Methodist bishop Minerva Carcano on front lines of immigration battle

minerva carcano
When United Methodist Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño talks about tussling with political bigwigs on the topic of immigration reform, she is poised, yet forceful. Photo courtesy Perkins School of Theology.

PASADENA, Calif. (RNS) When United Methodist Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño talks about tussling with political bigwigs on the topic of immigration reform, she is poised, yet forceful.

minerva carcano

When United Methodist Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño talks about tussling with political bigwigs on the topic of immigration reform, she is poised, yet forceful. Photo courtesy Perkins School of Theology.

As the first female Hispanic bishop elected in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, Carcaño has had a lot of practice keeping her cool, especially when it comes to discussing divisive politics.

“Immigrants can stay as long as they don’t ask for more than we want to give them, and as long they keep serving our needs at whatever pittance of a pay we want to extend to them,” Carcaño said in an interview in her office here.

“When people begin to say that’s not fair, that’s not just, then that ruffles feathers.”

Carcaño has emerged as a key religious player on the hot-button political debate over immigration reform. On Friday (March 8), Carcaño was among 14 religious leader who met with President Obama at the White House, where she was tasked with reaching out to Republican congressmen who may be reluctant to tackle the issue.

While Friday’s meeting left the bishop with a sense that “immigration reform is indeed a very high priority for the president,” she doesn’t shy away from voicing her own critiques. For example, that there is still too much emphasis on securing the border, she says.

Carcaño believes immigration reform needs to include a way to reunite families that have been separated because of U.S. policies, and while Obama speaks of cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers, she believes the labor rights of immigrants need to be respected.

In addition to her role as immigration spokesperson for the United Methodists’ Council of Bishops, Carcaño leads the church’s California-Pacific Conference, an area that covers much of Southern California, Hawaii and U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean, such as Guam.


Carcaño, 59, grew up in Edinburg, Texas, not far from the U.S.-Mexico border. Her maternal grandmother was the first Protestant in the family.

The oldest of seven children, Carcaño felt an early call to ministry. But when at age 14 she confessed to her parents she was contemplating life in the church, her mother cried. Her father’s reaction wasn’t much better, commanding her, in a fit of anger, to go back to doing the dishes, Carcaño recalls.

Her father, however, also deeply influenced Carcaño’s views on immigration. Although he initially came to the United States from Mexico in the 1940s under the Bracero Program that allowed the importation of temporary workers, he crossed the border illegally after the program ended because of financial hardship.

He was, Carcaño explained, detained, threatened and accused of dealing drugs.

“He would say to us, `I’ve never even taken an aspirin. I didn’t know what a pill looked like or a drug looked liked,’” Carcaño said. “The experience on the border really left him scarred for life.”

After graduating from the University of Texas-Pan American in 1975, Carcaño earned a master’s in theology from Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1979.

She has served churches across much of the American West, including Oregon and New Mexico, but she says her most challenging role came after she was elected bishop in 2004, when she presided over the church’s Phoenix-based Desert Southwest Conference, an area that includes parts of Arizona, Nevada and California.

Phoenix proved to be a difficult place for Carcaño to practice what she refers to as contextualized ministry, or ministering to people based on their immediate needs. Carcaño says she immediately received enormous pushback from recent transplants to Arizona who were unaccustomed to living in a state that for decades had welcomed immigrants.

Traveling with other religious leaders, Carcaño says she also angered Arizona Sen. John McCain when she confronted him about the state’s get-tough 2010 immigration bill, which allows police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop.

“A senator can be biting your head off,” she said, “but you have to stand by your principles.”

minerva carcano

Bishop Minerva Carcano from the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church is among the marchers going to the Senate office buildings in support of the DREAM Act. Photo by Samuel Ahn, courtesy United Methodist News Service.


Carcaño says she owes her work on immigration issues to her upbringing but also to Scripture and church teaching. She points, for example, to Leviticus 19, where God tells the Israelites that “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.”

Some, such as Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive officer of the 800,000-member United Methodist Women, praise Carcaño for “really boundary-breaking leadership that she has exercised in a region of the country where it hasn’t always gone smoothly.”

William B. Lawrence, dean of her alma mater at Perkins School of Theology, says Carcaño holds church members accountable for ministry for “those persons who live at the margins of society.”

