During the Generosity for Our Immigrant Neighbors breakout, the NC Conference Task Force on Immigration and Board of Church and Society discussed ways for congregations to provide advocacy and support for immigrants and refugees in crisis.
Rev. Jason Villegas of Murfeesboro UMC, shared the advocacy levels of engagement—awareness, education, discernment, proclamation, acts of mercy, and acts of justice—each with coinciding tangible acts of service, which include (but are not limited to) sharing basic facts about the law, preaching justice, offering ESL classes, and standing with immigrants at legal hearings.
Viridiana Martinez, an undocumented advocate for immigrants, became the director of Alerta Migratoria NC in 2016. This community hotline, led by immigrant women, facilitates and promotes the self-determination of undocumented immigrants and refugees.
North Carolina leads the country in providing sanctuary, but sanctuary is not a means to an end. Martinez told the story of Samuel Oliver-Bruno, who is seeking sanctuary at CityWell UMC in Durham. His wife suffers from lupus and requires constant medical care, and he will miss his son’s graduation due to his inability to leave. Samuel is grateful for his sanctuary, but it cannot be the end of his journey.
Martinez explained that this is a local struggle, and a solution must involve advocacy to local city councils, boards of educations, and senators.
Brian Heymans, the Chair of Church and Society of North Carolina, described a ministry called Justice for our Neighbors, a United Methodist Immigration program that provides immigration legal services for low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Heyman is looking for churches to partner with Justice for our Neighbors in order to establish JFON clinics, which provide a comprehensive, inexpensive legal service to low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the NC Conference area.
Heymans reports, “I have discovered that people are the same wherever you go. They don’t speak the same language, but they have the same humor, the same characteristics, the same yearning for a family.”