Local clergy show ‘solidarity’ with ICE detainees

Michael Moore| The Morgan Hill Times| Link to Article

On Holy Thursday, local clergy leaders from numerous faiths represented in South County performed a foot washing ceremony outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Morgan Hill. It was an effort to “show solidarity” with immigrants who have been removed from their homes and separated from their families by federal agents, according to organizers.

The March 29 ceremony was organized by the advocacy group People Acting in Community Together, and led by PACT board of directors co-chair Father Jon Pedigo. Participating in the ceremony were about a dozen other clergy leaders and worshippers from Santa Clara County’s Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities.

Local activists from PACT and other organizations also attended.

The group focused on the message that recent and ongoing federal immigration enforcement policies are unjust and “tearing our community apart.” ICE activities have resulted in the arrests of many long-time, law-abiding residents of Santa Clara County, the organizers said.

County Supervisor Dave Cortese also attended the event, which took place outside the ICE office on Vineyard Court.

“It’s a reminder of the humility we all need, particularly those of us in public office, so that (people) understand that we understand that we are not better than the marginalized, and our goal is to uplift the marginalized,” Cortese said when the leaders went around in a circle explaining why they were present to wash their fellow activists’ feet.

County officials—particularly the sheriff—have come under fire recently for allowing ICE agents inside the county jail without warrants or other necessary paperwork. Cortese said these agents have attempted to enter the jail to contact inmates at least six times in the last two weeks. Sheriff Laurie Smith’s office mistakenly allowed them to enter and interview inmates in one of those instances, Smith said earlier this week.

“This is harassment,” Cortese told the gathering.

PACT members also noted that in the last 10 days, the Santa Clara County Rapid Response Network has received “at least 90 calls” from concerned residents claiming they have seen ICE agents pick up their neighbors and family members.

In Christian faiths, the Holy Thursday foot washing ritual encourages believers to humble themselves to serve others, even in performing undesirable tasks.

The March 29 event at the Morgan Hill ICE office began with the clergy and activists marching to the front of the federal office from about a block away. When they arrived at the front door, Rabbi Debbie Israel of Congregation Emeth and Pastor Bryan Franzen of Westminster Presbyterian Church went inside to offer to wash the feet of any detainees who might be present at the facility.

After a brief conversation with an agent inside, Israel and Franzen explained that they were told that there were no detainees housed at the facility. When ICE agents happen to pick up nearby residents on suspicion of immigration violations, they are briefly processed at the Morgan Hill office before being transported to a San Francisco facility for detention, the clergy leaders were told.

Israel said she and Franzen were “treated warmly” by ICE staff, and given a brief tour of the Morgan Hill facility March 29. Israel added that the agents inside “appreciated but declined our offer” to wash their feet.

The gathering then returned to a grassy area just outside the ICE facility to continue a program that included speakers who have been impacted by federal immigration enforcement practices, prayers, singing and, of course, the foot washing ceremony.

“It’s very apparent that the federal government does a great job creating panic in communities…to prevent communities from organizing,” local activist Delma Hernandez said, in both English and Spanish. “This (event) is a representation of the strength we have.”

A young woman who did not state her name told the group that some of her friends have been detained by ICE since the Donald Trump presidential administration began in January 2017.

The ceremony concluded with attendees turning toward the ICE building, their arms stretched before them, and blessing the facility and the agents inside.

“Something dies inside of a person when they incarcerate children, and take them away from their parents,” said Pedigo, who is Director of Advocacy for Catholic Charities.

Cortese: Feds not following the law

After the ceremony, Cortese elaborated on the county’s policies regarding its interactions with ICE and the recent jail visits by the federal agents. In 2010, the county adopted a written policy that prevents the sheriff’s office from allowing deportation officers to visit its jails, and from complying with immigration holds.

In light of recent news that jail staff mistakenly allowed agents to enter, Cortese confirmed, “It was, in fact, a mistake. We are reaffirming our policies for due process for people in custody” in county facilities.

He said the ICE agents are performing “gamesmanship,” and seem to be acting on a “rogue basis” when they try to enter the county jail.

“They come in with no warrants, no subpoenas, no explanation why they want to interview the (inmates) they want to interview,” Cortese said. “We are upholding the position we adopted in 2010. We are not in the business of detaining people based on their immigration status. This is chaotic. They know they need a warrant.”

At the same time, federal officials claim that Santa Clara County and other “sanctuary” communities in California “are the ones not complying with the law,” Cortese said.

“Searches and seizures require a warrant,” he added. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution, just like those federal agents are.”