Prayer service set at Texas detention center during General Convention

Posted Jun 21, 2018

[House of Deputies] Responding to calls from Episcopalians across the church to act on behalf of families seeking asylum at the southern U. S. border, a team of concerned leaders heading to General Convention has planned a prayer service outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, at about noon on Sunday, July 8.

The planning team, led by alternate Deputy Megan Castellan, rector of St. John’s Church in Ithaca, New York, is working with Grassroots Leadership — a local community organizing group in Texas that has held numerous gatherings at the Hutto Residential Center. Deputy Winnie Varghese, director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street, is helping to arrange buses to the event.

“What is happening to those at our borders is monstrous,” Castellan said. “My bishop, DeDe Duncan-Probe [of Central New York] and I were discussing how we, as a church, could respond on Saturday morning. By evening, and with the help of enthusiastic Episcopalians across the church, the idea had taken shape and was moving forward.”

The detention center at 1001 Welch St. in Taylor is operated for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company, and is about a 40-minute drive from the Austin Convention Center where General Convention is being held.

Varghese says Trinity Wall Street hopes to provide buses for the event that would depart from the convention center at 10:45 a.m. Organizers say participants may also drive to the detention center. Parking is available nearby.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, have arranged for a one-hour delay in Sunday’s legislative calendar to facilitate participation by bishops and deputies. The legislative session will begin at 3:15 CDT.

The event, which Curry and Jennings will attend, is open to all who are committed to praying for an end to the inhumane treatment of those seeking asylum in the United States. It has been planned not to conflict with the Bishops United Against Gun Violence event at 9:30 a.m. in Brush Square Park, near the convention center.

A former medium-security prison, the Hutto center has been the target of frequent lawsuits over issues including harsh conditions, poor food and sexually abusive guards. Originally a family detention center, the facility, since 2009, has housed only female immigrants and asylum seekers.

The planning team, which includes several clergy and parishioners of the Diocese of Texas and the Association of Episcopal Deacons, is considering follow-up advocacy activities.


Comments (7)

  1. Doug Desper says:

    I wish that one “follow-up advocacy activity” will be for Episcopal activist leaders to speak truth to power; those powers being the governments of Mexico, and all Central American countries. It’s time that – for once – they were called to account for not taking care of their citizens. Most illegal immigrants are not asylum seekers. The northbound migrants pass by and do not enter any of the half-dozen strategically placed U.S. Consulates in Mexico where they can make a case for asylum and safety. Most migrants want better than what is found in their own countries. Well, the people of the United States want better for ourselves too. We have millions of underserved Americans living on the margins who cannot get basic necessities. Millions of illegal immigrants cannot continue to be absorbed and drain resources from native-born Americans. So, when will these countries of origin be called to account? When is the vigil/service/protest/shouted Lord’s Prayer going to be seen in front of their embassies or in their capitals? “Love thy neighbor” also applies from others to the people of the United States. Americans are generous and understanding for those seeking asylum and for merit-based immigrations. That is not the majority story in immigration hearings. Are these countries of origin sovereign nations or not? Are we to respect their nationhood and cultures and yet patronize them by feeling sorry for their ineffectual self-deterimination to run their own affairs? Getting buses from an endowed New York parish to hold a vigil is easy and the near weekly response for one thing or another. But as an American church, the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” needs to — for once — start advocating for the United States. Illegal immigration has become an injustice being forced on our citizens who are increasingly expected to be the janitor, nurse, and employer to clean up the messes of the world.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      I agree that the U.S. needs to provide better care for its own citizens. We need to spend more resources on health care to make it affordable and accessible to all Americans (a public option, for example), more on infrastructure, research, education, and welfare. We could afford to do all of this if we would stop giving massive tax breaks to billionaires and corporations as well as stopped spending so much on a bloated defense budget. These are all things we can do without having to worry about immigrants straining our resources (not to mention that illegal immigration has decreased recently anyways):
      I believe TEC has done a good job on speaking out for social justice for citizens in this country, but we can always do better. We should also speak out against the repressive governments in certain parts of the world that lead people to seek refuge here, but I think on-the-ground protests would be better organized by the churches and faith groups already present in those countries.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Matt: we mainly agree. But I want to see action by Episcopalians in front of these foreign embassies in Washington to demand that they take care of their people. Ambassadors need to be met with to receive the message. I want to hear any Episcopal leader say to the world that abusing Americans’ good will and taking our limited national resources is a social injustice against the people of this nation. I’m not seeing any of that. We rightly see action about asylum seekers and the persecuted, and for merit-based immigrants. Great! That should be ongoing. We hear or see nothing directed to other nations for their country’s misuse and neglect, and their theft of American resources to be the social services for people that they should be caring for. It’s as though these nations want to be sovereign and culturally respected but also have the benefits of a colonial power when they want them. It can’t be both ways – call it out on Embassy Row in D.C.!

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          While TEC should definitely call attention to the immoral practices of any government in the world (not just the USA), I’m not sure embassy protests would be the best way to call out repressive regimes and dictatorships in Central and South America. Those in authority there are unlikely to respond. I think, rather, empowering the citizens in those countries would be a more effective way to bring about change. I think one thing TEC could do is provide more aid to churches (especially Anglican churches) and faith groups on-the-ground in those countries to help them care for persecuted citizens in those countries. That’s one of the advantages of being part of a global communion of churches: we can all support one another when the nations we inhabit being to fall apart around us, much like the early church communities did.

          1. Doug Desper says:

            While you are “spot on” here Matt we can’t neglect to understand the optics of what TEC leaders choose to participate in. Example: the recent vigil in DC with Bishop Curry that purportedly wasn’t partisan or “about Donald Trump”…yet the vigil ended up in front of the White House with prayers being shouted. It’s time to balance the efforts and optics. Then people can believe that the Episcopal Church is not just another political action committee. Any word forthcoming about the Mexican presidential candidate that is urging Mexicans to head to our border “for a better life”? There are opportunities like that which no Episcopal voice is addressing.

  2. Matt Ouellette says:

    I think the reason they focus on the White House with vigils is because those are the ones in power and in charge of making policy, not because they have a partisan bias. I agree that TEC should have been more active in calling on the previous administration and Congress with Democratic majorities to solve these issues (although to be fair, the Democrats did try to pass immigration reform and it was blocked by the Republican-controlled House). Hopefully they will continue to be more vigilant if/when the Democrats regain power and become complacent. Also, regarding the Mexican presidential candidate who said that (I believe AMLO, right?), his statement on the border isn’t his only problem. I am concerned about his lack of policy specifics to bring about all the things he has promised his base of voters.

  3. regina mcilvain says:

    Thanks to both Matt and Doug for a thoughtful, respectful discussion of opposing views. At this moment in history, we should not forget all the wrongs in the world both past and present, but there is a pressing issue that can be rectified if action is taken immediately. I hope that we can all agree that no child caught in the cross hairs of our current border situation is anything but a legitimate asylum seeker.

    We can hash out details concerning adults at our leisure. The trauma and permanent damage being inflicted on innocents -by the United States of America- must be stopped and the children reunited with their parents.

    We need transparency, a full accounting for each child, full disclosure on the background checks made for every member of ICE and the facilities used under its auspices, full disclosure of facilities used and the companies that financially benefit from the practices put in place since May 7. If, as has been reported, some children have been given to human traffickers, a full and relentless investigation must be launched.

    There are evils in so many sectors of our country that need addressing. Right now, we have to prioritize for the immediate sake of children in extreme danger.

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