Global Migration and the Quest for Justice
2016 Book of Resolutions, #6028
“Ways must be found to share more equitably the resources of the world.”
—Social Principles, ¶ 163*E*, The United Methodist Church
Global migration is a historical and current concern of The United Methodist Church, addressed in the Social Principles and frequently by General Conference action. The Social Principles frame the issue in theological and humanitarian contexts:
“We commit ourselves as a Church to the achievement of a world community that is a fellowship of persons who honestly love one another. We pledge ourselves to seek the meaning of the gospel in all issues that divide people and threaten the growth of world community” (¶ 165).
“In order to provide basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and other necessities, ways must be found to share more equitably the resources of the world” (¶ 163*E*).
“We advocate for the rights of all migrants and applaud their efforts toward responsible self-organization and self-determination” (¶ 163*F*, 2004 Book of Resolutions).
Human migration is as old as human history. Individuals, families, tribes, and nations have been on the move since the days of Abraham and Sarah and before. Throughout the centuries, political and economic factors, including wars; health and environmental challenges; and racism, xenophobia, and religious discrimination have at times uprooted people and at others lured them to new venues across deserts, rivers, continents, oceans, and national and ethnic boundaries.
Today, migration is a critical international and at times a pressing national issue; a matter of last resort and no other choice for millions of human beings, and a desperate alternative to many who would rather stay where they are if conditions could permit safety and essentials for survival. In general terms, migrants today are those who by force or choice leave their regions of origin because of armed conflict, natural disaster, institutional or gang violence, development projects, human trafficking (including labor, sexual or drug trafficking) or extreme economic deprivation. Contemporary migration involves the linked realities of abundance and poverty and racial/ethnic/religious identities and exclusion. It often reflects a global system that expects many people to live in poverty, or have their nations torn by conflict, or their natural resources exploited, so that others may live in abundance. That many people will resist poverty and war through migration is an ancient and modern fact of human existence. As a consequence, elaborate national and international systems of containment and classification based on national origin have been developed over the past quarter-century with regard to migrants (see below).
Global migration as a factor in the quest for justice is a major priority of The United Methodist Church as a denomination that is global in its vision, mission, and ministries. This concern is rooted in both a biblical mandate for justice and a commitment to the future of the church. Many migrants and potential migrants today are Methodists; some are welcomed in new places, bringing new vigor to old congregations, while others face discrimination and exploitation in new places. Migration today is inextricably linked to the issues of Christian community, evangelism, new church development, the nurturing of church leadership, and ministry WITH the poor. Migrants in the future will increasingly enrich United Methodist understanding and practice of mission, church life and organization, intergroup relations, and concepts of the universal love of God.
This resolution addresses the varieties, contexts, and responses to global migration in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. It reflects concern for the right to stay where one is, for safe passage in migration, and for a welcome that can lead to a sense of belonging in a new place.
II. Contemporary Migration
Environmental catastrophe, organized violence, political chaos, economic desperation, human trafficking, and ecological exploitation are among the most common causes of contemporary migration. To respond to and keep track of massive movements of people, the international community has instituted categories of migrants. The four traditional categories are:
- Refugees—persons outside of their country of origin who are unable or unwilling to return for fear of persecution based on race, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, or opinion; official “refugees” are so recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is charged by the international community to oversee service to, and protection of, refugees. As of 2014, UNHCR listed 51 million displaced people; in 2015, some 3.8 million Syrian refugees.
- Asylum seekers—a type of refugee, persons who have left their homeland to petition for refuge in the country to which they have fled; asylum seekers must be so recognized by the countries whose protection they seek. More than a million people requested asylum in 2013, according to the UNHCR, including large numbers in transit. Others were Central American refugees in Mexico and the United States, and Africans in Italy. Many asylum seekers find no protection and are jailed or returned to dangerous situations.
- Internally displaced persons—those who are displaced within their own country because of military, economic, and social upheaval, and natural disasters such as famine, earthquake, and flood; they are generally not protected by the international community and must depend for protection and assistance primarily on their country of residence, which may be implicit in the cause of displacement. In 2014, some 33.3 million people lived uprooted in their own countries.
