As debate over U.S. immigration reform heats up, United Methodists who provide free legal services to immigrants through independent clinics, have appointed a new leader who urges a welcoming attitude to newcomers.
Rob Rutland-Brown started this week as the director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Justice for Our Neighbors (NJFON).
He recognizes the importance of proposals by lawmakers and President Barack Obama to create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in illegally in the United States.
One contentious issue involved in making that happen will be if the pathway should be contingent on first securing the borders to prevent more unauthorized immigration into the country.
This year might be "the" year for immigration reform, Rutland-Brown told the United Methodist News Service.
"I think this is the year that Republicans and other conservatives … will realize the changing demographics of the country and realize they need to be more welcoming," he said.
Rutland-Brown says the next six months are crucial.
"We need to let Congress and the administration know that The United Methodist Church is loud and proud and we want reform now," he said.
Rutland-Brown was previously executive director of Just Neighbors, a United Methodist immigration ministry in Virginia.
NJFON was created as it own corporation in 2012. The number of local, independent JFON offices had grown to encompass a presence in 12 U.S. states and the district of Columbia.
NJFON's parent organization is the larger, refugee-focused group UMCOR.
UMCOR's chair John Redmond told UMNS there was a need for NJFON to provide a national focus after the number of local JFON offices began to grow.