Others, however, say that Carcaño’s views represent only a minority of the church. Mark Tooley, president of the conservative Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy, said Methodists are already defecting at an alarming rate, and the liberal teaching embodied by Carcaño and others is a main reason.

A 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that white mainline Protestants (which includes, but isn’t limited to, United Methodists) lean conservative on immigration reform: 40 percent want tighter border security as the top priority, compared to 17 percent who want a path to legal citizenship. The wide middle of the church — 40 percent — wants both.

When she was appointed president of the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, Carcaño promised to “challenge statements or actions that offend, denigrate, or exclude any person because of the color of their skin, their economic circumstance, their political persuasion, their gender or their sexual orientation.”

Tooley said Carcaño’s opinions on immigration align with the church’s official positions, he says her opposition to the church’s teaching against gay marriage and gay ministers does not.

But for Carcaño, it’s all part of her belief in an egalitarian view of God’s grace that should always be shared with those on the margins — of society or church life.

“It does me no good, it does the world no good if I’m a good Christian in a corner, in my bedroom but do nothing to spread holiness out into the world,” Carcaño said.

About the author

Lilly Fowler


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  • There’s an important message in this article but the patronizing tone is getting in the way.

    Here is the opening sentence in its gender broken form to illustrate my point. I added Bishop Carcaño’s age, so that we’re aware this is being said about somebody who is nearly 60. In other words, a lack of maturity and experience is not the problem.

    “When United Methodist Bishop Salvatore G. Carcaño (59) talks about tussling with political bigwigs on the topic of immigration reform, he is poised, yet forceful.”

    The second sentence is a doozy too: “As the first [female] Hispanic bishop elected in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, Carcaño has had a lot of practice keeping his cool, especially when it comes to discussing divisive politics.”

    I’d be interested in seeing how other readers, as well as Lilly Fowler, could improve these sentences in a way that assumes that Bishop Carcaño already knows how to effectively get her message across in professional and political contexts.

  • Which Conservatives have turned traitor on American principles?

    Is it any surprise that Americans don’t trust their government anymore, when they use lies to get the public on their side? Can we possibly believe the majority of politicians when they flip flop over illegal alien numbers telling us that only 11 million people are here? Doesn’t it seem strange that the population figures have just fluctuated with little difference in the last 10 to 20 years? Doesn’t it seem odious that that there is no tough punishment, such felony when entering the U.S., without legal inspection? Is the legal populace going to be tricked again by those in Congress, by passing another amnesty or what they call Comprehensive reform? Are citizen voters, not non citizens going to have a say in another bombardment of illegal people, who waiting patiently to hear from Washington that another Amnesty is in the works and are ready to swiftly converge on the borders, or slyly slip by immigration officials at airline terminals as one way visitors? Are those in the House and Senate not going to inform us beforehand that whatever the populace of numbers are, that taxpayers are going to be paying out the bill of another Two Trillion (Heritage Foundation) added to the trillions spent already by the White House inhabitants. What about Social Security, Pensions and retirement they will need? Millions of illegal alien parents already here are supplementing their income, with the monthly income from their minor children smuggled or born in America, without paying one dime into the state and federal treasuries, which is paid by you? Yes! It’s true, some pay taxes, but low income people collect it all back, plus billions of dollars are stolen every year in reimbursed child tax credits, even if that child lives in another country; but up to now, the Congress has done nothing about it?

    Don’t citizens have a say in the educational conflict, when illegal aliens are going to get pricey in state tuition, when students from other states have to pay the out of state fees. How come illegal aliens can march into hospitals with their different health problems and walk out free of any payment. Yet Americans are hounded by debt collectors forever, with patients having to carry hefty payments to cover the insurmountable arrivals in the emergency rooms with everything from the flue or contagious diseases they have brought with from third world countries. Even our Drivers Licenses are not sacred documents anymore. Why are we not surprised that many in our government are so corrupt that big business can buy their favors, so that they can hire discount labor and lower wages for the most venerable people in our country. Immigration supplies over one million people to the U.S. population annually. The roughly estimated foreign-born population in the U.S. is now 31.1 million, a record 57 percent increase since 1990. About 8-11 million of those are here illegally–a 4.5 million increase since 1990. Almost one-third of all immigration during the 1990s was illegal. It is very unwise to believe that we only have 11 million in our nation but with the possibility of Amnesty, the Border Patrol has reported a sudden increase in the illegal immigration invaders. In post-1990 immigrants and their children accounted for 61 percent of population growth during the last decade and counting.