- Economic migrants—people who move from one country to another to find work. Most frequently they seek to flee from poverty and often permanently relocate so they may feed their families. Some are allowed into more affluent nations as immigrants; some enter without documentation and may be welcomed in times of labor shortages and deported in times of economic downturn or public disapproval. Such migrants are among the most vulnerable in any society; many are women and children who become the objects of abuse and brutality. One subcategory in this classification consists of migratory or itinerant workers, people who move from place to place, often with the agricultural cycle, to find employment. Large numbers of such workers are technically short-term contract laborers, or “guest workers,” although they may stay a lifetime, renewing short-term contracts under circumstances that are at best precarious. Some return on a periodic or eventually permanent basis to their homelands; others make domestic and other ties in places of employment and wish to remain. The number of current economic migrants is difficult to calculate. In 2015, the International Labor Organization (ILO) placed the global estimate of migrant workers at 232 million, including 53 million domestic workers, focused in affluent regions such as North America, Japan, Australia, the Gulf States, and Europe.
III. A Context of Migration
Virtually all groups of today’s migrants and refugees are battered by the divide between the rich and the poor, a divide rooted in nineteenth and twentieth century colonialism and directly caused by rapid corporate globalization in agriculture, industry, and commerce. Trade policies and arms deals enrich the rich and undercut economies in the global South without providing new contexts for prosperity or hope. These realities, along with armed conflict, environmental spoilage, and natural disasters force people to find new homes within their own countries or across national borders. The entire planet is affected in some way by the global economic divide.
Yet, while money and products may flow with relative ease across borders, the movement of people is increasingly restricted, leading to concentrations of the poor along borders and, often, to the building of literal and figurative walls of exclusion, notably around the rich nations of the northern hemisphere and the affluent enclaves in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific. While the legal and physical walls seek to exclude flows of undocumented migrants, in fact, there is growing demand in wealthier nations for cheap labor. Millions of migrants do enter—through formal guest worker programs or through informal business networks that actively seek undocumented workers while maintaining them in an exploitative, noncitizen underclass. Many of those who are shut out or who migrate without legal status are at the bottom of racial, ethnic, and caste hierarchies. They are often poor women and children. On either side of the divide, families are relegated to intense human suffering, inadequate nutrition and health service, lack of educational opportunities, and the reverberating, debilitating experience of oppression. Ironically, and horribly, with regard to economic migrants, the rich say, “Come in, do our dirty work at low wages, and then go away.”
The global South is particularly concerned with the loss of young generations to other countries, the departures dictated either by economic need or wooing by affluent societies seeking to fill jobs with cheap labor. Such émigrés often do not want to leave; they may feel pressured by promises of education, jobs, and economic security for themselves and their families. They become entrapped in unjust global systems that drain the resources of poor, Southern countries for the benefit of the affluent societies of the global North.
IV. Biblical Perspectives: Justice and Shared Resources
Attitudes toward and treatment of migrants are usually conditioned today, even within the church, by nation-state considerations expressed in the language of “us” and “them”—or “we” the homefolks and “they” the intruder/alien. A beneficent attitude sometimes prevails: “‘We’” will allow X number of ‘them’ to come among ‘us’ provided they acknowledge our generosity and become like us; so long, of course, as they do not threaten our comfort.”
There are more biblically and theologically sound perspectives for Christians. In the biblical understanding, it is not about us and them, but about one people of God, called to seek justice and share equitably, at the very core of spiritual and physical survival. The prophet Isaiah put the matter in context and posed the daunting question: “On your fast day you do whatever you want, / and oppress all your workers. / … You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today / if you want to make your voice heard on high. / … Isn’t this the fast I choose: / releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, / setting free the mistreated, / and breaking every yoke? / Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry / and bringing the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58:3-7). Not only does God’s understanding of faithfulness entail the achievement of justice, but for the comfortable, the promise of healing and salvation depends on that action. It was only when the people turned from false religiosity to operative justice that they would receive the promise of spiritual wholeness.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain many references to “strangers” and “sojourners” among the people of Israel and to provisions for treatment that reflect a tribal framework that had stipulated rules for hospitality and also limits on the outsiders. However, in the Books of the Law, and to an even greater extent in the prophetic literature, concern for the stranger focuses on justice and the sharing of resources that flow from the bounty of God. Ezekiel anticipated a time when foreigners would share with the ancient Jewish nation all the blessings of the land, which was understood to belong to God alone (Leviticus 25:23). In a real sense, the ancient scriptures understand both the people of Israel and sojourners to be aliens since the people of Israel had been sojourners in Egypt. God’s providence for Israel extends to others (Psalm 146:9; Malachi 2:5), and everything, and everyone, belongs to God (Psalm 24:1-2).
Christians do not approach the issue of migration from the perspective of tribe or nation, but from within a faith community of love and welcome, a community that teaches and expects hospitality to the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed. The Christian community at its best not only welcomes and embraces migrants but can be led by them toward clearer understandings of justice and hospitality. Christians rejoice in welcoming migrants who are also Christian, brothers and sisters of the same baptism, gathered around the same sacramental table. And people beyond the Christian community deserve no less hospitality than Christians extend to themselves.
