United Methodist Women Participate in White House Arrests to Stop Deportation

United Methodist Women Participate in White House Arrests to Stop Deportation
Harriett Jane Olson joins others in protest near the White House

On this President’s Day, February 17, outside the White House, national faith leaders joined immigrant rights advocates to express a moral imperative: to stop the government policy that is tearing families apart by deporting 1100 persons each day.

Thirty-two activists, who would soon be arrested, held placards reading: “Praying for Relief” and “#Not 1 More Deportation.” Others pleaded by way of a bright yellow banner: “Mr. President, Stop the Deportations—Two Million Too Many.”

United Methodist Women leaders joined the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, Church World Service, interfaith supporters, and immigrant day laborers of the National Day Laborer’s Organizing Network (NDLON). Together, they eagerly embraced this bold President’s Day stand. For most, this was their first civil disobedience arrest.

Harriet Jane Olson, executive director of United Methodist Women and Sung-ok Lee, associate general secretary and deaconess, were among the United Methodist Women members arrested.

Olson reflected on previous actions taken by United Methodist Women. “The UMW Assembly 2010 action in St. Louis included a march and rally with local community groups calling for an end to punitive state laws, to Secure Communities, and to detention.” She explained how later that year United Methodist Women members and friends presented 3,500 signed postcards to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, calling for dignity not detention.

Continuing this extreme detention and deportation policy has not earned the Obama administration points with the opposition.

“All it has done is amp up the drumbeat of fear for persons who are already living and working in the U.S., and for everyone else in their families, churches and communities. We’re doing civil disobedience because we’re not getting the administration’s attention. They’re not taking us seriously.”

United Methodist Women would like to see directives to stop detaining and deporting people simply because of their immigration status and witness the implementation of mechanisms to provide provisional status until a legalization bill becomes law.

The issue is close to home for Korean-born Lee. “I’m an immigrant from a different presidential administration,” she said. “My path to legalization was made possible 30 years ago. This is an emergency now, and we need the head doctor (the president) to do an emergency intervention.”

In the morning, a brief training took place at the United Methodist Building in Washington D.C. It included a run-through and explanation of what to expect during arrests. Then, supporters and those planning to participate in civil disobedience headed to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. The day was cold, but the weather looked kindly on this action, and a brilliant sun warmed the air.

Bishop Julius Trimble from Iowa (who was later arrested) launched a call to worship, beginning, “We have journeyed from far and wide; we have joined together faith leaders, community leaders and immigrant leaders. Together we pray for Not One More Deportation.” Supporters responded in unison, “Not one more deportation. Ni una mas deportacion!”

Following the singing of Salvador Sarmiento’s “Eyes on the Prize” (“hold on, hold on”), many who were about to be arrested spoke.

Pilar Molina, 29, of Norristown, Pa., told of the signed order of deportation for her husband with whom she runs a small grocery and take-out shop in Norristown. “He’s being held in the Pike County Correctional Facility. My future is very uncertain,” she said. “I’m doing this to draw attention. It’s not right. Our two daughters (ages 9 and 3) ask every day, when is Daddy coming home?”

Herminia Gallego Lopez, who lives in Arizona, tearfully told of her 20-year-old daughter who has been in a detention center for the past five months.

After testimonies, the 32 positioned themselves in front of the White House, the first row kneeling on white towels to protect from the hard and cold sidewalk. They prayed. They sang songs of solidarity.

Jeanne Roe Smith, a United Methodist Women deaconess, traveled from Los Angeles to stand in the third row of demonstrators. Like most of them, she had never been arrested before. “I work with immigrant youth and their families,” she said. “I see firsthand the suffering and the heartbreak of deportation laws on families.” She continued, “Enough is enough. People of faith and conscience need to take a stand. My citizenship and my faith demand it.”

After being advised to disperse by loudspeaker, Park Police began the arrests one by one, zip ties binding each person’s wrists behind their backs. Those arrested were taken in crowded vans of 12 to the United States Parks facility in Anacostia.

Following several uncomfortable hours of being detained in cells and after fines were paid, the released activists reunited with other protesters at the United Methodist Building. Baltimore-Washington Conference Social Action Coordinator Judy Smith was among them. “I’m glad I did it,” she commented. “I really believe in standing and singing the songs with the immigrants and faith community. I felt I was living my faith as a Christian and as an American.”

As for the experience of being arrested, everyone said how it was not a pleasant experience, from the jail conditions to the attitudes of the police.

At the debriefing, it was agreed that much strength was gained through the support of one another. Sol Cotte of Welcoming Immigrants put it this way, “We experienced a little bit, and it was a lot.” Another demonstrator added, “This is one moment in the marathon of the journey.”

Every day 1100 people are deported. On Wednesday, February 19, be one of 1100 calls to the White House asking President Obama to stop the deportations. Call 1-888-907-2053 and ask President Obama to end all deportations now, and keep families together.

Posted or updated: 2/18/2014 11:00:00 PM