By Francisco Miraval
More than 50 Latino pastors and community leaders, representing several local churches, denominations, and organizations, met in Denver on Friday, May 23, to denounce what they called a “prayer ban” at the regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
According to Pablo Castellanos, of Centro AMISTAD in Boulder, 18 Christian women (16 from Latin America, one from China, and one from Indonesia, a pastor) were recently denied the opportunity of praying together at the ICE detention center.
Castellanos, from Mexico, is a well-known and respected educator and writer who came to Colorado several decades ago. Every Wednesday morning he talks about immigration issues at Radio Luz in Denver. During a program two weeks ago, a caller alerted Castellanos about the situation at the detention center.
Upon verifying the situation, Castellanos called Latino leaders and pastors to a meeting, urging them to join him with the double mission of helping the 18 Christian women and restoring Christian prayer inside the ICE facility in Aurora.
“We want ICE to respect the rights of these detainees, including freedom of religion. These women should have the freedom to pray. The only thing left they have is their God, and they should be able to pray together, as members of other religions are allowed to do,” Castellanos said to the pastors and leaders.
Pastor Carlos Lopez, founder of En-Hacore Ministries in Denver, is very familiar with this situation, because three years ago he was detained for three months at that same facility and eventually deported to his native Argentina, in spite of having proper immigration documents. (Once the mistake was cleared, he was allowed to return to the United States.)
Lopez confirmed the “prayer ban” does exist, but he explained, it is something related more to security and safety issues than to religion.
“They can say we can’t pray together, but they can’t stop us from leading others to Jesus or from talking to our God,” Lopez remarked.
Lopez said he rededicated his life to Jesus inside that detention center, leading him to establish En-Hacore (a name taken from Judges. 15:19), a ministry to those inside the ICE detention Center in Aurora. “Fifty Latino immigrants accepted Jesus and ten were baptized during 2007,” he said.
However, after a change in the administration of the detention center and after new security norms went into effect, Lopez was denied the authorization to continue his ministry there.
While in the process of re-obtaining his credentials, he prays somebody else will take his place, “because there is a great need for a Spanish-speaking ministry there.”
Castellanos informed that ten of the Christian mothers detained at the ICE facility in Aurora are from Mexico, two from El Salvador, two from Nicaragua, and one from Honduras, in addition to the women from China and from Indonesia.
Castellanos said the current immigration crisis should not be understood as “only a Latino problem.”
“Our sisters from China and from Indonesia are mothers separated from their children just as our sisters from Latin America are mothers separated from their children. We are going to help them all, regardless of language or culture,” he said.
Castellanos already contacted both the Mexican consulate and the Guatemalan consulate in Denver, and he requested a meeting with local ICE representatives to explore the possibility of ICE allowing at least some of the mothers to be freed on bond (or with electronic monitoring systems).
“We don’t want to see our mothers wearing orange uniforms. But if we are divided, our divisions will do more damage than any efforts done by any anti-immigrant group,” Castellanos said.
“We show our loyalty to this country and to the values of this country in our work, our art, and our culture. We just want an opportunity to be part of this nation, including the part of respecting the rights of our people,” he concluded.
Francisco Miraval is the director of Hispanic Group of the US Christian Chamber of Commerce (based in Denver, Colorado) and a member of the NHCLC board.
Nota: Para una noticia en español relacionada con este tema, ver este artículo.