Episcopalians to join 40-mile Solidarity Walk to immigrant detention facility in New Hampshire

By David Paulsen
Posted Aug 20, 2018
Prayer vigil Manchester

A few dozen people gather outside the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Aug. 7 for one of the regular prayer vigils for immigrants checking in with federal authorities. Photo: New Hampshire Council of Churches

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians will join others in the New Hampshire faith community this week for a four-day Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice, tracing detained immigrants’ path from federal immigration enforcement offices in Manchester to a jail in Dover to raise awareness of immigrants’ plight and to voice their support.

“We’re following on foot the path that people who are detained and taken to jail are themselves traveling,” said the Rev. Jason Wells, an Episcopal priest who serves as executive director of New Hampshire Council of Churches, one of the Solidarity Walk organizers.

This pilgrimage will begin Aug. 22 with a short prayer service at St. Anne-St. Augustin Catholic Church in Manchester, and the walk will kick off from the Norris Cotton Federal Building, where offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, are located. The building also has been the site of regular prayer vigils scheduled for days when immigrants are known to be checking in with ICE, some fearing they will be detained or deported.

The Episcopal Church’s support for immigrants, including those facing deportation, was underscored last month by the 79th General Convention, which passed multiple resolutions on immigration issues after hundreds of bishops and deputies gathered for their own prayer service outside an immigration detention facility near Austin, Texas.

Organizers of the Solidarity Walk in New Hampshire have invoked that example as they plan to gather at the end of their 40-mile journey outside the Strafford County jail, which has a contract with the federal government to hold immigration detainees.

“I think that the Gospel imperative is to work for the poor, the marginalized, to really point out injustice and work for justice,” said the Rev. Sarah Rockwell, a part-time priest at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Manchester and president of the Granite State Organizing Project Executive Council. “I see this as very much a part of living out a life of faith, and our faith should be consequential.”

Although Rockwell will not be available to participate in the Solidarity Walk, others at the Granite State Organizing Project have been involved in planning it. Theirs is an interreligious organization devoted to grassroots community advocacy, and it is one of several groups contributing to the walk, including the American Friends Service Committee.

At the frequent prayer vigils organized by the same groups, about 50 or so people gather outside the federal building in Manchester. They embark on a Jericho walk – seven times around the building, often in silent prayer. More prayers and songs follow, as well as readings from various faith traditions’ scriptures.

During the vigils, some clergy offer to wait with the families of noncitizen immigrants who are checking in. The families typically don’t know if these will be routine visits to provide updates to authorities or if their loved ones suddenly will be told to return by a certain date with a plane ticket back to their native country, Wells said. Some have been taken straight to jail.

Most immigrants the New Hampshire Council of Churches are supporting have been required to check in with ICE about once a month, a frequency that has increased since President Donald Trump took office, Wells said. Previously the check-ins may have happened only about once a year.

The Strafford County jail, one of six facilities in New England holding immigration detainees for the federal government, also has seen an uptick in immigrant detainees in recent years to about 115 a day in 2018, according to the Concord Monitor.

Some of these immigrants came to the United States on work visas that have since expired, so they are trying to gain permanent residency status, Wells said. Others are asylum seekers or refugees or have temporary protected status because the federal government at some point determined it was unsafe for them to return to their home country.

Organizers of the Solidarity Walk say one goal is to draw attention to the prevalence of such immigration cases in upper New England.

“Many [Americans] do not understand the forces that drive people to flee their homelands, the complexities of the immigration system or the hardships faced by migrants,” Eva Castillo, vice president of the Granite State Organizing Project, said in an online announcement of the Solidarity Walk. “We hope to have positive and productive conversations with Granite Stators of all political persuasions along our journey.”

This is doubly important in a northern state that doesn’t normally get associated with immigration issues, Wells said.

“Among all of us there is a desire to keep this awareness in front of New Hampshire,” Wells said. “A lot of the news on immigration tends to focus on the border with Mexico, and we lose sight of the fact that these are New Hampshire families.”

The walk will be broken into segments of about three hours each, with the morning and afternoon segments totaling about 10 miles each day. About 50 people have signed up so far to walk at least one of the segments, and other volunteers will drive the same route in support vehicles.

The Solidarity Walk will conclude each day’s segments with events in towns along the way – Candia, Raymond and Lee – with walkers invited to camp overnight at churches that have volunteered their space.

In addition to raising awareness, participants in the walk want to bring detainees a direct message of support. Organizers are working on how to communicate that support to those inside the county jail as they plan a prayer vigil outside on Aug. 25.

Wells said he and others felt inspired by stories of the Episcopalians who on July 8 shouted, “Te vemos – we see you,” to the immigrant women being held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas.

If he has the opportunity, he hopes to offer similar words of support to the immigrants being held in the jail in Dover.

