United Methodist Women Joins March to End Family Detention

Advocates call for an end to the detention of women and child refugees and the criminalization of immigrants.

United Methodist Women Joins March to End Family Detention
At the rally to #EndFamilyDetention in Dilley, Texas.

On May 2, some 600 advocates marched through the hot sun in the small town of Dilley, Texas, to the Dilley Family Residential Center to protest the detention of immigrant families. Among them were over 50 United Methodists from across Texas and the nation, including about 20 United Methodist Women members. The United Methodist presence was organized by United Methodist Women, Justice for Our Neighbors, the General Board of Church and Society, and National Hispanic/Latino Ministries.

Buses and church vans came from Austin, San Antonio and Houston, with carloads of protesters arriving from Dallas and across South Texas. United Methodist Women of Brownsville worked with the ACLU to organize a bus that picked up people across the Rio Grande valley, including those who are active at the Good Neighbor Settlement House national mission institution in Brownsville, Texas. Justice for Our Neighbors brought in advocates from Austin and Houston.

The practice of family detention is a recent response to Central American refugees seeking asylum. Previously, refugees were quickly freed while awaiting their hearing. United Methodist Women joins other faith groups and immigrant and refugee advocates in calling on the Obama Administration to end family detention. Alternatives include releasing refugees until their asylum hearings while offering free legal support, or granting temporary protective status for those fleeing violence in Central America. According to Sofia Casini, detention visitation coordinator at Grassroots Leadership, many children are “escaping violence at the hand of gangs.” Their “incarceration with armed guards, where kids are yelled at, re-traumatizes the children.”

In addition to the Dilley detention center, refugee families are also being held in Karnes City, Texas, and at the Berks County Residential Center near Reading, Pa. A parallel demonstration took place in Berks County on May 2.

Advocates, including a large interfaith presence, marched from downtown Dilley two miles to the detention center, escorted by local law enforcement. With brilliantly colored banners and signs, as well as huge puppets, the lively march rang out with music and chants against the jailing of mother and child refugees.

Grassroots Leadership, a United Methodist partner organization based in Austin, Texas, organized the march, with national support from the Detention Watch Network, and the active participation of United Methodists and other advocates.

Inspiring Speakers

At the rally we heard from Satsuki Ina, a child psychologist from Sacramento, California. She is Japanese-American, and she and her brother were born in the Manzanar, Calif., detention camp, where U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up and held during WWII. She has thoroughly studied the trauma this has had on children. Ina is visiting children who are held in detention today and is seeing many of the same signs of trauma. “Thank you for speaking out today about family internment camps," she said. United Methodist Women is continuing a history of advocacy — predecessors spoke out  against the Japanese internment as well.

One of the most moving moments was hearing from Melanie, a 4-year-old child who was detained with her mother in Karnes. She described seeing her mother cry and said she was concerned about friends still in detention. A 6-year-old boy spoke of being in detention and making paper airplanes to symbolize freedom, only to have them destroyed by the guards.

The march itself was led by a group of Honduran men who fled violence in Central America and then lost limbs as they crossed Mexico on La Bestia or The Beast — the name for a train that immigrants and refugees ride on the roof. Many fall or are pushed, and often lose limbs. Despite their injuries, the men were incarcerated. Through RAICES, a legal aid group, a community of these men are now reclaiming their lives in San Antonio. They marched the two miles to Dilley, some on crutches. One man shared the pain and sense of hopelessness in detention, and thanked communities that are supporting people inside, giving them hope and calling for an end to detention.

Donald Anthonyson of Families for Freedom in New York and the Detention Watch Network has himself faced detention and deportation. He noted that the concerns of immigrants and refugees facing detention and deportation are one, and that we need to end the policy of detention and deportation and criminalization of immigrants and refugees.

United Methodist Women Deaconess Cindy Johnson also spoke at the rally: “United Methodists and other people of faith are doing this work because scripture is very clear that we are to LOVE our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers.” She and The Rev. Kelly Allen (Presbyterian Church USA) lead a group in a litany for immigrants and refugees to close the event.

How to Help

There are many ways for United Methodist Women members to  get involved in helping to end family detention.

Carol Barton, United Methodist Women executive for community action, attended the Dilley rally and says, “United Methodist Women spoke out against Japanese family internment in WWII. Members joined advocates in helping to close the Hutto family detention center in Austin in 2009. And today we are sending a loud, clear message that jailing women and children refugees is wrong; criminalizing immigrants and refugees is wrong, and we can help to end it.”

Carol Barton is executive for community action with United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 5/7/2015 11:00:00 PM

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PDF will open in a new window Download a flyer to sign and let President Obama know we stand against family detention and mass incarceration
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*Sign the petition calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña to end family detention.

*Host a screening of the new documentary film No Sanctuary: The Big Business of Family Detention.

*Read the Press Release on the 10 days of action 

*Read the Press Release on the rally in Texas 


*Campaign to End Family Detention info page

*Global Migration and Immigration Rights

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United Methodist Women Local, District & Conference Groups in Action:

Link opens in a new window. “Please don’t deport my mother!” Great Plains Conference asks "How are you celebrating Mother’s Day?"

For more information and opportunities contact:

Carol Barton, United Methodist Women Immigrant & Civil Rights Initiative
777 United Nations Plaza, 11th floor
New York, NY 10017