“Human Rights First” Approach

United Methodist Women National Office Launches Principles that Call for a “Human Rights First” Approach to Immigration Reform – New York, January 30, 2013

Immigration Reform 2013

United Methodist Women national office welcomes the momentum for national immigration reform this year!  This is the moment we have been waiting for and as women of faith committed to justice, particularly for women, youth and children, we must seize this moment!  As a contribution, United Methodist Women offers core principles to guide us in the intense national debate and negotiations ahead.

On Monday, January 28 four Republican and four Democratic Senators (known as the “Gang of 8”) launched a Bipartisan Framework on Comprehensive Immigration Reform [http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/politics/bipartisan-framework-for-immigration-reform-report/27/]. On Tuesday in Las Vegas, President Obama presented a White House roadmap for immigration reform  [http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/01/29/fact-sheet-fixing-our-broken-immigration-system-so-everyone-plays-rules].  Both the Senate and White House are committed to immigration reform this year, perhaps as early as June.

UMW/UMC Working for Immigrant Rights

United Methodist Women has been engaged in an Immigrant & Civil Rights Initiative since  2006, building on our long tradition of welcoming immigrants that dates back to the 19th Century.  In 2012 we engaged in a spiritual growth study, “Immigration & the Bible,” by the Rev. Joan Marushkin.  There, we explored how the entire Biblical story is one of migration—due to famine, war, family conflict, women’s oppression, religious commitment and more.  And we learned of the deep Biblical mandate to welcome the migrant and to love one another as God has loved us.
We feel that as Christians it is important to enter from the place of our biblical and moral commitment first.  What is our vision of the “kin-dom” or what Dr. Martin Luther King called the “beloved community,” and how can we encourage our elected leaders to move closer to that ideal?

United Methodist Women joins the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration and the General Board of Church & Society in welcoming the momentum for reform and saluting the White House and Congress for putting immigration reform high on the agenda this year.  We echo the core concerns of the United Methodist Church:  a real and reasonable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; reunification of families; and labor rights for both immigrant and citizen workers.

What Kind of Reform We Want to See

We begin the national immigration reform debate with a set of values and principles on what just immigration reform would really look like if we could attain it.  The complexity of the coming debate will be in the details and in the political trade-offs that will be made to get a bill passed.   We will join with the faith community and with allies in women’s, immigrant rights, civil rights and labor organizations to fight hard for the best immigration reform deal.  We do not have illusions that our vision is around the corner—it is a long way off.  Any legislation in 2013 will become the basis for new rounds of advocacy for fair and just immigration laws and policies.

In the UMW core principles for immigration reform [http://immigration.umwonline.net/general/immigrationpolicy/united-methodist-women-core-principles-for-u.s.-immigration-reform-2013] we outline how we should negotiate and build coalitions (without pitting one group of immigrants against another) and basic principles, and then offer details regarding what we want to see included and excluded in a reform bill.  The broad principles include:

•    Human rights and security of individuals and communities must come first.
•    Families must remain united and not be torn apart.
•    Equality and due process before the law must be respected for all.
•    The specific realities of immigrant women, in all their diversity, must be explicitly addressed.
•    Racial justice must be explicitly addressed, particularly regarding enforcement policies that have contributed to racial profiling, access to jobs, public services and due process.
•    Immigration policymaking and immigration enforcement is the purview of the federal governmentand should not be undertaken by states or other jurisdictions.
•    All raids, detention and deportation of migrants should be suspended, instead shifting resources to immigration processing and services for underserved communities.

A Human Rights Approach to Immigration Reform

We need a new paradigm for the debate that shifts from “enforcement first” to “human rights first.”  United Methodist Women national office is particularly concerned about the immigration enforcement, border control and national security focus of both the Senate and White House plans.  The current Administration has intensified enforcement, deporting some 400,000 immigrants in 2012 and spending more on immigration enforcement than all other federal criminal law enforcement initiatives combined.  The southern border is heavily militarized (now including drones), disrupting communities, leading to racial profiling and dividing families.  More enforcement, costing billions of dollars, has not stemmed the flow of immigration to the US.  This is both because of policies in home countries and US policies that make migration a necessity, and the pull of employers seeking cheap, exploitable labor.  No amount of enforcement will stem the flow when the root causes remain unchanged.

The paradigm that insists on criminalizing and deporting migrants—that see migrants as the primary problem, is fundamentally flawed.  Migrants, like our biblical forbearers Joseph heading to Egypt, or Naomi and Ruth returning to Bethlehem, must move for survival.  We must ask why they face such conditions and such difficult choices, not blame, punish, criminalize and demonize them or make them go to the back of a mythical line for making that choice.

In challenging the current paradigm that criminalizes migrants and pushes more enforcement, we seek justice for both new immigrants and US citizens struggling for racial equality and economic justice.  Our approach to the current immigration debate is to reach across communities to build a broad movement that guarantees full rights for all.  As the debate proceeds United Methodist Women will be offering additional tools for these conversations as we seek to live out the Gospel in our complex reality.