“That we see you, we see your humanity, we see that you are made in God’s image,” Wells said. “And even though you are in the jail, you are loved by God, you are loved by us – that we are here, that we have not forgotten you.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


Comments (24)

  1. Jordan Sakal says:

    We are all pilgrims on this journey, we are all travelers on the way. The Episcopal Church is doing the right thing by standing up for human rights here.

    1. Nordonia Nate says:

      Can you explain your comment? I’m curious to understand what you mean by it.

      Wonder IF you know any legal immigrants, or have sacrificed any of your time helping the legal immigrant?

  2. Ron Davin says:

    How about immigration justice for those that did not cut the line, and are trying to come here legally.

    1. Jordan Sakal says:

      Mr. Davin,

      Pleased to meet you, I’ve not had the pleasure of exchanging thoughts with you previously but I do wish you well and it is a pleasure to meet you.

      The thing is, the people discussed here in this article (and those articles where migrant children were kept in cages) are asylum seekers. They aren’t “cutting the line” as if this was a schoolyard. Asylum seeking is a very appropriate and very legal method of entering another country.

      1. Ronald Davin says:

        What a pleasant surprise for me, unique really, to be disagreed with, without the person being disagreeable. Outstanding ! Well done Jordon ! But, sadly, I am still suspicious of the motivation of the hierarchy. Now if we could all get behind Operation Christmas Drop, support kids, people, and the Country.

        1. Jordan Sakal says:

          Mr. Devin,

          I apologise that my original comment did not post (as I thought it had) so I am trying again.

          Operation Christmas Drop sounds a lot like what I remember hearing about when the USAF pilots would airdrop chocolate to the children of Berlin during the Blockade. I think lots of people would support Operation Christmas Drop as an initiative but perhaps they do not know about it. I would suggest to you to publicise it further on your own social media and spread the word about this wonderful cause.

          As for supporting our country and our own kids and citizens, I think we do a good job at that but as always we could use more support. I think that honouring our American diversity is a great way to be patriotic and steadfast to our country.

      2. nordonia nate says:

        Can you prove your statement is true? Stats show otherwise.

  3. Marilyn White says:

    I am sorry but these children were kept in cages by President Obama not now. The children are actually in better surroundings now than they have been. The parents knew they were coming over to this country illegally, did they not figure that there would be consequences for breaking the law. I have many friends that have come over here legally and that is the way things are supposed to happen. The church should not be involved in this. I live in an area where there are many legal and illegal immigrants and I know what they have lived through. I have been to Mexico to assist families that are suffering and they understood the laws and didn’t try to break them.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      No, the zero tolerance policy started under the current administration, not Obama:
      Also, I do not think it is acceptable to just brush off children being separated from their parents by saying their current surroundings are better. It is immoral to separate children from their parents in this way.

      1. Donald Heacock says:

        You don’t know that they are with their parents. DNA tests have proven that some are not related. We find many come from India & other countries not contiguous to the USA.

        1. Jordan Sakal says:

          Mr. Heacock,

          The fact of the matter is that the current administration has admitted to deliberately separating these children from their parents. It does not matter if the children (and their guardians) are coming from India, or other countries not contiguous to the USA or if they were coming from Mexico, Canada, the UK or Germany. What matters is the fact that this administration ripped children away from their guardians and put them in cages.

          1. nordonia nate says:

            The policy that they are working under was in effect under past administration.

            I’m sorry, I DoD not see your protest then.

          2. Matt Ouellette says:

            Nordonia, see the link in my comment above. As you can see, this did not occur under any previous administration.

  4. Larry Waters says:

    Messrs. Ouellette and Sakal, gentlemen, again we find ourselves on opposite sides of a horrible issue. Whether the folks are seeking asylum or are trying to enter illegally or legally, the U.S simply cannot take in every person[s] who is desirous of coming here. When my grandfather emigrated to the U.S. in 1901, he had relatives here and a skill to support himself. He came legally, BTW. Our government should be concerned first with the welfare/safety of citizens of the U.S. Then, we can look to help, as humanely as possible, other people who are seeking asylum or want to enter the U.S. legally. Sadly, governments around the world are creating intolerable conditions for many of the people who reside in those countries. Evil exists in the world and conditions that force these poor souls out of their countries are tangible manifestations of that evil.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      We can protect our borders and deal with asylum seekers without having to rip children from their parents. Here are some other, more humane ways of dealing with them:

    2. Jordan Sakal says:

      Mr. Waters,

      I feel that I should also reply given that you addressed both Mr. Ouellette and myself. I admire you grandfather and his family for “coming here legally.” However, there are many of that generation who still came here illegally and they faced the same discrimination that exists now (and your grandfather depending on his heritage likely also faced discrimination.)

