UMCSC hosts training for churches to help immigrants facing deportation

By Rena Smith

CLEMSON—Upstate churches and individuals are working together in a movement to explore helping immigrants facing deportation.

Hundreds gathered June 10 for a sanctuary-training event hosted by the Hispanic-Latino Task Force of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. Held at Clemson UMC, the daylong training sought to equip United Methodists and other community members on how to engage their immigrant neighbors in Christian love.

The Rev. Kristin Dollar, Greenville District coordinator for Hispanic-Latino Ministries, believes it is important for all to come together despite our racial differences.

“The Kingdom of God will look like a great multitude of people from all tribes, tongues and nations coming together to praise God,” said Dollar of what she has read in Scripture. She has also witnessed this in worship.

“I know this because I read about the Kingdom throughout Scripture, but also because I see—and feel—a glimpse of the Kingdom every time that I come together to worship with people who don’t look like me or speak my language,” Dollar said.

In the morning, participants attended plenary sessions about the purpose of the sanctuary movement, history and theological underpinnings. At lunch, participants heard from local community organizers on how they can be involved in what the Upstate is already doing to support and provide hospitality to immigrants.

During the afternoon, participants attended two of four workshops, which provided practical and specialized skills regarding sanctuary. Sessions discussed how to start a legal clinic, how to help people create a family plan in case of emergency, how to accompany undocumented individuals and families during times of crisis and how to engage more effectively in the political arena.

Speakers included Dr. Salvador Leavitt-Alcántara, a chaplain at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; the Rev. José Luis Villaseñor, pastor of Fiesta Cristiana at Apex UMC, Apex, North Carolina; Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program with Church World Service; and David Brown, a paralegal who helped start Apex Immigration Services.

Leavitt-Alcántara led a workshop on the theology and history of the sanctuary movement, highlighting Scripture’s insistence that Christians provide refuge for the foreigner and most vulnerable. He also gave an overview on how Christians have embodied sanctuary since the early church and shared how churches in his native country of El Salvador have helped, even in the midst of civil war.

Villaseñor shared ways his church has resourced undocumented families through cultivating a relationship with police, hosting a storytelling training, initiating citizenship classes and accompanying families when their loved ones receive a deportation order.

Smyers broke down legislation pertaining to immigrants and refugees, such as the executive orders on immigration released in January and March, explaining the ways in which these laws affect immigrants. Smyers also held a workshop called “Strategizing our Prophetic Witness on Immigration Policies,” in which she trained participants on how to engage more effectively in the political system.

Brown’s workshops trained participants on how to help undocumented families create an emergency action plan if Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes a parent into custody. His second workshop trained participants on how to set up a legal clinic.

“We need (immigrants) not just because our U.S. economy is built upon their backs, but also because we cannot participate in Kingdom-building without them,” Dollar said.

She said she hopes the training equipped the church and participants “to be the body of Christ that we were called to be.”

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