Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

For a United Methodist response to the June 20 presidential executive order ending the separation of children from parents and the replacement policy see the comments from the General Board of Church and Society.

UMCOR Statement on U.S. Policy on Asylum Seekers and Their Children

By Roland Fernandes and Jack Amick*

The current U.S. policy of “zero tolerance” in the admission of asylum seekers from south of the border, resulting in separation of children from their parents, is not only inhumane, but will be ineffective in the long run. Placing migrant children in detention apart from families is child abuse, deserving of the condemnation it has received from religious and human rights leaders and organizations, including the bishops of The United Methodist Church (see below), and many citizens. The use of Christian Scripture by U.S. officials to justify such policy is ludicrous.


The approach of the Trump Administration to the border crisis will be ineffective because it will not stop the flow northward of people fleeing gang violence, political corruption, civil strife, economic deprivation and even starvation, in parts of Central America, where many of today’s asylum seekers originate. United Methodist personnel and visitors from the church’s mission agency report deplorable conditions in, for example, Honduras and Guatemala. Families there send their daughters toward potential safety in the U.S. rather than see them raped by gangs. Or, families set out with their beloved young ones toward an American haven of bounty rather than watch the babies die of hunger.

The out-migration north will not stop without long-term international political and economic solutions to improve safety, living conditions and economic opportunities in home countries. In United Methodist understanding of migration theory and practice, people first have the right to stay where they are; second, the right to move with safe passage when threatened, followed by the right to be welcomed in new places, and the right to return home with dignity. (“Global Migration and the Quest for Justice,” 2016 Book of Resolutions, #6028)

The powerful United States of America would do well to use its influence to encourage just, safe, economically productive and democratic societies in those lands giving rise to contemporary asylum seekers. We say this on the strength of our agency’s 78 years of work with refugees and migrants in many parts of the world. Oppressed people seek better places to live! That is a fact of history. Policies and walls do not stop them.

In the meantime, we encourage the Trump Administration to adapt to reality, to recognize the history of the U.S. as a country of diverse migrants and shape humane policies that reunite families now detained north of the border.

UMCOR and its partners will continue to assist regional and local organizations and churches, where possible, to alleviate suffering caused by the policies of the Trump Administration. These efforts, admittedly limited, reflect a long-standing commitment to ministry with migrants.

We attempt to aid migrants as they journey, as they are released from detention; to offer legal support when and where we can. In regard to the latter, we commend National Justice for Our Neighbors which sponsors church-based, free or low-cost legal services to migrants on local levels. NJFON was established by UMCOR in 1999 and now operates under its own board of directors. We also have a strong partnership in refugee and migration issues with the ecumenical Church World Service (CWS). We are a full member of CWS and participate its work.

Resources for ministries with migrants are available through the Global Migration Advance (#3022144), which received a churchwide offering last December to assist work in a range of places through a variety of activities. The goal of Global Migration emphasis is to help people who find themselves on the journey of migration regardless of the reasons.

As Christians, we have a biblical mandate to minister among migrants and to expand the number of places at the table of the family of God, until all are present. This is a specifically theological mandate, which is not identical to civil law, but it mitigates against the deliberate division of families by nations and governments. The God of all people cries out against our human attempts to separate, divide, shun and exile. We, the church, the people engaged in God’s mission, must cry out when a government says that separating families is the life-giving word of God. That is a distortion of truth fundamentally contrary to the best in every community of faith.

The most profound action American Methodists can make with regard to the children on the border is to demand that politicians change policy, practice and oversight of immigration in the United States.

Additional study resources:

1. The United Methodist Council of Bishops signed an ecumenical statement opposing “zero tolerance.”
2. Statement of the bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
3. Statement of United Methodist General Board of Church and Society
4. An analysis of use of Scripture to justice “zero tolerance” policy
5. Church World Service’s “Interfaith Toolkit to Stop Family Separation and Protect Family Unity”

*Roland Fernandes is Co-Executive Director of UMCOR

*Jack Amick is Director of Sustainable Development for UMCOR