More than forty people from throughout the Mountain States Mennonite Conference, a conference of Mennonite Church USA, gathered together on September 28 and 29 for round table discussions on the theme of immigration justice. Mennonite Central Committee provided grant funding for the event, including travel for some participants.
The event began with a prayer service at the Aurora detention center outside Denver and ended with worship and prayer Saturday evening in Fort Collins, Colorado. In between, attendees learned and shared about the many ways individuals, churches, and nonprofit organizations are working for immigrant justice.
Sojourn Mennonite Church in Fort Collins, Colorado has played a key role in setting up an emergency fund for local “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and has also been a part of the sanctuary movement. Members of Albuquerque (New Mexico) Mennonite Church spoke about their involvement with refugee resettlement and their work with the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
Others spoke of accompaniment, listening, and learning. Working with refugees, one person commented, is often just “doing life with them,” in a process of mutual accompaniment where both residents and refugees learn from each other.
Three local “Dreamers” shared their experiences of dealing with the limitations caused by their legal status. Asked what they need, one (names not used to protect identity) responded that sometimes “it is hard to know, because it is hard to miss something you’ve never had.”
Fernando Perez Ventura, Mennonite facilitator and pastor from Mexico City who is working with Mountain States Mennonite Conference and the Beloved Community Mennonite Church in Denver, Colorado reflected that it touched him to hear from the “Dreamers” and “their feelings in relation to their situation in the midst of a society that increasingly causes fear in the presence of white culture.” Perez remarked that Anabaptists have a great opportunity to be a blessing to immigrants in their communities and thanked God for all those working for immigrant justice.
In the afternoon, the group heard presentations on policy, legal issues, and perspectives from south of the border. From the MCC Washington Office, Tammy Alexander spoke of the dizzying and frustrating ways that immigration policy has changed under the Trump administration, while also reminding people that harsh policies toward immigrants did not begin with President Trump. Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. Immigration Education Coordinator, shared about his own experience as an immigrant, the tragedy of thousands of migrant deaths in the desert, and MCC’s work on immigrant justice.
Later, Rebecca Gonzalez Torres and Fernando Perez Ventura of Mexico spoke passionately about the need to care not only for the physical needs of immigrants and refugees, but also the need to deeply listen, validate and pay attention to spiritual needs as well.
The theme of self-care was woven throughout the day’s discussion. Sarah Jackson, founder of Casa de Paz, spoke about the need to go beyond taking time-outs from our busy lives to rest, and build a life that we aren’t “constantly trying to escape from.”
As time came to a close at the conference, worshipping in English and Spanish, the attendees shared hugs and blessings.