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Pastors share concerns about deportations

Pastors share concerns about deportations

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pastors share concerns about deportations

Dec. 21, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0414}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

While officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (formerly Immigration and Naturalization Services) have tightened the reigns on immigration after the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, the trickle-down effect is impacting those most vulnerable — children.

The Rev. Montreuil F. Milord, pastor of South Dade Haitian Mission in Miami, aches for the children who remain behind after their parents are deported to Haiti. He thinks of two in particular.

In May 2004 the parents of Sophonie, 6, and Kinsley, 4, were deported to Haiti because they lacked proper documentation to legally remain in the country. Because the children were born in the United States they were allowed to stay and have been living with relatives, members of Faith Community Haitian United Methodist Church in Tampa.

"This situation with the little ones is very painful," he said. "(Church) members in the Miami area have also been deported. It seems that, suddenly, immigration officials have stepped up their activity."

USCIS has recently become more aggressive at identifying people without documentation and those who have let their temporary legal status to remain within the country expire. Officials have arrived at United Methodist churches in the Tampa and Miami areas to check people's identification, resulting in some deportations.

The Rev. Janet Horman, pastor of Killian Pines United Methodist Church in Miami and an immigration attorney, said it is possible the change in U.S. attorney general could be connected to the more strict enforcement of immigration laws. She said immigration officials can interpret the law either broadly or more narrowly. The latter is causing many law-abiding undocumented people to worry.

"Now what we are seeing is the law period," she said. "We are really feeling the enforcement arm of the law."

Undocumented people in Alabama, Iowa and Texas are also feeling the scrutiny of immigration officials, according to Horman. She said the Department of Homeland Security may have initially begun looking for undocumented people who were involved in violent crimes on American soil, but it appears the search is widening to law-abiding undocumented persons.

Immigrants are living in fear because they can do nothing, Horman said, adding the issue is not a lack of desire or initiative to become citizens.

"It's an unbelievable amount of expense and tedious paperwork," she said. "And the odds of political asylum are pretty narrow."

Horman speculates the fear of never knowing who is at the door is impacting some groups of undocumented people more than others.

"When Cubans arrive here there is a direct avenue for them to pursue to become citizens," she said. "It is different for Haitians, and we need to admit racism is still afloat. ... People with dark skin are a lot less likely to have compassion offered to them. Americans are anxious to provide immigration relief to Cubans — Cubans who have more of a voice in Congress and have more economic power."

Horman said Cubans are quickly integrated into mainstream society, while undocumented Haitians and Hispanics are often forced to live on the fringes.

"These are people who keep our industries going," she said. "We need these folks. I don't think we should criminalize people who come here for doing jobs we need them to do. I truly don't think Americans want these jobs."

The Rev. Jose A. Carrion, pastor of First Hispanic United Methodist Mission-Kissimmee, said Americans shouldn't treat everyone who comes from South America as if they are terrorists. He said a Hispanic member of his church was deported after being caught in a sting operation.

Carrion, a native of Puerto Rico, said the man was "a good Christian, husband and father" who was forced to leave his family.

Milord, a native of Haiti who has been a U.S. citizen for 10 years, said the church has no recourse but to address the situation as one body.

"We, as a great church, have a responsibility as a whole church to intervene in this (immigration) situation," Milord said. "Many people who are here illegally are scared and cannot afford to hire an immigration attorney. ... Many, if not all, desire to become citizens, but it is difficult and expensive. It's such a sensitive subject."

"We need to call, talk and pray with ministers whose members are in jeopardy," he added. "We really are one body, and we need to let people know we care about them."

Carrion said he is proud of the way the church is approaching the immigration issue.

"Little by little the church is catching up with the issue," he said. " ...  We must remember we are all immigrants, we all came from other places. We, the church, just need to be aware of what some of our members are facing."

Horman said she will never forget hearing the heartbreaking story of El Salvadorian parents who came to her seeking immigration help. Their child had died from diarrhea after drinking contaminated water.

"They were trying to do what any good parents would do by coming to America," she said. "They wanted a better life; they wanted to protect their other children. The tangled red tape was causing them additional grief. These were not people who compromise United States security. It's just unfair."


This article relates to Peace with Justice.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.