On Thursday, September 12, 2019, the Shalom Center for Justice and Peace hosted an interfaith celebration of the International Day of Peace (September 21) titled “Immigration’s Quagmire.”  Rev. Dr. Zundel provided an overview of current US immigration policies and its implications specifically as it related to the Sanctuary family that is currently residing at her church, Central United Methodist in Detroit, MI.  Rev. Perez shared the narrative of two individuals and their experience with the US government’s policies as refugees.  Furthermore, both key-note speakers spoke on the importance and necessity of the church to rise up in the face of “migration injustice”.

The Current Status of Refugees

Refugees are by definition individuals who have no choice but to flee “his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.”  According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 25.9 million refugees globally. Since the Reagan administration, the United States has had a ceiling between 70,000 to 80,000 admissions annually, and this ceiling grew to 110,000 admissions during the Obama administration. However, since 2017, the ceiling has been reduced to 50,000, then 45,000, and finally to 30,000 for fiscal year 2019. Furthermore, the current talk in Washington is to reduce this 30,000 ceiling to 10,000 for fiscal year 2020.

What does the Bible say?

Strategically restricting and limiting accessibility to safety for individuals fleeing persecution, war, and violence not only violates the moral principles of basic human rights but also the essence of the Gospel.  Post-Exodus, God calls the free Israelites to treat the strangers of their land with love (Leviticus 19:33-34). In Matthew 2:13-15, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled from violence and persecution in their homeland to seek asylum in Egypt.  In modern-day terms, Jesus and his parents would be labeled as refugees. Jesus further shares the importance of compassion and love towards the marginalized in the parable of the sheep and the goats: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

What does the United Methodist Church say?:

It is written in the United Methodist Social Principles:

We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God.  We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. (¶162.H)

It is further written in the 2016 Book of Resolutions:

Migrants’ rights are human rights.  It is tragic when migrants, whose rights have already been violated in their home countries, find their human rights also violated in their foreign host countries. (#6025, “Globalization and its Impact on Human Dignity and Human Rights”)

The Interfaith celebration of learning and sharing about immigration took place less than a month after the NPR interview with Ken Cucinelli, the acting head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  When asked whether the line of “Give me your tired, your poor” from Emily Lazarus’ The New Colossus, etched on the Statue of Liberty, was part of the American ethos, Cucinelli answered with his revision of the famous words, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” 

The actual line from The New Colossus reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Cucinelli’s sentiment echos the uncompassionate immigration policies of the US.  Effective October 15, 2019, individuals who use public benefits will be considered a “public charge”.  On September 11, 2019, the Supreme Court approved of the Trump administration’s policy to deny asylum to individuals who traveled through other countries but didn’t seek asylum in these “third countries” first. In other words, asylum seekers from countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala will be denied asylum in the US if they didn’t first seek asylum in Mexico.  This policy essentially denies asylum to the most marginalized and persecuted people.

A question that Rev. Zundel was asked as a docent-in-training working at the Holocaust Museum was “Where was the church?”  We are in turbulent times, and the world asks once again, “Where is the church?” Rev. Perez urged attendees to stand up and fight for the soul of this nation.  He added that the church, the Christians, the United Methodists must act as abolitionists and provide sanctuary because human dignity is a commonality amongst all people, and the dignity of every person must be recognized.

Today, on September 21, the International Day of Peace, millions across the globe are participating in celebrating peace but also in continuing the struggle towards peace.  As justice-seeking people of faith, let us no longer remain silent and indifferent to the unjust policies of our government, but let us answer the question of “where is the church?” with our actions.


“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrew 13:2

Rev. Dr. Jill Hardt Zundel serves as the pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit, MI.  A Sanctuary church since 2018, Central UMC continues to be a church of love and compassion to all.

Rev. Paul Perez is an ordained Deacon and serves as the Associate Director for Mission and Ministry in the Michigan Conference.