More than 100 immigration activists, including two United Methodist bishops, were arrested outside of the White House Thursday afternoon in a protest demanding the president halt all deportations. The protest was mostly organized by faith leaders and religious activists. Sponsoring churches and organizations included the Unitarian Universal Association, the United Church of Christ Church World Service, and the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. While the rally and protests weren’t officially sponsored by any United Methodist agency, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society endorsed and live-tweeted the arrests, and 45 of the arrested individuals were United Methodists.
The organizers first met in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in a meeting that was closed to press. From there, they marched to Lafayette Park and held a rally across from the White House. A series of speeches in were given by faith leaders such as United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño, president of Church World Service Rev. John McCullough, and vice president of the Sisters of Mercy Sister Eileen Campbell. The speeches (and chants) were given in both English and Spanish for the benefit of the largely Hispanic crowd.
Most of the mainstream media coverage of the arrests focused in particular on the recent surge of minors crossing the US-Mexico border. ABC News claimed the arrested individuals were protesting “the Obama administration’s response to the sudden surge of illegal immigrants across the border with Mexico.” In actuality, the protest was scheduled long before the mass surge of immigrant children became a hot button political issue.
In addition, the protesters wanted an end to all deportations, not just for the children recently crossing the border. The central goal of the protests was to get President Barack Obama to bypass a deadlocked Congress and issue an executive order. “Mr. President,” said organizer Gustavo Torres, “it is time to use your legal authority and to fulfill your responsibilities.”
While occasionally calls to stop deportations are limited to “law-abiding” illegal immigrants, but there was no such restraint at the rally. A common refrain was that speakers wanted “Not One More” deportation. The fact that close to two million deportations has occurred under President Obama was declared “Two Million Too Many” (even though 20% of those illegal immigrants were deported for “serious crimes“).
If the rally’s rhetoric is to be believed, the preferred immigration stance of the United States should be that anyone who makes in the country is in for good. That’d be bad enough, if speakers didn’t then condemn border enforcement as well. Rev. Kathleen McTigue, Director of the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice, denounced the “militarization of the border” as yet another crime against justice, while GBCS executive Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe commented in an interview that the United Methodist Church supports open borders.
Another common theme was that race was behind decisions to enforce immigration laws. CWS’s John McCullough claimed that illegal immigrants are “racial profiled” and “feel harassed each and every day.” Bishop Carcaño denounced those who claimed that they wanted the recent surge of immigrant children because there are too many of them. “Could it be that they’re also brown children?” she asked. One rabbi claimed that Central American immigrants were being treated like his Jewish ancestors: “We were once demonized. We were called “undesirable.” Laws were passed to keep us and people like us out.”
After the rally came the arrests. The group of about 100 or so protesters, included Bishop Carcaño and retired Bishop Jack Meadors planted themselves in front of the White House, sat waited for the arrests to happen. The march to Montgomery it was not. Many of the protesters smiled and laughed as they were taken into custody, and the police treated the arrests like the routine matter it was. According to The Washington Post, the burden inflicted on the protesters amounted to a few hours in detention and a $50 fine. At least some of those arrested were illegal immigrants (one of them gave a speech through a translator at the rally), but there have been no media reports indicating that any faced deportation.
The arrests come before a series of planned anti-deportation events this weekend. On Saturday morning, another protest will be held on the National Mall, culminating in yet another march to the White House.