Statehouse vigil calls for immigration reform

COLUMBUS White lunch bags encircled the steps outside the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday evening.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010



White lunch bags encircled the steps outside the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday evening.

On the outside of many of these unlit luminarias were stickers imprinted with names: Sylvia, Tatiana, Jiminez.

The names belong to individuals and families who share the tragic bond of suddenly being torn from their families during federal immigration raids.

In front of the Statehouse, various religious groups staged a prayer vigil, protesting the treatment of immigrants who are detained and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

In part sponsored by the Ohio Council of Churches, the vigil was a gathering of members of various faiths -- Protestant, Catholic, Muslim -- who stood united in their belief in the need for immigration reform.

The demonstration comes on the heels of the July 23 Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that led to the arrest of 58 Casa Fiesta employees, 17 of whom were from the Sandusky and Norwalk restaurants.


Religious leaders from across the nation provided prayer at the gathering, the main message of which was that raids and other aspects of immigration enforcement are part of a larger ethical question.

"It's become a religious issue, I believe, because it's a human issue. It impacts families, family unity. It impacts livelihood and people's ability to provide for their families, and to live in this world," Jen Smyers, associate for immigration and refugee policy with Church World Service.

"The way our immigration policies are structured -- in terms of inhumane detention, a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment that has been dehumanizing -- has been really negative and has really impacted people's ability to function."

As a pastor with the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio in Columbus, Karl Ruttan said it is his responsibility to promote the virtues of his faith, which say a life should not be lived in fear and people are all the same.

"I think it's time we developed a sound and fair immigration policy, recognizing that we are all immigrants, and we need to be able to find a way of bringing into our country while keeping safe borders," Ruttan said. "The Christian God taught us to care for all people, and to care for the least of these and respect the dignity of every human being."


Human dignity is what was missing from ICE's treatment of an immigrant family in Shelbyville, Ind., said Thomas Fox, 71, a pastor who now lives in Indianapolis.

As his 15-year-old son watched, Mario Jiminez was arrested by federal immigration agents earlier this month, and then shipped back to Mexico days later, Fox said.

Even though Jiminez lived in the U.S. for 22 years, always as a law-abiding, hard-working individual, he was treated like a common criminal and was taken into custody alongside actual criminals, Fox said. His one crime was to move here from Mexico, and federal officials wasted no time in sending Jiminez back south.

Jiminez's wife, Araceli, is also being forced to return to Mexico by the end of the year. Their three children will remain in the U.S. in the care of an aunt and uncle.

"Luckily, we were able through his lawyer to get his wife to talk to him once before he was sent to Mexico, even though she had to go to Wisconsin to do it. She turned herself in on a deportation order -- otherwise they would have come and got her," Fox said.

A system that divides lawful and hardworking families without mercy has to be fixed, Fox said. These are church-going people who are both loyal and dedicated to this country. It is impossible to rationalize this kind of treatment of other human beings, he said.

ICE spokesman Greg Palmore defended his agency, saying that entering the U.S. without following the rules is against the law. ICE is charged with enforcing those laws and does its best to treat suspects compassionately, he said.

"While we respect individual rights to hold a vigil, ICE remains committed to the safe and humane treatment of every individual arrested. ICE is sensitive to the fact that arresting people for criminal and other violations may have a negative impact on members of the violator's family. However, complying with the nation's laws and the responsibility for any negative consequences lies squarely with the violator," Palmore said.


ICE has come under fire from national officials and the media for its secrecy and unwillingness to release information about detainees.

Citing the federal Freedom of Information Act's open government laws, the Register send a written request Aug. 11 to ICE for the names and other information about the restaurant workers arrested in the July 23 raids. The agency denied the request, saying privacy laws prevented them from doing so.

Critics of ICE say the system is designed to make sure detainees do not receive due process. They say limiting access to information is one way this is accomplished.


Immigration is a thorny political issue. Even the two primary political parties cannot agree what stance to take.

The Register sent requests for comment on the issue to the offices of U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D) and George Voinovich (R), and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo. The questions revolved around whether they were comfortable with the government's position on immigration law and enforcement. The requests also asked for their aid in pressuring ICE to fulfill the Register's information requests.

Steve Fought, spokesman for Kaptur, replied, "Those who choose to live in the United States must do so legally; it is the duty of the federal government to enforce these laws. At the same time, we need a system through which those who choose to immigrate legally should have full access to the legal process. We must strike a precise balance between the imperative to keep our country secure and the liberties and protections contained in our Constitution."

Fought also promised to consult with Department of Homeland Security officials to raise some of the underlying concerns of the raids.

The office of Sen. Brown sent a much briefer message. By e-mail, spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak replied, "This is a matter of striking the right balance between due process rights and privacy protections given to all people. Senator Brown believes that all detained individuals should be afforded due process and the opportunity to speak out if they believe they've been mistreated."

Calls and e-mails sent to Sen. Voinovich were not returned.

Even though there were no senators or representatives present at the vigil, Smyers still believes a message was sent Wednesday.

"Immigrants in our communities have been mistreated, people have died in detention, people are being mistreated by indiscriminate raids that have terrorized communities and separated families. Our illegal immigration system is very flawed, and people saw that, saw the impact it has on their communities ... They came together and prayed about those atrocities (and their victims), and have prayed for moral courage from their policy makers to enact humane solutions, humane immigration reform," she said.