Meridian Street holds Immigrant Sunday

When the Rev. Mary Ellen Finegan of Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont, W. Va., stood up to preach on a recent Sunday, she knew her message would be controversial with some members.

She spoke in support of the DREAM Act (S.952), a bipartisan bill that would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children (under the age of 16), completed two years of college or military service and met other requirements, including passing a criminal background check.

Central’s Sept. 25 service is counted among the more than 350 DREAM Sabbath observances that took place in 45 U.S. states Sept. 16 through Oct. 9, including Meridian Street United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. A diverse array of faith communities and DREAM-eligible youth are uniting in this national effort to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act.

As Finegan shook hands with congregants after service, she said she was pleased to receive affirmations of support from people who previously had opposed the DREAM Act. “Thanks for explaining the difference between the DREAM Act and amnesty,” one told her.

Another told her: “Well, if the DREAM Act is really the way you presented it, with all these facts, I am for it. Who wouldn’t want children who grew up with our children to have the same rights that citizenship can afford?”

DREAM

The DREAM Act would allow some undocumented immigrant students the opportunity to earn legal status if they came to the United States as children (15 or under), are long-term U.S. residents (at least five years), have good moral character, graduated high school or hold a GED and have completed two years of college or military service in good standing. Last year the bill was five votes short of passage in the U.S. Senate.

The Rev. John L. McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and director of Church World Service said, “Our daughters are the same age as many of the young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act – an educated generation of promising immigrant students who have demonstrated a commitment to hard work. They consider the United States their home and want to contribute their talents to this country. They are a vital and valuable asset to this nation.”

Many DREAM Sabbath events featured undocumented young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act.

DREAMer

DREAMer Lupe was one among three immigrant speakers Sept. 25 at Meridian Street United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Brought to the United States as a small child, she spoke English fluently by the third grade and excelled in her studies through eighth grade. Then she found out that she was undocumented.

“It was heartbreaking,” Lupe said. “I started freshman year at IU. My grades were really bad. I didn’t think there was a point of trying.” She failed three classes. But during her sophomore year, she got involved with the Latino Youth Collective. When she learned about the DREAM Act, she began to have hope again.

“My goal is to become a social worker,” she said. “I love helping people. I don’t know how long it is going to take, but eventually I will get there. The DREAM Act would really help.”

She also explained that since the Indiana General Assembly passed a new law this past spring, she now has to pay out-of-state tuition at a rate of three times more than she paid last year as an Indiana-resident. She continues to live in Indianapolis, but is undocumented and in fear of being deported to Mexico, a country she does not know.

Meridian Street’s DREAM Sabbath service also featured a selection of Bible passages, with the reader noting, “Welcoming the stranger is the most repeated commandment in the Old Testament with the exception of the command to worship God.”

Guest preacher Bill Mefford, a director at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society in Washington, D.C. warned against reducing people to such labels as “illegal.” Instead, we need to listen to people’s whole story – then engage in the story, he said.

DREAM Sabbath was organized by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, in partnership with the United We Dream Network – the grassroots movement of undocumented immigrant youth, and DREAM Act champion and sponsors, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (a United Methodist) of Indiana and Richard Durbin of Illinois. The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is a member of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

Information on organizing a DREAM Sabbath observance is available at www.dreamsabbath.org.

This story is from Church World Service.


Photo courtesy of Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

United Methodist churches are among the more than 350 churches nationwide, like Central UMC in Fairmont, W. Va., that held DREAM Sabbath observances from Sept. 16-Oct. 9.