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Religious groups protest outside the federal building in Newark, N.J., Sept. 4, 2019, in support of humane immigration reform. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark was among those gathered and led the chant: "Stop the Inhumanity!" (CNS photo/Jai Agnish for the Newark Archdiocese)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, blessed and then prayed near a group of Catholics who blocked a crosswalk, arranging themselves in the shape of a cross in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark Sept. 4, to protest the detention of children and families in immigration facilities.

About 400 participated in the event, which included a procession toward the ICE building as the Newark archbishop led the crowd in a chant of "stop the inhumanity."

"I am Joseph, your brother, who has been heartbroken by the inhumanity," Cardinal Tobin had said earlier as he called for a stop to immigration detention of children and their families.

"I ask Catholics and others of goodwill to contact their elected officials and urge them not to manipulate immigrant families as political pawns," he said.

About 400 participated in the event, which included a procession toward the ICE building as the Newark archbishop led the crowd in a chant of “stop the inhumanity.”

As the group protested in front of the facility, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General was releasing a report warning that migrant children separated from their parents "exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress" than migrant children who had not been separated from their loved ones.

"According to those who treat them, many children enter the (immigration) facilities after fleeing violence and experiencing direct threats to their safety during their journey to the United States," the report said. "Some children also experienced the trauma of being unexpectedly separated from their parents as a result of U.S. immigration policies."

The Catholic protesters and activists as well as the cardinal spoke against the separations, whether at the border or after the deportation of a parent.

"Children will bear the trauma wrought by immigration enforcement raids, separation from their families, and indeterminate detention," Cardinal Tobin said. "These draconian measures are not, they are not, a solution to our broken immigration system. They are violations of human dignity and are contrary to all religious teachings and the sacred call to care for our most vulnerable populations. Unlike others, we don't have to look up Bible verses to justify the building of walls. There are none."

Cardinal Tobin: “I ask Catholics and others of goodwill to contact their elected officials and urge them not to manipulate immigrant families as political pawns.”

A 27-year-old named Leonardo, who said he was brought to the U.S. as a 7-year-old without legal documents, spoke to the crowd.

"It's pretty sad for me to see the pictures of children and babies because I identify with them," he said. "I came when the immigration crackdown wasn't as bad, and it forces me to think: What if I had crossed later?"

It's hard to separate himself from the images of immigration detentions, Leonardo said, and it's hurtful to hear others vilify parents like his, who made the immigration journey wanting the best for their children.

"If it was an American family and they went to another country, they wouldn't be seen as criminals, they would be seen as heroes," he said. "My parents aren't criminals. They did what they had to do and as they finished their journey, mine began."

These days, he organizes communities via the Cosecha Movement, he said, in hopes that others recognize the humanity of those like his family.

"A family is something holy. An attack on a family is an attack on religion," he said. "How long must we endure this pain before people act? That is my question ... I ask everybody present to stay strong in your prayer but stay strong in your action."

Another organizer called on a grandmother who had come in contact with the group as she was dropping off her daughter with officials at the ICE building and asked her to speak to the crowd. Her daughter had been summoned to attend a meeting with a passport in hand and a plane ticket to her native Honduras.

The woman caring for her grandchildren said they didn't know whether they would see her again if ICE decided to detain her.

"I love America," she said in Spanish. "We come here to work, in search of food, in search of the blessings that this country can provide. I give thanks to America and all we want is an opportunity."

Though Cardinal Tobin was the only prelate present, several groups of women religious and lay groups attended, including the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Bon Secours, the Ignatian Solidarity Network and several Franciscans and Jesuits, among others. They had first gathered at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newark, a parish was founded to serve working-class Irish, as well as German immigrants who worked in the city's factories.

Sister Ann Scholz, associate director for social mission for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, spoke of the history of women religious as members of immigrant communities who also served those communities. Their action in the modern immigration battle is a continuation of work that began long ago, she said.

"We have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific treatment of immigrant children and families by our own government," she said. "We are here today to say loudly and clearly, stop the inhumanity. The mistreatment of children, the separation of families, the denigration of our immigrant brothers and sisters done in our name must stop."

“We are here today to say loudly and clearly, stop the inhumanity. The mistreatment of children, the separation of families, the denigration of our immigrant brothers and sisters done in our name must stop.”

Though they didn't attend physically, several bishops sent statements supporting the Newark event, which the group Faith in Action said is part of an ongoing national campaign "developed by a Catholic Coalition of organizations to pressure the Trump administration and Congress to end the policies and practices that routinely traumatize children, particularly the policy of child and family detention."

The first event took place in Washington on July 18 and a third gathering is set for Oct. 11-13 in the border town of El Paso, Texas, said Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace at the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory sent his written support for the event, saying in a Sept. 4 statement that Christians must recognize the face of Christ in migrants and refugees and respond to them "just as we would to Jesus."