The breadth of God’s love permeates the New Testament; that love incorporates the faith community and goes beyond it. This is clearly emphasized in a short passage in 1 Thessalonians (3:12), where Paul prays that God will provide the grace for Christians to “increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone.”
United Methodists should harbor no doubt about their responsibility to all those who live here on the earth, especially the poor, the homeless, and the mistreated. John Wesley’s concern for the poor and outcast was constant and extended far beyond acts of charity. He worked for just systems in which persons could with dignity stand on their own feet. Wesley advocated just relationships within the social order. When some have great abundance while others are homeless and hungry, the biblical task is not merely to help those in need, but to seek justice—to shift resources and opportunity so that all are at the table, all are fed, all experience the abundance of God’s love, both physically and spiritually.
V. Critical Issues Relating to Migration Today
United Methodists and all Christians face numerous critical situations, causes, and effects relating to migration today, especially in regard to war and economic systems and policies that perpetuate poverty. As a denomination with a global mission, The United Methodist Church experiences the dilemmas of nations that “send,” “transit,” and “receive” migrants. Citizens and undocumented immigrants are within the Church’s membership, as are employers and migrant workers, police and detainees, and affluent and poor families. The United Methodist family is a microcosm of migrant issues, a church that through God’s grace seeks to respond to the needs of the most physically vulnerable and traumatized, but also address the spiritual needs of the privileged.
The following are among the critical issues demanding attention:
The volume of refugees, asylum seekers, and persons displaced within their own countries is growing, as are the numbers of economic migrants with and without documentation.
Wealthy nations, especially those with decreasing populations, are increasingly dependent upon migrants to maintain their current economies. They seek both highly skilled professionals and low-wage workers for jobs in construction, health care, agriculture, meat packing, and domestic service.
The critical loss of skilled workers and potential leaders in “sending” countries undermines the future economic and social advancement of those societies. Doctors from poorer nations can often earn more in the US as a nurse than as a physician in their country of origin. The “brain drain,” often deliberately encouraged by rich countries for their own benefit, affects teachers, engineers, medical personnel, researchers, and technicians. Large numbers of persons, including young, unaccompanied children, traverse the corridors of “transit” countries, on the move from their homes to other places. In Mexico, nearly half a million Central Americans ride the freight trains known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) as the trains head north to deliver goods for export. Since there are no passenger cars, people ride atop the moving trains on a perilous trek.
Those who survive are faced with extortion and violence at the mercy of gangs and organized crime that control the migrant corridors. People often die along the route, unidentified, with their families often never knowing the fate of their loved ones. Another dangerous and recurring intersection for migrants is off the coast of Italy, near the island of Lampedusa. Shipwreck catastrophes have occurred involving migrants from Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Ghana, Palestine, and Syria. Traffickers torture and rape migrants who have paid thousands of dollars to gangs that move people across the Sahara to Libya.
Old wars and territorial occupations have left a critical migration crisis and new wars add to the problem. This can be illustrated in the Middle East, where many Palestinians remain as refugees more than a half century since they lost their homes in Israel. In recent years, millions of Iraqis and Syrians have fled their countries, adding to the displaced population of the greater Middle East.
The passage of stricter enforcement of anti-immigrant legislation and the building of exclusionary walls, often in response to increased migration, intensifies cultural tensions, marked by racial, class, and religious “backlash.” Restrictive policies also intensify migrant resistance based on fear of arrest and deportation, substandard wages, physical and mental abuse, and even death for crossing a border. Migrants fall prey to trafficking for economic or sexual purposes and sometimes become virtual slaves in their new place of residence.
An increasing percentage of migrant women now make up almost half of the international migrant population. Many of these women are domestic workers, who may raise other peoples’ children while being separated from their own. Some migrant women and girls are subjected to physical and sexual abuse and fear reprisals if they complain. Human trafficking is growing globally, especially in the area of forced labor, which includes the sex trade, the primary reason. The 2014 report of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime indicates that women and girls account for 70 percent of all trafficking victims. One in three victims is a child and two out of three are girls.
Migration policy and practice divide families across generations. Filipino contract workers in Saudi Arabia may serve in those countries for their entire careers, and then watch their own children, who they hardly know, step into their roles as they retire. Families are also divided by the deportation of the undocumented parents who leave behind children holding citizenship.
