Family, congregation saddened by separation after man is taken by immigration officials


A member of the lay leadership team of Casa de Oracion, a Spanish-speaking congregation within Dodge City First United Methodist Church, is one of reportedly 600 people nationwide to be detained in a series of federal immigration raids nationwide.

Humberto Barralaga of Dodge City, Kansas, poses in this family photo with his family. Barralaga was one of more than 600 undocumented immigrants detained in a series of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in recent days. Submitted photo

Early the morning of Feb. 7, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Humberto Barralaga, leader of men’s ministries at Casa de Oracion – translated as House of Prayer – in his Dodge City, Kansas, home.

Barralaga is an undocumented immigrant, but a deportation order had not been issued for him as of Feb. 11, said the Rev. Raciel Quintana, the appointed pastor of the Spanish-speaking congregation of 25 to 30 people.

“The family is receiving advice from a lawyer, who was able to find out that Humberto does not have a deportation order, so they are seeking bail so he can be released, but everything will depend on the judge,” Quintana said.

Barralaga’s son is a U.S. citizen, and his wife is a legal resident. Like many other families throughout the country, Barralaga now faces separation from his family, Quintana said.

“As the family’s pastor, we have been accompanying them together with the congregation, who have been visiting them, creating prayer chains and fasting,” Quintana said. The family is receiving migrant counseling from a United Methodist ministry in the area as they cope with the situation.

Quintana said the congregation has been deeply affected by this situation. “But we have faith and we are putting the situation in the hands of God,” he said.

United Methodist leaders nationwide have joined other faith communities in saying a series of executive orders concerning immigrants are in direct opposition to sacred texts to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, states that the denomination opposes “immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”

Corey Godbey, coordinator of Hispanic Ministries for the Great Plains Conference, said the conference stands in solidarity with the Barralagas as they deal with such a sudden upheaval in their family.

“We certainly ask for prayers for this family and for others who are facing similar situations across the country,” Godbey said. “This a jarring situation for all involved – not just this one family but the congregation and others who know people like Humberto who have been separated from their loved ones.”

Raids by federal immigration officials were conducted in at least 11 states, and more than 600 people were arrested last week, according to several news agencies.

"Churches are affected because these situations break the unity of families, bonds of faith and the unity of the church itself,” Quintana said. “Our brother is a fundamental leader of our evangelism project, and now this could be seriously affected.

The Rev. Jerre Nolte, lead pastor of Dodge City First UMC, said the congregation of the larger congregation and of the Spanish-speaking congregation both were subdued Sunday as the news sank in that a person who led the men’s Bible study and other small groups had been separated from his family. Nolte said he knew of no accusations of Barralaga being involved in any illegal activities.

Suspicions of other criminal activity typically have been required to conduct such raids, but that policy appears to be changing in the President Donald Trump administration, with several states, including Kansas, considering legislation that involve immigration policy. The Kansas Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs was scheduled to consider two bills Feb. 15 – SB 157 and SB 158 – that would penalize municipalities by withholding state funds if law enforcement officers failed to identify and detain undocumented people found in the state, including people who are victims of crimes. SB 157 would require the Kansas Highway Patrol superintendent to set up an enforcement agreement with the Department of Homeland Security for the purposes of assisting with immigration enforcement. SB 158 would deputize Kansas law enforcement officers to assist with ICE.

Nolte said as of Tuesday afternoon, the church had received word that Barralaga had been transferred to Butler County in Kansas for detention and that he would be speaking with attorneys. The family and other loved ones remain cautiously optimistic that the issue can be resolved.

“As a Christian I think we should all have the same treatment and opportunities that this land offers, for those who come to work, do good and practice their faith honestly,” Quintana said. “‘Injustice’ has a sister called ‘privilege’ and an enemy called ‘God’s justice.’ That’s the one that really counts.

"In the church we must weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh, we must become part of the family, immerse ourselves in their struggles and tragedies, and make our solidarity visible,” he added.
The Rev. Gustavo Vasquez, director of Hispanic/Latino Communications at United Methodist Communications, and Todd Seifert, Great Plains Conference communications director, contributed to this report.

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