Editors: High-resolution photos of hand-delivery of letter to Secretary Johnson & faith press conference can be downloaded here.
Washington - Lamenting the plight of undocumented workers “kept in the shadows, and exploited for cheap labor,” the Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, chair of the CWS board of directors, called for an end to the Obama administration’s Secure Communities program saying “it has proven to encourage racial profiling, yet it has not been revoked.” Rev. Trent spoke at a press conference this afternoon at which faith leaders and other advocates called upon the administration to immediately end the senseless separation of American families.
Prior to the press conference, leaders and families from grassroots and community organizations from across the country hand-delivered a letter echoing those sentiments and signed by more than 1,000 clergy, including CWS President and CEO the Rev. John L. McCullough, to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ahead of his testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Secretary Johnson also spoke directly with Naira Zapata and her kids, whose husband and father was recently detained in Arizona. In addition to an end to family separations, the letter calls for expanded deferred action for those who would benefit from pending immigration legislation.
Family members impacted by deportation, as well as clergy and faith leaders with PICO National Network, CWS, Disciples of Christ, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, American Friends Service Committee, Franciscan Action Network, and Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach hosted this afternoon’s press conference to reinforce their demand that the Obama administration take swift action to stem the ongoing moral crisis. They also announced a recently filed application to bring back Josue Sandoval, a deported Kansas City father whose absence has been devastating to his daughter Nayelly, son Erik, and his wife.
Nayelly Sandoval, who is 12 years old, spoke about the impact of her father’s deportation. “Without my dad here, life isn’t the same. My mom and brother and I need him here with us. I need him at my basketball games, to help me get better and achieve my dreams of becoming a professional basketball player for the WNBA. I need him here so our family can be together and things can go back to normal.”
Nayelly continued, “I wrote a letter to President Obama, and a few weeks ago I got his response. It wasn’t even about my family. It just said, “Dear student” and had some general stuff about the White House. I don’t want pictures of his dogs. I want my dad back. My coaches taught me that you always work as a team and not to give up. No matter what happens, you keep your head up, and you keep going. My dad is on my team. My mom is on my team. My brother is on my team. And I hope [President Obama] will be on my team, too.”
Several other clergy joined Rev. Trent and the families at the press conference to speak in support of an end to an administration policy that separates families:
“I stand here today because I am a Jew. To be a Jew is to take on a sacred task: To remember that we were once strangers in a strange land and to treat citizen and stranger alike. To be a Jew means to remember our immigrant past and stand in solidarity with the immigrants of today. To be a Jew is to remember this story,” Rabbi Esther L. Lederman said. “This policy of deportations is destroying the bedrock of what makes our congregations and society strong – our families. Our synagogues and churches are made up of families, moms and dads doing the best that they can to raise righteous citizens, decent human beings. In the Book of Esther, Mordecai pleads with Queen Esther to help save her people. He argues that perhaps she had come into such an important position ‘for such a time as this.’ President Obama, Secretary Johnson, perhaps you are leaders in a time such as this to take a humane and compassionate stand. Please do not wait to stop the suffering of our immigrant sisters and brothers. Please do not ignore the cries of these families.”
Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC said, “The delivery of this letter today to Secretary Johnson underscores the faith community's commitment to ending family separations. We have a moral obligation to expand the opportunity for hardworking people to stay in the United States through administrative action.”
CWS’s Trent recalled the history of African-Americans, saying, “The truth is, African-Americans didn’t come here, we were brought here, by a system that dehumanizes and exploits for profit.” Characterizing the administration’s Secure Communities program as broken beyond repair, Trent concluded, “We can’t mend S-Com, so we must end S-Com.”
Unified families form the foundation of a strong community and a strong country. But during a time in the year where we celebrate fathers across the country, too many communities are watching their fathers being torn away from their children under our current immigration system.