UPDATE: 12:30 p.m. ET Feb. 18, 2014 — After several uncomfortable hours under arrest, 32 people of faith, including two United Methodist bishops, gathered again in prayer after a peaceful demonstration against U.S. immigration deportations.
Bishops Minerva Carcaño and Julius Trimble, who are co-chairs of the denomination’s Interagency Task Force on Immigration, and Harriett Jane Olson, top executive of United Methodist Women, were released from the U.S. Park Police Anacostia Operation facility along with other faith and labor leaders and undocumented immigrants.
The group was arrested by park police while kneeling or standing on the icy, hard concrete in front of the White House on President’s Day, Feb. 17, to call attention to the fact that nearly 2 million people have been deported during the Obama Administration.
In a prayer after all 32 were reunited with other protesters at the United Methodist Building, which houses the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, Trimble thanked God for everyone’s safe delivery.
“God you were present today and you are present tonight and you are present with all the thousands of our friends and neighbors and family members who remain detained as we have been released. This is a day that needed to happen, this is a day we will not forget but we count it only as a down payment of further action to end deportations,” prayed Trimble.
Melissa Bowe, who works with Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist free and low cost legal clinic for immigrants, said she was nervous but felt privileged to stand up for immigration reform and to ask the administration to halt hurtful deportations that are tearing apart families.
“It was very powerful experience and it was incredible to stand with the group I was standing with and sing and to have a crowd in the distance sing back,” she said.
“I was a little bit nervous the whole time. It was physically uncomfortable, but it felt like a privilege to take a small part in a very growing and important need to put pressure on the administration to halt deportation and to have some accountability for our immigration system.”
Olson said United Methodist Women has collected thousands of postcards to ask the administration to stop the deportations. In a visit to Homeland Security after the last United Methodist Women’s Assembly she said they were told deportations were only being used for violent offenders.
“That is false. They are conducting a policy of oppression and fear and that is not a way we think the United States should present itself in the world,” she said, adding that while there are many things the administration cannot do unless Congress will act, it can choose how to enforce the law.
UPDATE: 4:11 p.m. ET Feb. 17, 2014 — Thirty-two people, including two United Methodist bishops, were arrested as they prayed in the shadow of the White House on President’s Day to hold President Obama accountable for the nearly 2 million immigrants deported during his administration.
Harriett Jane Olson, top executive for United Methodist Women, started the vigil at 1 p.m. with a prayer, “God we are gathered in sorrow and in prayer … we need help.” She was in the group arrested.
After 90 minutes, police started handcuffing the protesters with zip ties and loading them into vans to be processed at the U.S. Park Police Anacostia Operation. Many of the U.S. citizens in the group chose to be arrested without any identification to stand in solidarity with the undocumented immigrants.
Herminia Gallego Lopez, an immigrant who lives in Phoenix, cried as she talked about her 20-year-old daughter who has been in a detention facility for the last five months. She said six families in Phoenix are starting a fast until Obama agrees to stop the deportations.
“Two million are too many, it is always the right time to do the right thing,” said Bishop Julius Trimble of the Iowa Area.
UPDATE 2:40 p.m. ET Feb. 17, 2014 — Herminia Gallego Lopez, kneeling between United Methodist Bishops Minerva Carcaño and Julius Trimble, was arrested along with other United Methodist and faith leaders in an act of civil disobedience to call upon President Obama to stop deportations.
Lopez spoke tearfully of her 20-year-old daughter who has been in a detention center for the past five months.
Standing in the shadow of the White House, with bright sunshine reflecting off the snow, Pilar Molina pleaded, “Please stop deporting innocent people who have a right to a decent life.”
Her husband, Israel Resendiz-Hernandez, was arrested Jan. 27 as he left the grocery the couple owned in Norristown, Pa.
“I have two young daughters that ask me every night when is daddy coming home,” she said.
Carcaño said she is indignant over the mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.
