two.”

“We are a broad and diverse group of people here,” said Tim Sullivan, U.S. Board of Faith and Life chair, during the discussion about the immigration resolution. “We want this to be fairly narrow. We hope that we can all affirm that we would not feel good about separating children from parents.”

U.S. BFL members agreed with Boschman’s evaluation that the resolution was narrow in its focus.

“This resolution states we don’t support policies designed to separate families,” said Tim Geddert, Fresno, California, and a member of the U.S. BFL. “Are there exceptions? Of course; there are always exceptions. But that’s not what this is designed to address. This is designed to address a policy that aims to separate families. I hope we can all agree that we don’t support policies like that.”

Eventually Marv Schellenberg, USMB Leadership Board chair from Wichita, Kansas, who was moderating the business session, asked that the motion to approve the recommendation be tabled so that the resolution could be revised. An ad hoc committee of Terry Hunt, Xavier Piña, Winnie Bartel, Tim Sullivan and Gary Wall immediately met to revise the resolution, which was then approved by the delegates.

The resolution, which quotes extensively from the USMB Confession of Faith, was presented to the delegates by the U.S. Board of Faith and Life, who unanimously approved the resolution in committee. Tim Sullivan, U.S. BFL chair, reported that the board intends to communicate the resolution to the U.S. government and will invite local congregations to share the statement with their state governments.

The resolution approved by delegates states:

We recognize that immigration issues are complex. We also acknowledge and appreciate the recent executive order of June 20, 2018, to cease the separation of immigrant families. We cannot support or affirm immigration policies of the United States government which exist to separate children from their parents. The God of compassion and mercy who ordained the family, calls for justice in the care of widows, orphans and sojourners in the land. (Ex. 22:21-23)

The Confession of Faith to which we hold states:

God is a refuge and fortress to those in need (Article 1).

Through word and deed Jesus proclaimed the reign of God, bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind (Article 1).

Humans are the crowning act of God’s creation (Article 3).

Jesus teaches that his disciples are to love God and neighbor by telling the good news and by doing acts of love and compassion (Article 7).

God intends family relationships at all stages of life to be characterized by love. Children are a gift from God and parents are to instruct and nurture their children in the faith (Article 11).

We believe that God instituted the state to promote the well-being of all people.  Christians cooperate with others in society to defend the weak, care for the poor and promote justice, righteousness and truth.  Believers witness against corruption, discrimination and injustice, exercise social responsibility, pay taxes and obey all laws that do not conflict with the Word of God (Article 12).

Followers of Christ respect and pray for those in authority so that peaceful order may prevail (Article 12).

As peacemakers we alleviate suffering, reduce strife, promote justice and work to end violence and war, that others may see a demonstration of Christ’s love (Article 13).

We believe that human life belongs to God. Each person is created in the image of God and ought to be celebrated and nurtured. Christ calls the people of all nations to care for the defenseless (Article 14).

Therefore, we call upon the leaders of the United States government, for whom we pray, to permanently abolish the practice of separating families and actively work to quickly reunite families already separated.

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Connie Faber
Editor
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law and one son-in-law. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The ones responsible for separating parents from children are the parents. They chose to enter the US illegally, breaking our laws, and must pay the consequences. Would you rather these children be incarcerated along with other adults, many of which could be molesters? That is insanity!

  2. Hi Patricia,

    Thanks for getting the conversation going. I think the issue is likely more complex than simply parents breaking the law and suffering the consequences.

    Aside from the most important question (what the relationship is between our Christian identity/values, and the law of the United States, or in other words, when do we know to stand with Jesus even when it runs counter to nationa/state/local laws, cf. article 12 of our confession of faith), and other important questions regarding the treatment of asylum seekers (i.e. it is not a crime to seek asylum) and how we treat people apprehended for crossing the border illegally (namely that they are innocent until proven guilty). An additional question I wrestle with is, “Does the punishment fit the crime?”

    Something that gives me pause is this, if convicted, crossing the U.S. border illegally is merely a federal misdemeanor, not a felony.

    Some other examples of federal misdemeanors in the U.S. are: purchasing illegal fireworks; mailing dentures without a dental license; cutting down a Christmas tree without a permit; and mailing an NCAA bracket for the purpose of wagering. Not only are these other federal misdemeanors, they carry stiffer penalties than if one is convicted of crossing the U.S. border illegally. Crazy, right!?

    That’s why, until May 2018, families were largely not being separated much at all (and when they were, children were not detained but placed in foster care). Those adults suspected of crossing the border illegally were charged, released, and then tracked. When the U.S. started detaining suspects in May, it initiated the separation of families and detainment of children, but even that could’ve been avoided by funding more courts, granting more asylum applications, or at least placing children in foster homes rather than in detention centers. It’s not as if the only option was to separate families or detain children with adults, remember, the U.S. wasn’t detaining adults much at all.

    In light of that information, do we really want to be a people that support the separation of families as part of the punishment for a crime that is (according to the U.S. legal code) less severe than cutting down a Christmas tree without a permit? Personally, that seems similarly insane.

    Perhaps I’m missing something or my analysis needs refinement. What do you think? What could help me see the situation more clearly?

    Thanks to the U.S. BFL for bringing, the committee for editing, and the delegates for unanimously supporting this declaration. Thanks also to the CL for the helpful write-up.

    -Trent Voth

  3. Hi Trent,

    My, did you miss all the children separated from their parents during the Obama administration (several times the number as during the present administration), the Bush administration, and the Clinton administration (Clinton actually started it). In fact, liberals used some of the photos of children in cages saying those were current when it was proven they were from the Obama administration. Funny, I never saw anything in the Christian Leader, or anywhere else, for that matter, condemning the practice until the Trump administration. That, to me, is very telling.

    Are you aware of the open borders organizations that were coaching the large contingent of Central Americans traveling through Mexico, on what to say and do to claim asylum? One woman, with her child, was proven NOT to need asylum, but had a husband and other children in her home country. The husband had a good job and was opposed to his wife leaving. Sure, lots of people want to come to America, but we cannot handle everyone. And if they’re really claiming asylum, that should be to the first country they come to; in this case Mexico.

    I am well aware that crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor, but it’s still against the law. Is it okay to lie, steal, or harm another, as long as it’s just a misdemeanor? Is that what Jesus teaches? And you are completely in error about illegal aliens being tracked; 95% of them don’t show up for their court dates and the authorities have no idea where they are. By the way, I believe crossing the border illegally should be a felony.

    Further, where are you and the rest of those condemning this practice when American prisoners are separated from THEIR children to serve their time in jail/prison? That isn’t for a month or two; it’s for up to life. I haven’t heard anyone condemning that. Many of the illegal aliens are criminals and, further, many of those traveling with children aren’t the child’s parents. Should we keep children together with those using them?

    You see, this is a much larger issue than either you or the BFL is making it out to be, and none of us has all the information. That’s why we leave it to Homeland Security to sort out.

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