Remittances (sending “home” the paycheck) have become major sources of financing for poor countries; revenues that threaten to undercut aid assistance from rich nations. The monies migrants send home is massive, an estimated $650 billion in 2015, according to the World Bank. Some nations, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, and El Salvador, depend on remittances to support their financial system. In an effort to escape responsibility for the sharing of resources, some officials in the global North tout remittances as replacements for development aid. This attitude violates the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals and other United Nations accords. Through international instruments, northern nations have set the goal of providing 0.7 percent of their gross national product in development aid to poor nations, as well as to cancel some debt and alter trade policies in ways that benefit poor nations.
VI. Response of the Church
The United Methodist Church commits itself to:
provide support and opportunities for refugees, asylees, and migrants, including annual conference and local church ministries that promote the Right to Stay in traditional sending countries, Safe Passage in countries of transit, and training for Welcoming and Belonging in receiving locales;
engage in strong, coordinated advocacy on migration issues that seeks to overcome poverty, war and other causes leading to the displacement and marginalization of people; and
organize through institutional channels and prepare educational resources for the achievement of these objectives; support leadership development programs for migrants, especially for those within The United Methodist Church.
work with global mission partners to equip personnel to provide direct services that help persons and families live safely and with dignity in their places of origin; or if they must leave, that help keep them safe in transit, and that support programs that welcome migrants, giving them a sense of security in a new locale. Relief to refugees and displaced persons around the world, including the resettlement, when possible, of refugees through congregations and through economic development programs both for those who permanently resettle and those who may return to homelands;
congregational and annual conference programs (US and central conferences) that humanely respond to migrants within their borders—defending human rights, advancing just immigration policies by national governments, and tending to their spiritual, material, and legal needs as required, with the General Boards of Global Ministries and Church and Society, and other partners, helping to equip conferences and congregations to engage in these ministries;
education of church members and communities on the causes and realities of migration, including international treaty commitments, the issues of economic and environmental justice, and the obstacles to a just, peaceable world created by anti-immigrant racism and xenophobia;
bridge building between diverse races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures, opposing violence against and abuse of migrants;
strengthen migrant congregations in new locales and/or integrate migrant faith communities into existing congregations; facilitate local, national, and international dialogue of those on the front lines of migrant ministries for the sake of sharing best practices and promoting collaboration;
work with civic and legal organizations to help communities alleviate social conditions caused by harsh immigration laws and heavy-handed national security measures; and
recognize the right of sanctuary in any United Methodist local church for migrants subject to detention or deportation by government security forces.
Advocacy includes promotion of:
just and equitable trade and development policies that support human rights and counteract the root causes of migration such as war and militarization, environmental spoilage, and corporate greed;
engagement with other Christian and religious organizations in North-South dialogues, study of international economic policies, and joint action;
training young clergy and laity for leadership in migrant communities or those receiving migrants;
protection for uprooted women and children from all forms of violence and abuse, including full legal protection of children in situations of armed conflict;
unification of families divided by borders and legal status wherever this occurs;
denunciation of xenophobic, Islamophobic, and racist reactions against newcomers;
defense of civil liberties and social protections regardless of the legal status of persons;
abolition of governmental anti-terrorism policies and practices that criminalize or profile refugees and immigrants as threats to national security; and
adoption by all nations of the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families, and mobilize to promote compliance with the terms of the convention.
Institutional organization includes:
Continuation of a United Methodist Immigration Task Force to lead the church in a prophetic response to refugee and migrant issues by interpreting official policy in light of current realities, coordinating vision, analysis, education and action. Said task force will be convened by one or more bishops designated by the Council of Bishops. It will be comprised of representatives from all appropriate general agencies, as well as persons from jurisdictions, central conferences, annual conferences, partner churches, denominational ethnic/racial caucuses, and ethnic and language ministry plans. General agencies will each bear the cost of their participation in the task force and those agencies may under-write the costs of non-agency participation as needs require and resources permit.
Establishment of the third Sunday of February as an annual Migrant Sunday in congregations throughout the denomination, following the lead of the Methodist Church of Mexico. This observance will provide an opportunity for worship, education, and mission action, and advocacy on behalf of migrant ministries.
Dissemination and study of the 2013 report of the Human Rights and Investment Task Force convened by the General Board of Global Ministries and General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, which seeks to align denominational investment policy and practice with mission objectives, and takes account of violations of the human rights of migrants.
Continuation of migration as one specific component of the denomination focus area on Ministry WITH the Poor.
Engagement in research on migrants and existing and emerging migrant ministries within The United Methodist Church.
AMENDED AND READOPTED 2016
RESOLUTION #6028, 2008, 2012 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS
See Social Principles, ¶ 165A, D.
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Copyright © 2016, The United Methodist Publishing House, used by permission