A roomful of Presbyterians paid a fitting and moving tribute to the late Kelly Allen, a San Antonio pastor and human- rights advocate, while commemorating World Refugee Day on Monday during the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Allen, who was to have been the event’s keynote speaker, died unexpectedly on June 5. Two years ago, in response to the flood of Central American refugees fleeing violence in their home countries, Allen co-founded the Interfaith Welcome Coalition in San Antonio, Texas, and worked tirelessly until her death to extend hospitality to refugees and advocate during the World Refugee Day Luncheon – which was co-sponsored by the Office of Immigration Issues in the Office of the General Assembly and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, an office of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. In it Allen said, “I am proud of a denomination that is active for just and humane immigration.”
In Allen’s stead, General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and Alison Harrington, the pastor of Southside Presbyterian Churchin Tucson, Arizona, a leader in the new sanctuary movement, outlined the PC(USA)’s efforts to support immigration reform and better treatment of the 75 million refugees worldwide.
Harrington decried the U.S. government’s decision two years ago to greatly expand detention-center capacity (from 85 beds to 3,000) in the midst of a flood of more than 100,000 Central Americans across the U.S.-Mexico border. “There is much to do, and we have to do it together,” she said.
Parsons agreed, noting that children as young as 3 years old were rushed into deportation hearings without legal representation. “We can do better,” he said.
Earlier, PDA’s Susan Krehbiel and OGA’s immigration attorney, Teresa Waggener, introduced Som Nath Subedi, a former refugee from Bhutan – a tiny country between China and India – who told of being forcibly removed from his country by the Bhutanese government. “My family lived in a bamboo hut in a refugee camp in Nepal for 20 years, until I was able to come to the United States in 2008 with ten dollars in my pocket and my possessions in a plastic bag,” Subedi said, adding that he was soon confronted with a painful reality: “If I got a job I would be accused of taking it away from an ‘American,’ and if I didn’t get a job I would be accused of being a welfare freeloader.”
Subedi worked a series of minimum-wage jobs while looking for ways to serve other refugees and “give back to the city of Portland.” In 2010, he created “Parks for New Portlanders” – a city agency that provides recreational and other social activities for Portland’s immigrant communities. Subedi still manages the program.