Unitarian Universalists join movement to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Unitarian Universalists join movement to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Actions protesting U.S. treatment of migrants and asylum seekers were organized by the Latinx organization Mijente in San Diego on July 2.

Michael Hart
Protesters block the entrance to a downtown federal building housing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices Monday, July 2, 2018, in San Diego.

Protesters block the entrance to a downtown federal building housing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices Monday, July 2, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

© AP Photo/Gregory Bull


On July 2, an estimated 100 Unitarian Universalists joined more than a thousand demonstrators in San Diego to protest the introduction of Operation Streamline, a fast-track prosecution program that moves immigrants through the criminal justice system in large groups with little time for or effort given to due process. The program has been in place for several years in some cities in Arizona and Texas. July 2 marked its introduction to Southern California.

The sizable contingent of UUs was part of the Free Our Future demonstration led by Mijente, a national Latinx political organization that is calling for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). The UUs present were joined by members of other faith communities from around the country, including rabbis from Minnesota and Mormon religious leaders from Utah, among others.

By the time two demonstrators scaled a 16-story hotel and unfurled a huge banner that read “Free Our Families Now,” two Unitarian Universalist ministers had already been removed from the nearby Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse. Five more UU ministers joined about twenty others representing a range of faith communities in blocking an entrance to the courthouse.

“We just came off of our GA, where we made some bold statements about what we as people of faith hold to be true about where the world needs to go,” said the Rev. Ranwa Hammamy, a community minister affiliated with Mt. Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek, California. “Our faith calls us to do this kind of work.”

The Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, held June 20–24 in Kansas City, Missouri, passed an Action of Immediate Witness advocating the abolition of ICE. During the GA, UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray called on UUs to join Mijente in San Diego.

Hammamy and the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, a senior strategist for Side with Love, were among six protesters who interrupted an immigration trial in the federal courtroom the morning of July 2. Federal officials stopped them and, in some cases, dragged them out of the courthouse by their hands and feet.

“We interrupted the court proceeding to say this is illegitimate when black and brown people are in cages,” Nguyen said. “We are the ones who have to be visionary. All of the violence calls us to match that violence with our own courage and love.”

About an hour later, Hammamy joined UU ministers the Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson, the Rev. Kathleen Owens, and twenty other people in blocking the entrance to the federal courthouse.

“It is truly a moral responsibility and a moral call to put my body on the line,” said Johnson, the minister at Palomar UU Fellowship in suburban San Diego. “If we really affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, there isn’t anything else we can do.”

Although the demonstrators were warned twice by federal marshals that they could be arrested for creating a fire hazard, no arrests were made there.

However, ten people—including Nora Rasman, the UUA’s Side with Love campaign manager— were arrested after participating in the unfurling of the “Free Our Families Now” banner along the march route. Demonstrators were able to watch the unfurling just before arriving at the federal courthouse after marching about two miles from Chicano Park. All ten were released the following day, some with bail set as high as $50,000.

Rasman said she joined the action because she wants “to see more UUs responding to outrage with resources, skills, action, and prolonged commitment to groups fighting criminalization. When we say yes to these calls to action, we deepen relationships, build power, and develop our collective courage together.” She said, “Faith institutions can support their staff and clergy to take action, risk more, and leverage our capacity to flank those offering the most courageous leadership.”

Rasman said, “ Black Lives of UU really showed up to support as well—in staff time, logistical coordination, and more prior to and during the action.”

There have been multiple calls for the abolition of ICE ever since the federal government adopted its “zero tolerance” policy that includes separating children from their parents at the southwestern U.S. border and moving the children to detention centers where their parents are not always able to contact them.

The San Diego demonstrations coincided with the introduction of Operation Streamline to the area. Under the program, people caught at the border are charged with illegal entry or re-entry and turned over directly to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In mass prosecution procedures, as many as 70 or 80 people are brought before a federal magistrate at once, often sharing a single government-appointed lawyer and allowed no more than 25 seconds each for a hearing.

The Rev. Tania Márquez, assistant minister at First UU Church of San Diego, said, “Our faith calls us to do this kind of work. There is an urgency to what is happening at the border.”