On morning of Feb. 8, a group of Latino men left Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church’s hypothermia shelter in Alexandria, Va. Keary Kincannon, pastor at the church, said after the group walked across the street about half a dozen U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement cars surrounded the men.
According to one of the men, Oscar Ramirez, ICE officers questioned them about their legal status and scanned their fingers. After about two hours, officers brought in vans and took at least six men. The men's whereabouts are still unknown.
“In the 21 years that we’ve been doing this ministry of sheltering the homeless, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Kincannon said.
Kincannon, activists, and other faith leaders from the Washington, D.C, Maryland, and Virginia communities gathered in front of the Fairfax, Va., ICE Washington field office Feb. 17 for a prayer vigil to stand in solidarity with the men who were detained.
They stood in a circle speaking, holding posters, and shielding each other from the bitter morning cold.
Kristin Kumpf, director of organizing at the General Board of Church and Society of the Methodist Church and one of the lead organizers of the event, said they were not only standing in solidarity with the Rising Hope community, but they were calling out ICE for their actions.
“The practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement right now are not in line with who we say we are as a government and a country,” Kumpf said. “What they did was legally on the line of violating the Sensitive Locations Memo. That’s extraordinarily morally reprehensible.”
Drafted in 2011, the Sensitive Locations Memo places restrictions on ICE enforcement in sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, and hospitals. Many at the gathering felt that the sensitive lines of sanctuary were crossed on the morning of the Feb 8.
“It’s unconscionable that our church would be targeted, targeted for being a church where people come to seek sanctuary," Kincannon said.
“Our responsibility is to be the church, to find out what’s going on, and take care of the men who were taken,” he continued.
With this responsibility in mind, Kincannon, Kumpf, and a group of about 10 activists, organizers, lawyers, citizens, and faith leaders walked single file into the ICE office to demand answers. They walked through security lines, past uniformed officers, and asked ICE officials about the men that were taken before they were taken to a waiting room. They were the largest group in the room otherwise sparsely filled with people waiting to speak with immigration officials.
After only a few minutes, ICE officials told the group that they could not provide them with even the names of the detained individuals. The group was politely asked to leave the office.
In the crowd of people asked to leave was Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, the chair of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations and organizer coordinator with Legal Aid Justice Center.
“It adds more fire to what is already happening,” Aranda-Yanoc said. “Our communities are under attack; the people in charge don’t want to talk to us so what are we going to do?”
Many gathered said they would continue to push ICE and government officials about the detained men along with their concerns about immigration in the U.S.
“Thankfully we are talking to our governor and our senators. They can request information that ICE cannot provide directly to us,” Aranda-Yanoc said.
For Kincannon and the Rising Hope community, the work continues despite the rising fears within their congregation. As its website reads, Rising Hope is a church “ministering in love to the practical needs of the poor."
“God makes no distinctions between us whether we’re undocumented or documented,” Kincannon said. “Our role is to love people the way Jesus loves people regardless of their immigration status, regardless of their faith, regardless of their political affiliation, we are just to love all people.”