Unitarian Universalists join national protests against migrant detention centers

Unitarian Universalists join national protests against migrant detention centers

Members and leaders join July 2 “Close the Camps” protests, plan to join July 12 protests.

Elaine McArdle
Lena Lee, Ann Zawaski, and Linda Craig of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon, join hundreds of protesters in Portland and thousands around the country calling for the close of immigrant detention camps.

Lena Lee, Ann Zawaski, and Linda Craig of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon, join hundreds of protesters in Portland and thousands around the country calling for the close of immigrant detention camps. (© 2019 Elaine McArdle/UUA)

© 2019 Elaine McArdle/UUA


Tens of thousands of people, including many Unitarian Universalists, gathered at 180 rallies across the country on July 2 demanding that President Trump close detention centers where thousands of migrants crossing from Mexico are being held in conditions that members of Congress and others describe as overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane.

At least a dozen UUs attended the rally at the federal building in Portland, Oregon, at which U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer noted that seven migrant children have died in detention this year. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, strong opponents of Trump’s immigration policies, sent statements that were read at the rally.

“Kids belong in schools and playgrounds,” Merkley said, “not behind barbed wire.” He condemned Trump’s “cruel and inhuman policies.”

Linda Craig, a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, said she attended because “what the U.S. is doing is outrageous and I don’t want this kind of behavior in my country.” Craig added, “asylum is part of international law.”

Dana Buhl, social justice director at First Unitarian, said, “Faith calls me and other members of our congregation here because we can’t stand by while our siblings and children being treated so horrifically.”

About 1,000 protesters in Boston, including the Rev. Fred Small, a UU minister, halted traffic during rush hour as they marched from the New England Holocaust Memorial to the South Bay House of Correction, at which scores of migrants are being held through a contract with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Eighteen people were arrested after locking arms near the jail’s entrance, according to the Boston Globe. The Boston protest was organized by young Jewish activists—who coordinated nationally under the phrase “Never Again” in reference to Germany’s imprisonment and systematic killing of Jews during the Holocaust—and by the immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha.

In Central Falls, Rhode Island, the Rev. Eric Cherry, minister of the First Universalist Society in Franklin, Massachusetts, was among eighteen people arrested for civil disobedience outside the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, where 200 protesters gathered in a rally that was part of the Never Again campaign. In New York City, the Rev. Michael J. Crumpler, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s LGBTQ and Intercultural Programs Manager, attended one of four rallies in the city, which combined drew about 450 people, according to am New York.

UUs also joined protests in Minnesota, California, and other places, which were organized by MoveOn and other progressive groups. The protests were supported by Side With Love, the UUA, and the UU Service Committee, among many other organizations.

UUs in California, Iowa, Arizona, and other states also met with their federal legislators to demand an end to the camps. The actions are seeking the closing of all immigrant detention centers, the end of public funding for deportation and detention, and the reunion of families who have been separated by the Trump administration, according to MoveOn.

More national protests are planned for Friday, July 12, through a coalition, Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps.

“The ever-deteriorating treatment of migrants coming to the United States from the south is a stunning expression of racism and a short-sighted response to a humanitarian crisis in this part of the world,” said the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, president and CEO of the UU Service Committee, which is working with partners and movement allies around the country. Morn, who will attend the Lights for Liberty Vigil in El Paso, Texas, on the Mexico border, said the UUSC is encouraged by UUs who plan to attend the protests on July 12 and are otherwise supporting efforts by the service committee and its partners to close the camps.


An earlier version misspelled Lena Lee’s name in the photo caption.