Seventeen faith leaders from Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ and Mennonite Church (MC) USA congregations advocated for better immigration policies at 30 congressional offices representing eight states, in late February.
Mennonite Brethren participants were Rhonda Dueck, associate pastor at North Fresno (Calif.) MB Church and director of The Micah Project, and Samuel Resendez pastor at Iglesia La Roca in Sanger, Calif. The two USMB pastors were invited by Danielle Gonzales, MCC’s Immigration Project coordinator, to participate because they were among nine Pacific District Conference pastors who participated in a border tour hosted by MCC in March 2017.
“As a community in California’s Central Valley, the immigration issues are significant, as many immigrants from southern countries have found work planting and harvesting the many fruit and vegetable crops that we are fortunate to grow here,” Dueck says. “This has become a good place to settle down with a family.”
Dueck and the other faith leaders told legislative aides about problems current immigration policies are causing in their communities. They also urged their legislators to support a “clean” Dream Act, a bill to give undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship without allocating money for more border walls or more deportations.
“Those growing up in a family without documentation live in fear of deportation,” says Dueck. “There is also a significant amount of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients in California’s Central Valley that no longer feel safe. These folks would love to be citizens, but there is not currently a pathway towards that for them.
“The political rhetoric that immigrants in our country are a negative influence and most are criminals is not accurate and is actually harmful in sharing Christ’s love with them,” says Dueck. “This impacts many churches in our valley, especially many Hispanic churches.”
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Washington Office hosted the group Feb. 27-28. The event was finalized and planned jointly by the Washington Office and MC USA. A similar delegation came to Washington, D.C., in 2013.
“MCC did a terrific job of teaching and leading us to greater understand the reality of the complexity of the immigration situation,” says Dueck.
On the first day, Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for domestic affairs for the Washington Office, reviewed immigration legislation and described expectations for meetings with legislators. The group also discussed how federal immigration policies were affecting each of their communities.
Many faith leaders shared that immigrants make up a large percentage of their communities. Some churches are experiencing deportations within their congregations while others are offering “sanctuary”—housing an undocumented immigrant who is at risk of deportation.
“They came for one person, but they took two families,” Sandra Montes-Martinez told the group about people from her church, Iglesia Monte Horeb in Grand Prairie, Texas, who were deported recently.
Immigration issues is one of the social issues that Dueck discusses with participants in The Micah Project, a 10-month leadership development and urban ministry program she directos that is part of North Fresno Church. “One of my interns this year is a DACA recipient, and we have been privileged to learn so much from her family’s story,” Duecks says in an email interview. “Her story has helped us understand the reality of the complexity of the immigration situation.”
MCC’s Alexander reminded participants of immigration policies of past administrations.
“Anti-immigrant policies are not something new,” she explained, referencing the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. “Hundreds of miles of U.S.-Mexico border wall have already been built and mass deportations were happening long before President Trump.”
Some of the faith leaders were initially anxious about the congressional meetings, but as they prepared their talking points and gathered personal stories to share, their confidence rose. The leaders felt called to pray for policymakers as they discussed issues important to their congregations and communities.
In addition to their desire to support immigrants in their communities, the faith leaders attributed their core convictions for these meetings to recognizing the injustice of current immigration policies and understanding that much of this injustice stems from racism and fear.
As the faith leaders returned to the Washington Office after their Capitol Hill meetings on Feb. 28, many reported that their meetings were positive. Some said their legislators support a “clean” Dream Act. Others mentioned that, while their legislators did not agree with their policy positions, their aides, nevertheless, listened to their recommendations earnestly.
“It was discouraging to visit the congressional offices and hear the frustration that is felt by many in trying to work with other elected officials to process the very complicated issue of immigration as well as many other significant issues that face our country,” Dueck says. “The country is so polarized right now that it is difficult for conversations to happen across the aisle. This has led me to an increased commitment to pray for our elected officials locally and nationally.”
Most of the church leaders said they felt more confident and equipped to meet with their legislators back in their home districts to continue the dialogue about immigration policies and how those policies are impacting their congregations.
“I got over a barrier,” says Rodney Eugene Schmucker of Hope for the Broken Mennonite Church in Los Fresnos, Texas. “I’m sure I will continue in-district. We have to be vigilant. We can’t lose steam.” Schmucker also appreciates the time for faith leaders to talk with one another and learn from each other. “For pastors to get around the table to share on these issues is invaluable.”
By Cherelle Dessus, legislative assistant and communications coordinator for the MCC Washington Office, with files from Connie Faber, CL editor.
MCC continues to push for fairer and just immigration policies, but more voices are needed. Learn more about immigration at the MCC Washington Office website (www.mcc.org/get-involved/advocacy/washington) and by subscribing to monthly immigration updates at www.confirmsubscription.com/h/i/CB63A54385516C84.