By Sasha Terry

In a press release, the National Japanese American Caucus of The United Methodist Church expressed their appreciation and support for the call to action in July by the United Methodist Immigration Task Force in response to the controversy over immigrants in the United States. The NJAUMC Caucus is pledging their opposition to governmental policies by supporting sacred resistance to raids and deportations.

According to the NJAUMC’s mission statement, the caucus aims to support and uplift the leaders of historic Japanese American United Methodist churches and Japanese language ministries. They aspire to be agents of God’s transforming love carrying faith rooted in stories of migration, experiences of racism, and examples of courage in the faith of injustice.

NJAUMC’s decision to support immigrants came earlier in June when the Trump Administration announced that Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, would be used as a detention center for about 1,400 undocumented migrant children. On July 29, the plan was abandoned after protests from Native Americans, Japanese Americans, and other groups.

During World War II, the government forcibly relocated and incarcerated nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans at various camps including Fort Sill. In 1988, the United States Congress issued an apology to Japanese Americans for the wartime mass incarceration by issuing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Rev. Michael Yoshii of Buena Vista UMC believes that there is a wicked parallel between Japanese American wartime incarcerations and mass migrant deportations today.

“When Congress issued the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 apologizing to Japanese Americans, it cited three factors which contributed to the mass incarceration: lack of political leadership, racism, and wartime hysteria. This ‘toxic triangle’ is present in the demonization of migrants today,” Rev. Yoshii said. “While there is no actual declared ‘war’ going on, the image of war has been a political and metaphorical tool used by the administration to paint migrants as enemy aliens’ invading’ our country through the border.”

The NJAUMC caucus highlighted their opposition during their California-Nevada conference in June and began to discuss the topic with other Japanese American churches and Japanese American justice groups in the community.

“The people seeking entry into the United States of America may not have the right legal papers, but they should be treated with more decency and respect than the poor conditions they are being forced into,” Rev. John Wang of Highland Park UMC in Spokane, Washington said. “Our country is not caring for ethnic peoples with the compassion and grace our wealthy country is capable of.”

NJAUMC is encouraging local churches to get involved by doing things to help immigrants and engage in local organizations. Many members of Japanese American churches are showing their support through efforts like Tsuru (Cranes) for Solidarity. The project sought to fold 1,000 cranes to send to Texas to show solidarity for the thousands of families separated and incarcerated. A similar effort led by the Crystal City Pilgrimage Committee hung 10,000 cranes on fences surrounding the family detention center in Dilley, Texas to protest family separation, mass incarceration, and the Muslim travel ban.

Also, many Japanese American United Methodists participated in protests and other events. Japanese Peruvian and Japanese American incarceration survivors held a peaceful protest on March 30, at the South Texas Family Residential Center where some two thousand Central American women and children seeking lawful asylum are being confined. Another event many people have participated in was Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps. They were able to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants, including the separation of families.

 “It is important for [Japanese Americans] today to speak up as part of our remembrance of those who suffered from the past injustice,” Rev. Yoshii said. “It’s important for the broader UMC to also understand our history so that we do not repeat the same mistakes of the past.”

The NJAUMC Caucus advises that other groups within the United Methodist Church looking to help migrants should study the issue and build empathy by learning about their own migrant stories in their congregational history. In addition, local churches are encouraged to seek out and partner with existing ministries in their community, conference, and national agencies which offer support for immigrants.

Another way to help immigrants within The United Methodist Church is to donate to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) specifically toward Advance #3022144 to help global migration. These donations will help advocacy on the ground and provide support to help immigrants as directly as possible.

Sasha Terry served as a communications intern for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference over the summer. She is a student at Biola University majoring in journalism with an emphasis in broadcast and minoring in Biblical and Theological Studies. 

Image Credit: Cropped “Thousand Paper Cranes” by Michael Day.

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