At least 30 American faith leaders were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border on Monday amid immigration demonstrations, Religion News Service reported.
U.S. Border Patrol officials arrested the group of priests, pastors, rabbis and imams following a standoff at the border south of San Diego. While organizers estimated that 30 individuals were detained, Border Patrol spokesman Eduardo Olmos reported 32 arrests, according to The Associated Press.
— TIME (@TIME) December 11, 2018
— Mark Horns (@GoodvibrasCom) December 12, 2018
The faith leaders were part of the “Love Knows No Borders” movement protesting the poor treatment of undocumented immigrants seeking to enter the U.S., the building of President Trump’s border wall and armed agents at the border.
Why were these leaders arrested?
According to the CBP official, most of the charges involved failing to comply with federal officials, but at least one individual was charged with assaulting or resisting an agent, RNS reported.
"Singing and praying, religious leaders moved forward in lines of four to six, some wearing T-shirts reading, “Love Knows No Borders.” They were handcuffed and led away by federal agents upon entering a restricted area in front of the fence." https://t.co/kaW2KIdss1
— Lacy M. Johnson (@lacymjohnson) December 12, 2018
Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the progressive Poor People’s Campaign, told RNS that during the demonstration, the group stopped to “read the names of those who have died at the hands of Border Patrol or died trying to cross the border into the United States.” Faith leaders then anointed demonstrators before they moved in groups of four to a restricted area.
Theoharis said the standoff lasted nearly two hours, during which protestors sang hymns and chanted slogans like, “Rise up my people, my condors, my eagles! No human being will ever be illegal!”
Those who failed to heed orders, trespassing on forbidden territory, were eventually detained.
By Monday evening, all but one of the religious leaders had been released.
What was their mission?
Monday’s demonstration was to be an act of civil disobedience, calling attention to perceived problems with the U.S. immigration system.
The protest, organized by the American Friends Service Committee, welcomed religious leaders of all faiths to voice their disapproval of the Trump administration’s handling of immigration issues. The group chose December 10 to coincide with International Human Rights Day.
“It was about the militarization of the border, about the border wall itself and about calling for the rights of the migrant — particularly the migrant caravan,” Lucy Duncan, outreach director for the AFSC, told RNS.
Duncan, one of the event’s organizers, was among those arrested Monday.
As many as 400 faith leaders marched several miles from Border Fields State Park to Friendship Park. In a Medium post published Tuesday, attendee Erina Kim-Eubanks described the significance of the location:
“Friendship Park, famously known as place where people on opposite sides of the border were once able to touch and commune with one another, is now a militarized area saturated with barbed wires, sensors, surveillance cameras, and armed border patrol officials,” Kim-Eubanks, who serves as Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement for First Presbyterian Church of Hayward, wrote.
Duncan told RNS that the AFSC planned the demonstration after learning that authorities planned to close Friendship Park.
“By approaching the border fence at Friendship Park, a large group of clergy entered into federal jurisdiction, and encountered the militarized presence of border patrol and eventually police,” Kim-Eubanks wrote. “Eventually, they were met by a line of officers in full riot gear, chanting ‘Move back, move back’ and over 30 clergy members were arrested as they stood their ground against these officers and repeated, ‘We are not afraid. We will stand for liberation, because we know why we were made.’”
Theology of open borders
“There is no biblical mandate demanding deportation, demanding documentation. Our God tears down walls. We welcome the stranger, give food to the hungry,” Caleb Lines, pastor of the University Christian Church, told the crowd of hundreds of faith leaders at a service held the previous evening, according to The Nation.
St. Louis–based minister with the United Church of Christ, Rev. Traci Blackmon, also spoke at the two-and-a-half-hour interfaith service Sunday night.
Rev. Blackmon claimed that a “brown-skinned Jesus, seeking refuge in a foreign land” would not have been denied entry into Trump’s America. She added that “his family might have been greeted with tear gas or rubber bullets, or, worse yet, he might have been taken from his mother’s arms.”