      Where I begin to diverge from you is the following: I am not suggesting we take in “all” persons who are seeking asylum. Rather I am saying that we could take in more people who are in need. (and yes, I do recognise that there are citizens of this country who are in need as well) You will then ask where can we look to cut in order to find money for this new social responsibility and my answer is the following: Why do we spend more on defence than the top 15 other nations on Earth combined? Couldn’t we cut that funding in order to fund the social needs of our own citizens and aid the world as well? Wouldn’t that work for you? I think it would.

      1. Jim Jordan says:

        Let us be accurate. The “Residential Center” in Taylor, TX, where the Episcopal Church demonstrated its support for the 500 immigrant women inmates, in reality is a privately-owned, for-profit, medium security prison … unlike any residential center I’ve ever seen.

        1. Jordan Sakal says:

          Mr. Jordan,

          I did not make reference to a “residential center” in my post. Was your comment directed at me?

  5. mike geibel says:

    ICE did not separate families on the border. That’s the Border Patrol. ICE’s main mission focuses on crimes like drug trafficking, cyber crimes and human smuggling. ICE is called upon to arrest illegal aliens in the interior who are sought under a warrant for committing a crime, who have failed to appear for a scheduled hearing, or who are otherwise potentially subject to deportation. When arresting or detaining illegal aliens in the interior, ICE has separated families because the law prohibits putting the children into jail with the parent. Being a parent is not a “get out of jail” free card.

    Trump ended the practice of Border Patrol separating families at the border with an executive order. Immigrant families are now being detained together. The so-called “zero tolerance policy,” requires that all adults captured for illegally crossing the border face deportation, but it does not eliminate due process. Requiring persons subject to deportation to check in with authorities on a periodic basis is reasonable. Under the “catch and release” program of previous administrations, those illegally entering merely vanished into the interior and refused to show for their required appearances. This became a defacto “zero enforcement/sometimes enforcement” policy where thousands of illegal immigrants evaded law enforcement.

    It is not unnoticed that an illegal alien has been arrested for the brutal murder of Mollie Tibbetts. He had been in the US for four years and was on the E-verify system for employment. There are numerous similar incidents. While such are not representative of the illegal alien population in general, they demonstrate that better enforcement of illegal immigration is a public safety issue, and that sanctuary cities and churches promote crime against citizens.

    1. Jordan Sakal says:

      Mr. Geibel,

      While ICE did not separate families on the border, they are in fact responsible for tearing apart families at airports and other ports of entry by forcing deportations. They tear parents from their children (and oftentimes force parents back to countries where they have no livelihood, no family, no friends, or connections and often face extreme danger at the hands of cartels, or the government.

      The Trump administration caused the very issue of family separation and detention. (See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/06/19/the-facts-about-trumps-policy-of-separating-families-at-the-border/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2ea472b623cb).
      This administration CREATED this Zero-tolerance policy for immigration. Back during previous administrations, crossing the border illegally was considered a misdemeanour and the violators were given a court summons and ordered to appear. (They and their families were NOT separated from each other.)

      Under the current administration and at the direction of the occupier of the Oval Office, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions CREATED this zero-tolerance policy ordering that families be separated from each other at the border (with children kept in cages, in case you forgot, how very Christian of them.)

      Regarding due process, there are countless accounts of children as young as a few months old being taken before courts and ordered to testify to court proceedings that the judges noted to their horror and contempt for the administration that the children could not even understand what was going on. Additionally, due process and the right to effective counsel was not often upheld because ICE officials and others would claim that the “illegals” did not deserve protections according to the US Constitution.

      How do sanctuary cities and churches promote crime? They are merely acting to protect the citizenry of their cities (and yes, that can include undocumented peoples)

  6. mike geibel says:

    The comment section of ENS articles seems to have degenerated into a personal chat room for the over-opinionated few who think it is important to try to prove they are smarter than everyone else, rather than honestly trying to foster a beloved community. It cannot be helped but noticed that the same few dominate the “comment” sections of every ENS article which touches upon social and political issues. By counting the number of times that Pete and Re-Pete post a “retort” to some other member’s comment, the pattern becomes evident. If one cannot make his point in three posts, then the comments are like the creaking of a rusty gate.

    1. John Hobart says:

      Well said.

    2. Bill Louis says:

      Ditto! The verbal sparring becomes tiresome. Just agree to disagree and go on with life.

  7. Douglas Crellin says:

    Still waiting on the march, vigil and prayers and support for all of those families, and there are a lot of them, with loved ones KILLED by illegal aliens.

    P.S. Regular asylum seekers do not get separated, jailed etc, These are people entering illegally and THEN claiming asylum and separated when the Federal government cannot prove that they are in fact their children and not the subject of trafficking like has been discovered hundreds if not thousands of times. Big difference.

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