Desert Southwest Conference Teams speak out on transportation of migrants

by | Sep 16, 2022 | Asylum, Refugee, Immigration, Church and Society, Conference Newsletter, Religion and Race, Status & Role of Women

Author’s Note: The following statements were written by various Desert Southwest Conference Justice & Mission Chairs prior to later news that the planes came from San Antonio, TX, (not directly from Florida) making stops but with no one new boarding or departing the planes. The planes eventually landed in Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Florida’s Governor DeSantis sponsored the planes. While he has worked with the governor of TX in the past, this particular action was independent of the TX governor, as of evening reporting on September 15th. The planes arrived without previous notification, save a 20-minute tower notification. Migrants were told there would be jobs and shelter awaiting them, which was inaccurate.

Statements from the chairs of the Conference Commission on Religion & Race; Conference Board of Church & Society; Asylum, Immigration and Refugee Task Force; and the Conference Commission on the Status & Role of Women follow.


Desert Southwest Conference Commission on Religion & Race

The United States has often taken pride in the fact that we are a country which is founded and sustained by people whom have migrated from other nations. We believe in the richness of our cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity as a reflection of how we care for our neighbors and how we welcome the immigrant. We believe in the rights of individuals who seek refuge in our land and we seek to create just and fair processes to sustain human dignity as these persons come to be among us.

I abhor any use of human beings as political pawns. I believe that all persons have the inalienable right to human dignity and decency. The recent actions taken by Gov. DeSantis and others of sending migrants to states other than their own without warning or due process is an act of abuse and unethical. The recent comments by Keri Lake, suggesting that all Mexican migrants are criminals, are racist and xenophobic. We must hold our elected leaders responsible for such abuses and demand justice.

Rev. Khalif A. Smith Sr
DSC Commission on Religion and Race

Desert Southwest Conference Board of Church & Society

On Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida sent approximately 50 Venezuelan migrants, including 4 children to Martha’s Vineyard. The families arrived on two privately chartered planes likely paid for with taxpayer funds. They were told that “housing and jobs” would be available and given community information packets with maps directing them to a vacant lot. Community members including St. Andrews Church, activated an emergency response plan to provide shelter, food and clothes for the families.

Forcibly transporting migrants from border states to northern areas such as Chicago, New York and Washington DC has been the policy of Governors from Florida, Texas, and Arizona for months. This inhumane practice must stop immediately. Exploiting vulnerable people who are lawfully seeking asylum for nothing, but a cruel political stunt is unacceptable to Christian teaching. Jesus commanded us “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-37). Wasting taxpayer money that should be allocated for housing, food, job assistance, education and health care is immoral and unproductive.

Immigration is a divisive issue in America. People from across the political spectrum must find solutions that are just and humane for everyone. Debate on how to resolve our border issues must never dehumanize those directly impacted by our policies and laws. We call on these governors to stop using migrants as political pawns and instead work with local, state, and federal officials to implement border and immigration policies that are rooted in justice, compassion, and equity for all.

Gerry Hills
DSC Conference Board of Church & Society

Immigration/Asylee Task Force of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church

While we affirm the political and legal issues of immigration are difficult and complex and often play out in the public arena, we also acknowledge that for us who follow Christ the issues around immigration are not just political issues, but matters of faith.

We acknowledge that the Christian faith compels and calls us to “love one anther” and “love our neighbor as ourselves”.* Our Christian faith also command us to “Welcome the stranger, the foreigner and the sojourner and to treat them justly regardless of nationality or country of origin”**.

Therefore, we decry and condemn the political stunts recently pulled by the Governors of Florida and Texas of busing and flying those who have legally applied for asylum in their state to other locations based on political agendas or affiliation. Humans are not to be used as pons in political gimmicks or stunts.

Further we acknowledge that both Governor Ron DeSantis and Governor Greg Abbott profess to be Catholic, and therefore stand with in the Christian faith. And therefore call on both Governors to live their faith, which is above and transcends political party, country of national origin and/or person feelings of bias, prejudice and racism.

Furthmore, we in the Desert Southwest affirm our tradition and practice of loving and welcoming our neighbor because that is what it means to be a person who follows Christ and lives in the Christian faith, and we stand ready to do our part. We acknowledge our tradition both past and present of welcoming and assisting those who are immigrating, seeking asylum, or coming as a refugee, and pledge to continue to love, welcome and assist those who coming to our communities into the future.

Rev. Stephen Govett
DSC Asylum, Immigration and Refugee Task Force

*Matthew 22:39, Mathew 19:19, Mark 12:31, Luke 16:29-37, John 13:34, John 15:2, Galatians 5:14

** Deuteronomy 10:19, Deuteronomy 27:19, Leviticus 19:34, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Matthew 25:40, Acts 10:34

Desert Southwest Conference Commission on the Status & Role of Women

There is a new and troubling trend developing in politics in the United States as humans of all ages and genders seeking asylum and immigration have been reduced to political pawns, trafficked across state lines. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Gov. Ron De Santis of Florida are sending human beings as weapons against their political rivals in other states. The human cargo includes young children and the vulnerable. It is uncertain what impact this may have on the legal claims of these refugees in an already complicated immigration process.

In the most recent instance on Wednesday, September 14th, refugees were flown by private plane on taxpayer dollars to Martha’s Vineyard, a small island that is not a metropolitan area with limited social services infrastructure. There are no migrant service organizations or Department of Justice immigration courts or ICE field offices for check-in. The impact was directly felt by the refugees and immigrants who walked from the airport to find help and who will have to find their way to the services they need to maintain their asylum and immigration claims. We applaud the efforts of the local government and volunteers to care for these people in a way of compassion and justice.

As a response to our mission and ministry advocating for women and girls, the Commission on the Status and Role of Women of the Desert Southwest denounces the exploitation of human beings in this or any way. The United Methodist Church affirms the sacred worth of all people. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline Social Creed it proclaims, “We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.” (Paragraph ¶166: VII. Social Creed) From the Old Testament to the New, the people of God are called to care for the foreigners and strangers. “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25:35) In fact, denying the basic human rights of refugees and immigrants is against the teachings of most religions. As Americans, we are reminded of the words emblazoned on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty over a hundred years ago in The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”

The Commission on the Status and Role of Women calls on all political leaders to immediately renounce and end this policy of exploitation of human beings as political pawns and uphold the basic human rights of all those in the United States for any reason, regardless of status. We also call upon the leaders of the United States to ensure safe and legal pathways for asylum seekers to make their claims.

Rev. Dr. Kristin D. Longenecker Hansen
Conference Commission on the Status & Role of Women

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Author: Billie K. Fidlin

Billie K. Fidlin is the Director of Outreach & Justice for the Desert Southwest Conference. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and attended Claremont School of Theology for religious studies. Ms. Fidlin currently serves as the President of the Arizona Faith Network in her second term. She is President & Founder of Whisper n Thunder Inc., and sits on various boards including the Justa Center and the Phoenix Police Department's Faith Advisory Council. Her awards include the UM Foundation for Evangelism 2004 Distinguished Evangelist; 2016 Church Women United / United Nations Human Rights Award; 2018 Servant Leader Award AZ Faith Network; 2022 Southern Poverty Law Center Certificate of Recognition; and 2022-23 Class of Who's Who in America.
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