    Illegal Immigration must be stifled by resurrecting the 2006 Secure Fence Act, not the underfunded caricature seen in certain high density population sectors along the border, which we have been lied to about. Other laws with substance that could break the back of illegal immigration is THE SAVE ACT. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) introduced the SAVE Act (H.R.830) last Tuesday – a bill that would mandate E-Verify nationwide, strengthen border security, and improve interior enforcement. This must be propelled through the Congress now, along with the BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP BILL. These laws that must commence immediately as every year hundreds of billions of dollars in free education, health care and many other benefits, which has been bestowed on children of illegal parents as automatic citizenship in perpetuity; it is should be rescinded as the parents receive the advantage of cash entitlements for every child they conceive and gather your dollars. Seeing the incredulous garbage of this amendment, it must caste out, as intentional theft of our taxes and will continue forever, whereas most countries have now closed the loopholes. Only children of a U.S. citizen should be entitled to claim the privilege of citizenship. Daily, pregnant Mexican and Central American women on the verge of giving birth, make their way across the U.S. border to have their baby in an American hospital. These children become the notorious “Anchor Babies.” And then gain a foothold for the extended family, which you eventually pay for and extorted by the IRS. Once the baby is born on American soil, he or she instantly attains U.S. citizenship? Not only are the parents almost always allowed to stay and not deported, but since they have no income, the baby is eligible for welfare, (WIC)Women, Infants with children, Food Stamps, etc.–all at the expense of the great American taxpayer.

    I guarantee that if every American swooped down on the nervous, mostly corrupt politicians we can get these laws passed. Fight for America now, fight against overpopulation, fight to reduce taxes that are used to supplement foreign nationals, fight to make English the only language, fight to stop the travesty of illegal alien children crowding our schools, specifically in the border states, fight for the U.S. constitution that is being bypassed by the President Obama Liberal progressives and socialist agendas, Call your politicians in Washington and at state level and demand they listen to its citizens and legal residents. That number is (202) 224-3121, for the Central Washington switchboard. When there are 23 million American jobless, while millions of illegal aliens are hired then we must speak up. You can also petition your local, state and federal Representative at the NumbersUSA website.

    Who elected these odious morons that are destroying this country?

  • Why do some people call them “illegal alien”? Is the term used to make the campaign more effective? Why don’t we just call them “undocumented immigrants”? Anyway they are already in the US doing the tasks nobody wants to do. It’s true many of them receive free social services from the government, just like many of our US citizens, whites or colored. But not all of them are; in fact, most of them pay their taxes.
    John R.

  • Not to agree with the terminology, but the term “illegal alien” is used to refer to those who are “alien” (their citizenship is elsewhere) and whose entry was “illegal” (outside of established legal channels. It’s really not that hard to understand. To turn your question around, is the common use of “undocumented” used only for those whose legal paperwork has been “misplaced” or does it include those who have purposefully evaded established legal procedures? Not being accusatory, just playing devil’s advocate here.

  • It would be nice if RNS could write about United Methodism without quoting Mark Tooley and representing the political position of the IRD. There are plenty of conservative United Methodists, whose connection to the denomination is thoroughly legitimate, from whom you could obtain perspective.

  • Some people call them “illegal alien”, cause by definition, “illegal alien” is: 1.
    a foreigner who has entered or resides in a country unlawfully or without the country’s authorization. 2.a foreigner who enters the U.S. without an entry or immigrant visa, especially a person who crosses the border by avoiding inspection or who overstays the period of time allowed as a visitor, tourist, or businessperson”

    “They are already in the US doing the tasks nobody wants to do.”
    Not true. They do work Americans won’t do for $7 an hour (especially if Americans can collect welfare and unemployment instead). Of course, if you got rid of the illegals, the jobs wouldn’t pay $7 an hour. The people who wanted the work done would have to pay a wage that was attractive enough to get Americans to do the work. And it might even be enough to get Americans off the unemployment and welfare dole and back into the taxpaying workforce!

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