"Their plight should arouse our compassion, particularly the children and families, so many of whom have been held in detention at the border," he wrote, while advocating for community-based alternatives to detention, support for refugee resettlement programs and addressing the conditions that cause others to leave their homelands.

"We ourselves must do what we can to help, including raising public awareness to press for positive action by the authorities at the border and by Congress and the Administration," Archbishop Gregory wrote.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
JR Cosgrove
4 years 6 months ago

I believe they are free to leave anytime. They just cannot leave to go in the United States. It sounds like the ones to blame are those encouraging the trip.

Robert March
4 years 6 months ago

Why are not the American and Mexican Bishops and Cardinals demanding the release of these innocents? Did they not take a vow to help the least of God’s children? Where are the Christ like Catholics and other denominations clergy for that matter? Other than a couple of local priests and pastors, no one is stepping up! Do we not live our religion?

E.Patrick Mosman
4 years 6 months ago

Cardinals Tobin and Gregory are preaching that ignoring or breaking laws and aiding and abetting law breakers is acceptable and even required in the name of charity. Have the Catholic Bishops and priests decreed that they are above the immigration laws and judicial decisions of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the United States government? Apparently they think so.

LE Kieley
4 years 6 months ago

As a Catholic that loves my country & lives a compassionate, unprejudiced life for the trials and tribulations of all, we have laws that must be followed. President Trump is always the villian with separating families, bogus inhumane treatment in detention centers is simply a falsehood. The political lies of separation are grossly embellished as his policy is trying to vet these families and navigate the process as swiftly as possible. My parents and grand-parents were immigrants and came to American thru Ellis Island with paperwork for legal status under great stress, but had trades that allow them to assimilate, learn English beforehand, and become work ethic participants in society. They were called racial names, but in time were a beneficial asset to the workforce and loved American and worked towards the dream as being legal citizens. Why stage more unrest with a distasteful stand-off proponent of cruelty? It is simply not factual and divides the Immigration process even more.

L Hoover
4 years 6 months ago

Really? Do you have facts to back up your allegation that reports on separations have been greatly embellished for political reasons? I have been following the story fairly closely and believe the situation to be as bad and likely worse than what has been reported. Just yesterday, a new report came out with caregiving whistleblowers letting us know about the depth of suffering in children torn from their parents without regard for their emotional needs.

E.Patrick Mosman
4 years 5 months ago

Here are several sites which explain the why of family separation thanks to the judicial
system going back to the Obama administration.

"A 2015 court order, based on a document called the Flores settlement, prevents the government from keeping migrant children in detention for more than 20 days. Trump has instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask the federal court to modify that agreement in order to allow children, and by extension, unified families, to be kept in detention without time limit.
The request asks, specifically, for permission from the courts "to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings."
Trump also calls for branches of his administration to make facilities available for detaining families with children — and
calls on the Defense Department, to build new facilities "if necessary https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/26/us/detained-immigrant-children-judge-dolly-gee-ruling.html

L Hoover
4 years 5 months ago

Yes, I am aware of this step and the convolution of our laws governing illegal immigration. They certainly need revision. However, let's focus for a moment on Trump's response: He impetuously and without proper preparation---no plan or facilities capable of meeting the needs of nursing infants, toddlers, and other frightened children---did push forth without regards for those needs, leaving the young and vulnerable with severe abandonment issues from which many will never recover. I have expertise in child development and can tell you, many will never recover from the damage inflicted on them by our government.

After causing said damage, and continuing to perpetuate it under various shrouds of secrecy, Trump and his enablers blamed the harm caused by his poorly conceived policies on his predecessors. As usual. This is called the projection of blame. Projection does not provide a solid foundation for problems-solving. Real problem-solving calls for such essentials as a commitment to bringing about a greater good---which requires a willingness to LEARN and a commitment to the hard work of building a solid foundation. With Trump all we get is blather and blame.

E.Patrick Mosman
4 years 5 months ago

Instead of lecturing America readers try reaching the Nancy Pelosi and the democratic controlled House of Representatives who refuse to consider meaningful immigration reform legislation. Until then judicial decision are controlling governmental actions. Your TDS clouds your thinking as family separation was initiated by the Obama administration under judicial decree and many of the pictures of children in cages were taken then, not under President Trump. Perhaps your outrage should be directed to the parentswho knowingly turned their children over to coyotes and paid them thousands of dollars to smuggle them into the USA.

4 years 6 months ago

Catholic bishops and priests certainly believed they were above the law at least as it pertained to statutory rape.

L Hoover
4 years 6 months ago

No country can have open borders that let anyone who wants to, to pour in. However, a good country can say no in humane ways, that respect the dignity of the illegal immigrants and legal applicants for asylum. This means, no separating children at the border unless there is a genuine and compelling reason to protect them from some harm. We MUST care for them, even as we turn them away. Feed them, protect them, care for them, help them find their way to some safe harbor, if possible. They are children of God and don't anyone forget it! They ARE our Lord and you had better approach Him with love in your hearts.

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