Faith Leaders Commit Civil Disobedience for Immigration Reform

On 29th October a hundred people gathered in New York City outside the Varick Street Detention Center, where immigrant detainees are held awaiting deportation. The diverse crowd included legal and undocumented migrants, DREAMERS, faith leaders from various Christian denominations, representatives of civil society groups and many ordinary people, all of whom took to the streets on a cold autumn morning because of their a deep shared concern for the inhuman “limbo” situation in which too many immigrants in the US have  been living for long periods of time. While the long awaited immigration reform remains stalled, countless immigrants are seeing their human rights being affected and the unity of their families impeded.

A rally was convened by New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform and its ally the Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform. The New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform campaign is a statewide campaign coordinated by the New York Immigration Coalition and endorsed by 170 labor, business, faith, grassroots and immigrant organizations from across the state. The coalition is calling for an overhaul of the immigration system to meet the needs of the economy and keep families together. At the end of the rally in Varick Street 10 people committed civil disobedience and were consequently arrested. Among them a Catholic nun, a pastor and a Bishop who with the other immigration reform activists occupied the street blocking traffic at W. Houston St. near the immigration facility. Within minutes they were charged by the police for disorderly conduct and taken away. Through their action they expressed deep commitment to just and humane immigration reform.

The civil disobedience action took place in the context of a nation-wide escalation by immigration advocates in the month of October, with over 180 events held in 150 cities in 40 states.  One of the goals of many of these actions was to apply pressure on House leadership to allow swift congressional action, including a vote on immigration reform. The long awaited reform is expected to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and protect immigrants from deportation.

During some of the speeches at the rally the faith leaders present highlighted how many immigrants and their families in their own faith communities across the US are victimized in their daily lives by the lack of an appropriate immigration system. It is urgent that faith leaders continue to be the voice of the voiceless and to speak out within and beyond their Church communities to convey the plight of the many immigrants who are already making a significant contribution to this country and whose cause must be made known.