The urgent need for immigration reform and demands that ICE stop their raids is getting closer to home. For about the last two years we have tried to encourage pastors and ministers to speak out against the raids and the lack of respect and dignity ICE has for our people.
Thus far the church has been safe until Saturday, April 12. In Yavapai County in Arizona, the Sheriff's Office responding allegedly to complaints of people fighting and creating a disturbance prompted them to arrest several men at the camp ground.
The rest of the story is simply a tragedy and the arrests should serve as a warning that not even now, a church on retreat can be safe from the local sheriff deputies or ICE agents.
In Yavapai County, the Christian church, Christian Agape from Phoenix was sponsoring a church retreat for a group of men. According to the Phoenix Republic newspaper, it reports members of the group started singing songs and praying around 6:30 a.m. or so in the morning.
When the Sheriff Deputies arrived, they ended up detaining at least 12 men including an 11 year old child. They ended up deporting 7 of the church group back to Mexico; one person was released after he was able to prove he had the proper documents to be in the country legally.
Unfortunately, the 9th person, the pastor, identified as Rev. Manual Maldonado was not released. His status to be in the country at the time was under dispute.
But read slowly again, 7 Christian men were deported to Mexico and the pastor held in jail for praying.
This is not only an outrage; it must be condemned by every faith leader and pastor not only in Arizona, but across this country.
Fortunately, the pastors in Arizona have issued a strongly worded joint interfaith statement condemning law enforcement officers guilty of racial and religious prosecution.
The Alliance of Religious Leaders stated the raid and arrests were prompted by skin color and profiling.
If this incident does not cause people of faith to condemn the arrests of men singing and praying at a church retreat, then as religious leaders we have failed to make the distinction between justice and injustice, or simply put, right and wrong.
The raid was unwarranted, and the arrests against men on a spiritual weekend retreat, is an affront to our religious beliefs and values. Furthermore it is against the rights of those gathered for the retreat under the United States Constitution for the right of assembly and freedom of religion.
We know there may be church members who may be undocumented immigrants. As a practice, I have never heard of any pastor demanding status papers before allowing anyone to worship in our churches.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this will have an alarming effect on church members who may be undocumented. Now, no doubt many will fear getting together for worship, prayer, and praise.
The Phoenix Republic newspaper quotes Rev. Jose Gonzalez, involved in the Latino ministry at the local Baptist church. “He said Hispanic pastors, who previously had a ‘this won’t happen to me, this won’t affect my congregation’ attitude on immigration, now are taking it more seriously.”
This raid and subsequent arrests of men doing no wrong, is something we should condemn as deplorable and unacceptable. The raids no doubt that weekend, even separated Christian men from their families and their right to worship.
Pastors must ask their congregations who still think ICE raids on unsuspecting good people are not a problem, to condemn these raids against men worshipping, praying, and singing to our Lord Jesus Christ whether in churches or in public campgrounds.
Many use to laugh at the idea of ICE raids on church sponsored events, the situation in Arizona proves otherwise.
As Magdalena Schwartz, an assistant pastor at Iglesia Comunidad de Vida church in Mesa quoted in the Arizona Republic said, “"We cannot encourage people to go camping any more," Schwartz said.”For us, it's an evil attack. We cannot pray any more in the public places, or go camping because somebody can call the sheriff. It's intimidation. It makes us scared."
Fidel "Butch" Montoya
H. S. Power & Light - Latino Faith Based Initiative