The First United Methodist Church of Sherman recently invited members of the immigrant community to learn about their rights as both legal and undocumented immigrants and to help them understand the process and requirements in gaining permanent American citizenship.
The Know Your Constitutional Rights event was organized by members of the First United Methodist Church of Sherman and the Hope on Houston organization last week. The event was presented by the immigrant outreach group Justice For Our Neighbors and was held at Key Memorial Methodist Church. Those who attended listened to a presentation from immigration attorney Graham Bateman, had documents notarized, asked questions and collected government forms.
“We feel like there are plenty of neighbors in our community who need to know that kind of information,” First United Methodist Church of Sherman Senior Pastor Chris Dowd said.
During his campaign, President Donald Trump pledged to build a wall that would run the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has argued the wall will reduce the flow of illegal immigrants from and through Mexico, ensure greater national security and he said Mexico would foot the bill for its construction — which estimates put as a high as $21 billion. Mexico has since declined to fund the project and Trump threatened to shut down the federal government earlier this week if a spending bill for the coming year doesn’t include money to start the construction of the border wall.
Following Trump’s election, the White House unveiled a travel ban in January affecting the entry of citizens and refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations. Questions over the constitutionality of the order was raised swiftly after, but Trump has maintained the ban is meant to prevent terrorists from posing as refugees and reaching American soil. The order went through lower courts and was narrowed by the Trump administration before it reached the U.S. Supreme Court in July, where justices ultimately allowed a portion of the ban to take effect.
And on Tuesday, the Trump administration formally announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA was enacted in 2012 during Barack Obama’s presidency and was designed to allow certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to receive renewable two-year deferrals from deportation and work permits. The program extended protection to 800,000 individuals before the announcement to rescind it was made by Attorney Jeff Sessions. Congress will have six months to strike a deal that could allow the affected immigrants to keep their lawful status.
Dowd said the Know You Constitutional Rights event was not timed in relation to the ongoing national debate on immigration, but that it was the church’s way of reaching out and providing a service that many in the area might need.
“The church works really hard not to take partisan positions,” Dowd said. “It’s inevitable that a church gets involved in having things to say about policy, but most congregations in the United Methodist Church are pretty diverse politically and theologically.”
Immigration attorney Graham Bateman provided legal advice to the participants on. She informed them that undocumented immigrants have numerous rights under the constitution, including the right not to speak or testify, the right to obtain an attorney and rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
“We have a right to control our borders, but in the meantime, what do we do about our neighbors who are already here?” Graham asked.
Bateman said it’s tough going for immigrants coming to the U.S, whether they come from Mexico, South America, Africa, or the Middle East. Specifically, Bateman said the language barrier, a complex and lengthy immigration process, unfamiliarity with the legal system and expensive legal bills all contribute to difficulty in gaining full citizenship. She said those who are detained and do not secure legal representation risk a 90 percent chance of being deported and likely more time in detention centers.
Bateman and volunteers also assisted participants with developing a family plan in the face of a relative’s deportation and provided them with much of the documentation undocumented immigrants need to get on the path to citizenship. The attorney said that immigrants tend to seek a better life in the U.S. and that they play a role in many American’s lives.
“Everybody knows an immigrant,” Bateman said.