UCC advocates arrested on President's Day protesting for immigrant rights
Written by Emily Schappacher
February 18, 2014

Protestors gather outside of the White House on President's Day, Monday, Feb. 17, to ask President Obama for deferred action from deportation for all undocumented persons, as the administration approaches an unprecedented 2 million deportations since taking office in 2008. Photo by Jay Mallin, United Methodist News Service.

This President's Day, people of faith sent a message to President Barack Obama: stop the separation of immigrant families. More than 50 immigrant rights advocates and members of the faith community, including several from the United Church of Christ, gathered outside of the White House on Monday, Feb. 17, in an act of prophetic witness and civil disobedience to ask the president for deferred action from deportation for all undocumented persons, as the administration approaches an unprecedented 2 million deportations since taking office in 2008.

"Our country's immigrants suffer from a broken immigration system that our congress stubbornly refuses to address through just, fair, humane reform," said Sandy Sorenson, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C., office. "How can we as a nation espouse the values of family, hard work, and contributing the full measure of our efforts and talents to society, while punishing those who simply seek to do just that?"  

Sorenson was one of the 32 protestors arrested during the action, organized by the United Methodist Church and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. She participated as a way to stand in solidarity with the country's undocumented immigrants in body, as well as in mind and spirit.

"I carry with me the faces of the children and families who must live with the constant fear of separation and hearts torn apart when their loved ones are deported," Sorenson said. "As a follower of Jesus, I am called to honor the dignity of all, to extend welcome to the stranger, and all who are treated as the least of these."

The Rev. Noel Anderson, a UCC pastor, one of the founding members of the UCC's Collaborative on Immigration, and Church World Service's grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights, was also arrested during the civil disobedience.

The Rev. Noel Anderson is arrested during the protest.

"Today we stand in solidarity with the nearly 2 million immigrants who have been deported underneath this administration," Anderson said. "As people of faith, we cannot morally or ethically stand by and watch our community members suffer the trauma of family separation, we must take action. Now is the time to expand deferred action from deportations to all undocumented people."

The Rev. Sara Wohlleb traveled from Chicago to take part in the protest. An ordained UCC pastor and congregational coordinator for the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition, Wohlleb has worked for immigrant rights for more than 20 years and had a slightly different message for the country's leaders: "Choose life."

"Yesterday I prayed with Anibal, a young father facing deportation to Guatemala," Wohlleb said. "His wife and baby were there too as we listened to the words of Deuteronomy: choose life. I invite [former acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] John Sandweg to choose life. I invite President Obama to stand with us too. Choose life that we all may live."

News reports indicate that the Obama Administration currently deports more than 1,100 undocumented immigrants every day, more than any other president in U.S. history. Obama has also expanded Secure Communities, a program through which the fingerprints of everyone arrested by local police in cooperating jurisdictions are run through the Department of Homeland Security database to check for immigration violations, and has recently expanded the program even further through increased funding.

In the next few weeks, Obama is on track to surpass 2 million deportations so far during his presidency – equal to the total number of people who were deported between 1892 and 1997, according to news reports. In addition, while the White House argues that it does not have the legal authority to stop or reduce the number of deportations in America, a recent report by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network details how the administration can use its executive authority to offer deferred action, similar to the temporary relief Obama granted to the "Dreamers" last fall.

These actions conflict with Obama's promise to make immigration reform one of his presidency's signature achievements, Sorenson said.

"This administration's policy on deportations is not just an abstract, head issue for me – it is a heart issue for me," Sorenson said. "Having encountered those whose lives are directly impacted by deportation, hearing their stories, and experiencing their tremendous strength, courage, faith and dignity, their lives connect to mine."

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