LOS ANGELES – On Wednesday, March 23, in front of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, outside the very courtroom where Central American children defend their cases for asylum, 21 faith leaders and allies, myself included, got arrested for protesting the detention and deportation of immigrants, specifically U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids targeting Central American refugee mothers and children who have come to the U.S. to flee extreme violence and to seek asylum.
The other arrestees include Rev. Noel Anderson, Father Thomas Carey, Pastor Robert Chao Romero, Pastor Lucia Chappelle, Cathy Deppe, Rev. Alejandro Escoto, Father Richard Estrada, Scott Haskins, Betty Hung, Canon Randy Kimmler, Rev. Joanne Leslie, Rev. Allison Mark, Rev. Chris Ponnet, Angela Sanbrano, Rev. Andy Schwiebert, Shakeel Syed, Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge, Rev. Brenda Vaca, Rev. Heidi Worthen-Gamble and Deacon Robert Vasquez.
I chose to get arrested during Holy Week because too many of our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters are suffering; too many have been sent back to places where they have fled violence and persecution, and have found death. Young children are being forced to represent themselves in our immigration courts with little to no recourses. Families live in fear because they wonder when ICE might come to their doorstep next and take one of their loved ones away. Our fellow humanity is crying out, and we must respond.
Holy Week is one of the most sacred times of the year for Christians around the world. As a priest, I have committed myself to follow Jesus as he proclaims God’s love and liberation in the world. Jesus was not unlike the refugees of today, for he was persecuted and condemned by the imperial forces of his time, and sent to his death. I am also the son of Mexican immigrants, and I know the difficult journey that my parents have traveled to provide for my family. I am risking arrest during Holy Week because the gospel message compels me to proclaim a radically different way – to love my neighbor and to offer hospitality to the stranger. I call on all people of faith and goodwill to challenge the hatred and xenophobia that are captivating our national discourse and our immigration policies, to challenge these unjust policies and hateful messages, and instead to offer welcome and sanctuary to refugee and immigrant families.
Currently, over 300 Central Americans are being detained, many of whom are unaccompanied children. Over the first weekend of the raids alone, 77 people were deported. And it has, so far, been reported that since the U.S. deported these people in January, 83 total deportees have been murdered, many of them shortly after deportation. This is a life and death matter! These mothers, children, and fathers cannot be misclassified any longer. They are refugees who need protection and resources, and they should not be criminalized for being victims of poverty, violence, and having insufficient paperwork.
The protest and witness actions were organized by Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), which collaborates with over 600 religious leaders and 1200 lay people throughout the Los Angeles County area. These faith-based activists represent a very broad range of ethnic and denominational constituencies.
CLUE’s faith leaders and allies are demanding:
- Sanctuary, not deportation
- No more ICE raids
- No more targeting children
- No 287g and no PEPcomm
- Yes to TPS (Temporary Protection Services) for all Central American refugees
- End the prosecution of Francisco Aguirre and all the other Central American refugees
- Yes to due process legislation that would provide free legal assistance to immigrants.
Santuario Sí! Deportación No!
In this holiest of weeks for many faith traditions around the world, CLUE stands steadfast in solidarity with immigrant families in response to the raids that were launched last Christmas Eve by the Department of Homeland Security and their “Operation Border Guardian” program.
See here for more information about CLUE and its programs.