This President’s Day, about 20 church leaders, sympathizers, and undocumented immigrants were arrested in front of the White House as part of an act of civil disobedience to protest the nearly 2 million people who have been deported under President Obama.
The core group and about 40 supporters gathered around 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. They held signs that said, “Praying for Relief” and “#Not1moredeportation,” and sang hymns in between short megaphoned speeches that told personal stories. They called for immigration reform. “Not one more, not one more,” they chanted together in both English and Spanish.
The event was organized by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the United Methodist Church, who was the first Hispanic woman to be elected to her position.
In a Monday email announcing the “Faith Civil Disobedience,” she explained her decision to risk arrest.
“We know that the consequences will be minor for us compared to the grave reality undocumented people live with on a constant basis,” Carcaño said. “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.”
About 30 minutes after they had gathered, those participating in the Faith Civil Disobedience formed three lines in front of the White House fence. Tears streamed down one young Hispanic woman’s face as the group sung, “We Shall Overcome.” The police directed those who did not wish to be arrested to stand outside of the yellow police caution tape that had been erected around the small cluster.
“Family is the stable unit around which our society functions,” commented Franciscan monk Father Jason Welle, who was among those watching from outside the tape. Ultimately, he argued, the main thing deportation does is break apart those families.
Another Franciscan, Sister Marie Lucey, explained that since the faith community understands community as “love God, love neighbor,” its members cannot neglect their undocumented brothers and sisters whose only crime is crossing the border.
“If you define justice as just keeping the law, then, yes, they have broken the law,” Lucey said. “But we in the faith community believe that true justice is holding up a higher law.”
A higher law, by her definition, is what is best for all people.
“For us it’s spiritual. We engage in prayer and fasting as well as the action.”
Lucey said that on this occasion — unlike some others when she was arrested — she had not felt called to get arrested during this particular civil disobedience; she was there in solidarity with those who did, particularly her boss — the executive director of Franciscan Action Network.
“Pundits and the media say that immigration is dead, but we aren’t willing to settle for that,” she stressed. “What we hope for from the president is safer and fewer deportations. We will continue to work with and pressure Congress … for immigration reform to pass.”
Kara Lofton is the Online and Editorial Assistant at Sojourners.