Brooklyn Center church leaders ask immigrant parishioners to keep the faith

With immigrants increasingly under the microscope in America, the fear of family separation and deportation for those seeking a new life in the United States seems to be at a fever pitch. In the immigrant-heavy population of Brooklyn Center, many are seeking guidance in their places of worship.

“They talk in very guarded and protected ways, which indicates that they feel a need to be cautious,” said the Rev. Renee Franzen of Brookdale Covenant Church. “There’s definitely a fearfulness.”

With the Trump Administration promoting a hard-line directive towards illegal immigrants and undocumented residents, anxieties are nonetheless high for those under temporary protective status or seeking green cards and permanent residency. Brooklyn Center boasts a large concentration of immigrants from West Africa, Latin America and East Asia, and several Brooklyn Center pastors have noted that some of their parishoners have expressed uncertainty about their status in this country.

“We do have a significant number of our members who are immigrants,” said the Rev. Henry Dolopei II of Brooklyn United Methodist Church. “Especially those from Africa. There’s been some anxiety because some of the families are under temporary protective status. Some of them have been expressing anxiety and fear, and they always come to the pastor so they can talk about it. There are a growing number of them.”

Dolopei, who is a Liberian immigrant himself, said that his church sometimes offers free clinics for immigrant services, with paperwork assistance being offered by pro bono lawyers from time to time. Likewise, at Lutheran Church of the Master, immigrants are assisted in getting the help they need to obtain visas, green cards, and even permanent citizenship.

“We’ve got lots and lots of people that come through our building on a weekly basis,” said the Rev. Mark Marxhausen of Lutheran Church of the Master. “Every day, we have someone that stops in that is in need of help, and some of them are going to be shipped back.”

Marxhausen talked about a recent set of interactions with a West African immigrant and single mother who was recently divorced and lacking in appropriate paperwork. According to Marxhausen, the woman was in danger of being evicted from her apartment and was unable to get a job to support her two sons. The pastor sat down with the woman to discuss her options and learned she had family in Boston who offered to shelter her and her boys while she went through her visa proceedings with a lawyer.

“She told me she had a contact with a lawyer that could help in this area,” said Marxhausen. “I said, ‘I want you to contact that lawyer and see what it takes for you to get your paperwork.’ She said, ‘I wouldn’t get anything for three months. I can’t get a job for three months.’ I said, ‘Go down to Greyhound, tell me what a bus ticket would cost to Boston, and I’ll see if I can’t get the money together to help pay for those bus tickets.’”

As promised, Marxhausen got the woman three bus tickets, and she currently lives with her brother on the East Coast.

“So she’s working on her visa online right now, but at least she’s in a safe place right now without being deported,” said Marxhausen.

Brooklyn Center pastors have been forthcoming with how their churches have an open-door policy to all comers, regardless of their national origin.

“We had refugees and immigrants as part of our congregation. It’s not an unfamiliar situation, but it feels like it has changed a little bit,” said Franzen. “We’ve always had an open door, and I think folks feel welcome here … That’s what Jesus calls us to (do)… to welcome the foreigner and stranger, and to be well aware of the oppressed and the orphaned and the widowed.”

At Brooklyn United Methodist, a significant portion of the congregation hails from Africa, and Dolopei’s unique perspective as both a preacher and an immigrant has highlighted the church’s dedication to helping the vulnerable and less fortunate.

“We do have some vital conversations around what it means to be an immigrant,” said Dolopei. “And looking back at Scriptures and making reference to Jesus Christ, who was once a refugee, to give people hope. Whatever’s going on, we continue to be grounded in our faith.”

Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected]