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At least 30 faith leaders arrested in border protest

People protest against U.S. immigration policies on the American side, right, of the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California on Dec. 10, 2018. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

(RNS) — After a tense standoff with officials at the U.S.-Mexico border on Monday (Dec. 10), at least 30 American clergy were taken into custody over the objections of demonstrators, who had come to protest the treatment of Central American asylum-seekers and to decry the extension of a border wall and the militarization of the border.

Priests, pastors, imams and rabbis knelt at the border south of San Diego in front of a row of U.S. Border Patrol agents clad in riot gear. Organizers said 30 faith leaders were arrested, but a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official put the number at 32.

CBP said most were charged with failing to comply with directions from federal officials and then released, but one was charged with assaulting or resisting an agent — a charge the protesters already dispute.

Clergy and others protest against U.S. immigration policies on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California on Dec. 10, 2018. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

The “Love Knows No Borders” demonstration was organized by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that assembled religious leaders from across the faith spectrum for the event. Participants said it was meant to express frustration about several border-related issues at once.

“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,” said Lucy Duncan, an organizer and outreach director for the AFSC who was at the protest and was among those arrested.

“There were people there from all across the country from all faith traditions risking arrest and making a statement, saying this is not what our country stands for, this is not what our sacred traditions teach,” said the Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the progressive, faith-rooted activist group the Poor People’s Campaign. Theoharis participated in the demonstration but was not detained.

Duncan said AFSC had the idea for the protest after learning that authorities planned to close Friendship Park, a well-guarded stretch of the border where friends and family members on both sides commonly gather to talk through the fence and where religious groups often hold joint worship services.

In addition to Theoharis and Duncan, participants included United Methodist Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño; the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, head of the Unitarian Universalist Association; the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a pastor in Ferguson, Mo., and head of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Local Church Ministries; the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Omar Suleiman, an imam and adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; and Rabbi Brant Rosen, who serves on the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace. It could not be determined immediately whether they were among those arrested.

After an immigration-themed interfaith service on Sunday evening, the demonstrators gathered Monday about a mile from the border for a news conference before marching toward the protest site — a beach near Friendship Park.

The Rev. Julie Peeples, pastor of Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro, N.C., said the demonstration was split into two groups: roughly 100 who were willing to risk arrest, and roughly 200 who provided support behind them.

“I was there in the role that several of us played: as peacekeeper, to try to keep people moving, to try to keep things focused on why we were there,” she said.

Theoharis said the group stopped at one point to perform a ritual, where leaders “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.” They then anointed several demonstrators before those risking arrest moved in groups of four into a restricted area.

A line of border patrol agents was waiting for them. The clergy eventually stopped and began to sing hymns and protest anthems. As some knelt in the sand, they sang, “Rise up my people, my condors, my eagles! No human being will ever be illegal!”

United States law enforcement personnel patrol the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border as people protest in the distance in Southern California on Dec. 10, 2018. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

Theoharis said they squared off with agents for nearly two hours, with officials sometimes shoving them back as they advanced while singing and praying. But organizers said that as the group turned to leave — partly due to the presence of what were described as “alt-right” counterprotesters — agents began conducting “waves of arrests.”

Video of the incident shows Border Patrol agents pulling faith leaders through their ranks before throwing several to the ground and restraining their hands with zip ties.

Many of the clergy who assembled have been vocal in their support for immigrants in the past, and some are figures in the New Sanctuary Movement, which shelters undocumented migrants at risk of deportation in houses of worship in defiance of federal authorities.

“I follow Jesus Christ, who welcomed everyone,” said Peeples, whose church has offered sanctuary to at least two undocumented people. “That’s very basic, but it’s the truth. God throughout Scripture had a huge heart and concern for migrants.”

Duncan said she hopes their demonstration can capture the attention of lawmakers and that they respond with legislation.

“We want to defund ICE, defund Border Patrol, and defund hate,” she said.

Clergy and other protesters are arrested on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California on Dec. 10, 2018. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

63 Comments

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  • The tensions here are entirely manufactured by the White House. This would not be happening if the refugee caravan were treated in the same manner we have for all prior refugee waves. Setting up asylum refugee processing centers/camps and taking the claims seriously. As we have done several times before with much larger groups.

    But instead we have a white supremacist likely multiple felon in office, who has no regard for rule of law. A person who had used abduction and concentration camps for children to coerce people into waiving asylum claims and due process. Only scumbags need to tear gas women with infants

    As of now there are enough troops at the border to walk in every adult in the caravan at a nearly 1 to 1 ratio. This is not a threat to our nation, it’s a political publicity stunt.

  • A political publicity stunt perfectly timed for the midterm elections. It was no accident, therefore, that Faux News dropped coverage of the caravan story the day after the elections. It’s as though the serious “threat” posed by the caravan simply vanished overnight. And of course that’s why Trump has been quietly withdrawing troops from the border ever since. Their “need” had been fulfilled.

  • To use your phrase, “Only scumbags” would use women & infants as human shields to cover their own illegal wire-snipping border-jumpings.

    But that’s exactly what some guys did. Do you approve of their actions?

  • Hardly.

    Especially given the amount of force amassed at the border and the conditions created by the President’s bigoted and deliberately malicious mishandling of the situation. There are more than enough people to deal with such a group in a peaceable manner on our side. But its not on the agenda for the US government.

    Nice to see you have such blatant lack of humanity to look for excuses for teargassing mothers and infants. Its quite consistent with all the other malicious and immoral viewpoints you ascribe to.

  • Of course, this is the same caravan that Mexico gave a blanket Invitation to receive shelter, food, work, residency, school for kids, safety from Central American death guys. No more humanitarian troubles; Mexico offered to pick up everybody’s tab.

    THEY SAID NO. Mexico offered everything and they threw it all back in Mexico’s face. A political caravan.

    You want to blame Trump for anything & everything (including enforcing the current US immigration laws), but people can see that tactic doesn’t work.

  • “No more humanitarian troubles; Mexico offered to pick up everybody’s tab.”

    Is that like Mexico’s promise to pay for the border wall? Its always about pawning off problems to everyone or shifting blame else rather than taking responsibility for acting in a proper manner. The buck never stops at Trump. Even when he is at fault.

    “You want to blame Trump for anything & everything (including enforcing the current US immigration laws), but some folks can see that don’t work.”

    He IS to blame.

    Especially in the goon squad form of “enforcement” of current immigration laws which constantly violate current immigration laws as well as various federal, state, and local laws. The folks who see it “working” are people who frankly enjoy using government power to harass and attack people of color as the goal in of itself.

  • No use wiggling now. You ARE on the hook.

    Mexico’s amazing, unique offer to all those 1000’s of people, was openly reported by the American media. Got Google already?

    BUT THE CARAVAN SAID NO TO MEXICO. Unbelievable. Trying to politically embarrass Trump in time for the Midterms, became more important for the Leftist leadership, than sparing those women & babies all that major suffering.

    You should not have sided with those Honduran Leftist Gummy-Worms that started this Hadean ordeal in the first place. But you did.

  • “Got Google already?”

    They stated their intention was always to present themselves at the US border as asylum seekers.
    Mexico has been less than inviting for that crowd. The governments of several border cites were downright hostile to them. Your premise is not supported by the news.

    “You should not have sided with those Honduran Leftist Gummy-Worms that started this Hadean ordeal in the first place. But you did.”

    Ad hominem in place of an argument. Citizens such as yourself are not presenting particularly good, honest or sane arguments here at all.

    I have no problem siding with refugees/asylum seekers over a white supremacist felon of a president intentionally creating a crisis for his personal political agenda.

  • “Mexico offered to pick up everybody’s tab”

    Does this mean Mexico will be sending President Trump the check for the wall any day now, like he promised?

  • What political DECEIVERS they are, these so-called “faith leaders … ‘read[ing] the names of those who have … died trying to cross the border into the United States'”?! DECEIVERS because NO ONE DIED, ‘YO – according to Todd J. Gillman, in “Trump defends use of tear gas against migrants, including children, as Beto O’Rourke and others condemn tactic”, Dallas News, November 26, 2016.

  • And by the way: One of the Tijuana migrant groups have just gone to our Consulate and presented an ultimatum: Let ‘me all in the USA now (repeat: now), or else pay them all $50,000 each to go home.. That”s right: Pay every single person, 50G’s. (Source: Fox News online, right now.)

    Remember, Mexico offered ALL of them a free ride. Tab paid. They refused.

    But NOW….

  • Ate the issues not the same? Defense of ones property. No welcome mat out. Invaders carrying diseases.
    Sounds almost identical.

  • We all have some level of paranoia. If we are not paranoid, we are not paying attention. The only question is how much paranoia and where it is directed.

  • Fox News online. Good one. So thanks to Trumps mishandling of the situation to deliberately cause a crisis and possible massacre, we have people capitalizing on it.

    Had Trump not followed the white supremacy agenda and treated them like the refugees / asylum seekers they are, this would not be happening. They would be processed peaceably here like we have for every refugee wave before.

    You are not helping your argument here. Just showing me how bad things are getting from Trumps malfeasance.

  • Defend ourselves from a tiny crowd of refugees and asylum seekers? No. Our system is designed to welcome them.

    Does the caravan pose aln existential danger? Nope. Analogy fail.

  • Nope analogy fail. The refugees are not a threat to our nation. They are not invaders. We have means of dealing with asylum seekers and refugees. It’s just our white supremacist president doesn’t want to take it seriously.

  • Same thing. They come uninvited and advance across stated borders potentially carrying disease that threatens current populous.

  • False premise.
    Blatant lies.
    Outright deception.
    Job seekers are not refugees.
    Job seekers warrant no asylum.
    Fence hoppers should be shot on sight.

  • Hardly. You are suffering from analogy burn. When your analogy fails and you spend more time justifying it than you do making a relevant point. Calling the caravan invaders is just hate speech promulgated by a white supremacist in public office. It’s telling that neo Nazis use the term to describe all immigrants.

  • The caravan instigators are no better than Islamists that use women and children as human shields when hiding their weapons in hospitals or schools.
    A basic terrorist tactic used by the immoral.

  • Yes you are lying. Yes Trump has deceived you.

    If they were migrants they would not travel as such an open and obvious group to attract attention. Even common sense makes a mockery of conservative rhetoric.

    They are refugees. A small group by historical standards. The only reason tension exists here is because Trump wanted a political stunt. He wants to appeal to bigots. Nothing more.

    If you think a few thousand refugees is a threat to our nation, you are both paranoid and brain dead. We certainly have the resources and experience as a nation to deal with them like the millions of refugees who cane to our country before them.

    Analogy fail. You have nothing.

  • Refugees from what?
    I have asked you at least 20 times and the conversation mysteriously always ends.
    I would figure mr google link would be able to cite sources; yet you never do.
    The invaders say they just want work. They do not want to be American.

  • After reading some of these comments I think we best put Christ back into Christian where it seems to be sorely needed. Christ back into Christmas will then follow.

  • Because that is for USCIS to determine when they apply for asylum. As they intended to. You have been given reasons by others and ignored them. You are not interested in them.

    Your assertion is ridiculous but convenient for ignoring material facts. Migrants would not fit a caravan nor speak of presenting themselves for asylum. They wouldn’t bother when coming in small groups is far more successful.

    Trump has been constantly trying to refuse any kind of refugee or asylum seekers regardless of the conditions. Even going so far as taking children as hostages to cajole parents into waiving asylum claim due process.

    Your use of the term invader is inflammatory garbage used to dehumanize here. Just what one expects from neo Nazi inspired rhetoric and positions.

    Trump created the problem here for his own benefit. Far more competent and less obviously bigoted presidents have dealt with much bigger versions of this, far more effectively.

  • You are a scumbag who is trying to justify harming children. Ok. Nothing new there. More crap analogy. Asylum seekers are not terrorists either or anything like them.

    There is enough official force to have handled the situation peaceably. But that involves competent leadership and planning. Something not seen in a political publicity stunt. There is almost a 1 to 1 ratio of soldiers to adults in the caravan. Municipal police in most cities handle that kind of crowd with more finesse.

    Trump wants a massacre. His supporters want a massacre. They are doing everything in their power to make matters as difficult as possible.

  • Who placed women and children out front for the photo shoot? Not trump.
    Who tells women and children to assault the Israeli fenceline? Not trump.
    Terrorists going to terror….
    It’s a great tactic for those that don’t care about using women and children.

  • Just read the same thing on Newsweek. So now we have open extortioners at the border. Why am I not surprised?

    They sound like great prospects for citizenship. 🤢

  • I would love to approve your comments, but directly criticizing people and engaging in name-calling just plays to a particular audience and keeps the whole circus going. It’s one thing to ask someone to substantiate obvious falsehoods, like the “disease” lie, or the various distortions about what asylum-seekers “want,” but quite another to get into a round of pointless “gotcha.” Please try not to get yourself dragged down to this.

  • Tone trolling is duly noted. I feel no need for high ground. It involves showing too much respect to those who do not return it and expecting too much rationality to those who lie like cheap rugs.

  • Your concession is duly noted. Still have no reasonable explanation why migrants would caravan. It would be counterproductive.

    Plenty of reasons for asylum seekers.

  • By refusing to handle the situation in a sane good faith manner Trump is deliberately trying to create violent encounters here with unprepared mismanaged US authorities. Again if it were handled as a refugee wave and in the manner we have done with them before, this situation would be far more peaceful. Trump wants confrontation and violence. So do you apparently.

    Analogies with Israel are garbage as well. They gave a history of terrorist infiltration. We have a history of asylum seekers presenting themselves.

  • Nope.
    A responsible parent would have followed the process.
    A response parent would not have placed their kids in harms way.
    A responsible parent would have saw men in riot gear and held back until things were more settled.
    But these are not responsible parents nor responsible human beings. They wanted confrontation and wanted women and children to be harmed to use against Trump and to their advantage in the PR game.
    Having a kid anywhere near a guy with a gun says it all buddy…
    Terrorist tactics. Can’t wait for them to start hooking infants up to kites to fly over the wall.

  • You are blaming victims because it is far easier than owning up to the Trump created publicity stunt fustercluck going on there.

    Desperate people act desperately.

    Your need to demonize families of refugees, the weakest among us here, is simply ridiculous.

    You are dodging the issue here. If we treated this group like every prior refugee wave before, this would be a relatively calm and peaceful situation. This is all Trumps doing. It is intentional. It is malicious in nature. It is done to appeal to white supremacists.

  • They are not victims – they are criminals. They are NOT refugees. They are nomadic workers. They have no intent to become American citizens but to live here for a few years until they can return home wealthy.
    Their handlers use women and children as human shields.
    The consequences are the results of their own actions and their handlers.

  • Brown peril posturing behooves you.

    We don’t need an easily tunneled under boondoggle wall. If Trump wanted money to pay for it, he should ask the wealthy and corporations who received a $1.5 T windfall at our expense thanks to Republican looting. Or use his keen negotiating skills to get Mexico to key for it as he promised.

    President Child Ransomer already tried taking literal hostages to get Democrats to find the wall. (DACA and the kiddie concentration camps) We don’t need to negotiate with terrorists.

    Frankly the government should shut down. To hell with the Republicans. When they had total control of Congress they did a ton of damage.

  • Because tear gas is good for children? They are refugees, they presented themselves to the public as refugees, they were traveling in a way that refugees do. Your cheap denial runs counter to common sense. You are flat out lying as to their intentions. I had even sent you articles about their plan to present themselves as refugees in the past .

    You are lying to cover up the malicious incompetence afoot with the Trump administration here. Their deliberate mishandling and use of the situation for political brownie points. There was no necessity to it if we handled them like every refugee wave before. It is only tense and violent by design by the government.

    But that involves disappointing a bigoted voting base and a showing of competence. Trump is incapable of making either.

  • The only person to blame for a kid getting gassed is the parent.
    Period.
    End of story.
    You don’t want your kid to get hurt, run the other way.
    Stop making excuses for terrorists.

  • Because facts are making your head hurt. Trump is creating a violent situation for literally shts and giggles.

    We have dealt with much larger refugee waves in a far more peaceable manner. We never had to tear gas refugee children before. This is all on Trump and his appeals to white supremacists.

    If you don’t want to be called immoral scum, don’t make excuses for deliberately harming mothers and children.

  • Wow, you have gone full Nazi. Anchor babies are better known as NATURAL BORN US CITIZENS. Only a complete and total fool attacks citizenship by birth.

    You are giving me Roy Hobs level “White Genocide” bullcrap here. I guess you want to Make America White Again. Never mind that immigration is essential for maintaining a workforce and economic markets. Never mind that we aren’t even talking about illegal aliens here but those seeking asylum. People who can work here legally if granted.

    Its all about brown skin for you.

  • I repeat – the ONLY person to blame for a kid getting gassed is the parent.
    You and your partner obviously don’t have kids.

  • You & “faith leaders … [have identified] those [in this Caravan] who have … died”; I wanna know their names. Give’em to me. You have until New Year’s Day to come up with a convincing lie.

  • Asylum seekers are allowed to choose the country they wish to seek asylum in. Bringing Mexico up is simply deflecting from acknowledging that right.

  • 2 letters from 2 groups representing 100 and 50 people.. Asking also for aster asylum processing, the US to intervene and to remove the current US president. Money framed as compensation package for US interference with Central America over the past several decades.

  • Money framed as gimme dat.

    ISIS would probably pull the same garbage for our “interference” in the Middle East if they thought it would work.

  • Except they were offered asylum in Mexico already. Those who are now at our border turned it down, proving its not a matter of asylum at all. They just want what we have without working for it. When they tear down fences and walls in Mexican towns to get through where they’re not supposed to be, that’s not “peaceful”, that’s hostile and it very much is a National security concern.

    And regarding your white supremacist accusation, what evidence do you have to back it up?

  • A claim already made here and undermined wildly by the news.

    You are entirely incorrect here.
    “Mexico rules out reports of a caravan asylum deal amid ‘delicate’ talks with the US”
    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/24/mexico-rules-out-talk-of-caravan-asylum-deal-amid-delicate-us-talks.html

    Those who are at our border intend to present themselves for asylum. The problem being we have a white supremacist president who does not respect our own laws and custom when it comes to asylum or handling any kind of refugee wave.

    “When they tear down fences and walls in Mexican towns to get through where they’re not supposed to be, that’s not “peaceful”, that’s hostile and it very much is a National security concern.”

    Things which would not be happening if we handled this like a refugee wave and set up processing centers near the border. Like we have done with much larger and sudden refugee waves in the past for 55 years. You are trying to blame effects without looking at the cause. The cause being Trump’s desire to turn the situation into a political stunt. He deliberately spread panic rhetoric (which inspired the mass murder of 11 in Pittsburgh). He brought troops at the border without any clue as to their purpose. He has been trying to spark violent incidents, if not massacre at the border. This is to both please white supremacist need for murdering people of color and to create apparent disincentives to asylum seeking.

  • People who support open borders (do they REALLY support that? I must have missed their responsible immigration reform alternative to the WALL in the fine print..) should volunteer to trade their citizenship to the asylum-seekers on a one for one basis.
    If enough exchange citizenships occur, maybe they can figure out how to team up with other exchangers and correct the problems that got people fleeing from their land to begin with.

  • Hey mouthbreather, a number of them HAVE CROSSED to ask for asylum and taken into custody by CBP. A few have applied for termporary work permits in Mexico, which may also be a double-edged sword as it might hinder their chances of being granted asylum in the US. Some HAVE INDEED chosen to remain in Mexico. Others have headed back home. Your dear Fuhrer is forcing them to wait south of the border when in reality, and legally, they should be on OUR side while their cases are slowly processed.

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