Faith leaders unite to demand families of undocumented immigrants stay united

CLEVELAND -

A group of religious leaders rallied and prayed outside Pilgrim Congregation United Church of Christ in Tremont Saturday to denounce the current immigration policy of separating undocumented children and their families.

The faith leaders also chided the recent round-up of suspected undocumented immigrants at a landscaping business near Sandusky earlier this month.


The prayer vigil and rally was held by Pilgrim Church; Akron Interfaith Immigration Advocates; Cleveland Jobs With Justice; Indivisible CLE; Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association; DreamActivist Ohio; Interreligious Task Force on Central America, and America’s Voice Ohio.

Having the event on the eve of Father’s Day was by design, said Pilgrim’s Church Rev. Kelly Byrd.

“This makes for a very difficult holiday that our nation celebrates the togetherness, the value and the love of family,” Byrd said. “This is just one more reminder of the pain of separation and the anxiety of parents not knowing where their children are and for the trauma and heartbreak of children who need their parents. This is an atrocity.”

Pilgrim Church declared itself a ‘sanctuary church’ earlier this year, one of a handful of congregations to do so in Northeast Ohio. The church has been housing an undocumented immigrant, Eulogio Hernandez-Box for several months while his immigration case is resolved. Current ICE policy avoids taking enforcement actions at sensitive locations, including schools and churches.

Hernandez-Box left his native Guatemala for the United States 17 years ago. He does not have a criminal record and has four young children.

“No one wants to spend a summer inside of a church,” Byrd said. “This is not an ideal situation for any of us. But we are doing what we believe is necessary and important in turning the tide here.”

On the church’s steps Saturday afternoon, the group of faith leaders railed against the Trump Administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy. Roughly 2000 families of undocumented immigrants have been captured at the border. The policy includes the separation of children from their parents while they await processing.

The group of faith leaders consider the policy an atrocity and a violation of human rights.

“It’s unjust. It’s immoral. It violates the very teachings of every world religion on compassion and on justice,” Byrd said. “It’s impossible to be a person of faith and not believe this is wrong. It’s impossible to be a person of faith and not believe this is absolutely against the will of a divine.”

The director of Cleveland Jobs With Justice, Deb Kline, said the rally was important to unify community leaders in hopes of making policy change.

“It’s just important that people are aware of what is happening right now with our undocumented immigrants in this country,” Kline said.

The group also repeatedly mentioned the recent ICE operation in Sandusky earlier this month. Roughly 200 federal agents detained more than 100 suspected undocumented immigrants following a year-long investigation into an area landscaping business. The business itself has not been charged. However, federal authorities believe the 114 employees had been working for the landscaping business using falsified employment paperwork.

The investigation started as an inquiry into an alleged document mill, authorities said. Many of the detained employees were using social security numbers that belonged to dead people. Federal authorities expect to charge those who were detained with identity theft and tax evasion.

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