“President Obama has asked us to speak up and stand up, and we have done that,” she declared. “Now he needs to do what is in his power. He needs to stop deportations.”
UPDATE: 1 p.m. ET Feb. 17, 2014 — More than 50 gathered at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill this morning in preparation for the prayer vigil on immigration. As they arrived at Lafayette Park, chanting “not one more deportation,” about half that number planned to participate in civil disobedience.
EARLIER STORY — Supporters ranging from church executives to immigrants fearing deportation will join United Methodist Bishops Minerva Carcaño and Julius Trimble Feb. 17 in Washington to pray for an end to deportations.
Carcaño and Trimble announced Feb. 12 that they planned to be at the prayer vigil in Lafayette Park in front of the White House and expected to be arrested.
Since that time, Harriet Jane Olson, top executive of United Methodist Women, and Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, have said they also plan to participate.
Other United Methodist leaders risking arrest will be Sung-ok Lee, and Carol Barton, executives with United Methodist Women; Sol Cotto, director of Immigrant Welcoming Congregations, Board of Church and Society; Melissa Bowe, program manager for Justice for our Neighbors; the Rev. Jacob Dhamaraj, pastor at Shrub Oak (N.Y.) United Methodist Church; the Rev. David Farley, pastor of Echo Park United Methodist Church, Los Angeles; and Sophia Agtarap of United Methodist Communications, Nashville.
“We are willing to be arrested in front of the White House to tell the president that compassion on immigration starts with the stroke of his pen,” said Bishop Carcaño on her decision to be arrested. “We know that the consequences will be minor for us compared to the grave reality undocumented people live with on a constant basis.
“Far too many families are being ripped apart by the injustice of our broken immigration system; a system that President Obama can begin to repair by turning his own policies around before he reaches the milestone of two million deportations. We’ll be praying that he does so.”
Mefford said it is his prayer that the action will bring an end to deportation — nearing 2 million under the Obama administration. But Mefford is also hoping the action will “pierce the hearts of those in the church who have chosen to sit idly by, to watch from a distance rather than to act.”
Also volunteering to be arrested are Sandy Sorenson, director of United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries office in Washington and Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and members of its Not1More Deportation campaign will take part.
Those risking deportation will join as well
The church leaders will be joined by Pilar Molina, whose husband, Israel Resendiz-Hernandez, has been in immigration detention since Jan. 27. Resendiz-Hernandez, a business owner, has been in the United States for 10 years. He is on a hunger strike at a Pennsylvania detention facility
Gerardo Torres, 41, of Phoenix is going to Washington because every day of the past 20 years, he said, he has lived in fear of being arrested. Torres was born in Mexico but has been living in Phoenix since 1993.
“I cannot be silent anymore there is injustice going on here in Phoenix that is hurting whole communities. We really need support. We really need the open minds, open hearts, open doors of The United Methodist Church.”
Active United Methodist involvement
Carcaño and Trimble co-chair the denomination’s Interagency Immigration Task Force.
Carcaño was among a small group of faith leaders invited by President Obama to a private meeting with 14 religious leaders on March 8, 2013.
In January 2013, Obama invited her to a high school in Las Vegas when he outlined his plan for immigration reform. She was also included in a conference call with Vice President Joe Biden on Feb. 28.
Carcaño has been the spokesperson for immigration reform for the Council of Bishops since 2006. The bishop, who speaks as a daughter of immigrants, is no stranger to media attention for her stand on immigration. She has faced foes from television host Lou Dobbs to well-known Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
In a column written on Feb. 9, Mefford said, “The good news is that the prophetic task in not reserved for a few, but is open to all in the Church. You don’t have to have a long, important title. Most prophets have no title at all. We just have to be willing to listen to our immigrant sisters and brothers, hear the devastation in the stories they tell us and be willing to risk our safety to gain safety for them. And it is time to risk. It is time to tell the truth. And it is time for deportations to end for good.”
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected].