A group of Catholics were arrested at the Russell Senate Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday during a peaceful protest organized as a “Catholic Day of Action.” The group, including priests, religious sisters, and lay people, sought to draw attention to the situation at the southern border of the United States and the detention of children in particular.
“We felt like it was time for something more significant, and needing to take more of a risk to raise the consciousness of Catholics across the country,” demonstrator Maggie Conley told CNA during the demonstration, held July 18.
Conley, who works with the justice team of the Sisters of Mercy explained that she would like to see immigration reform presented as a pro-life issue, and expressed hope that Catholic members of Congress and the Trump administration will offer a more public witness on Catholic teaching and immigration.
“It’s challenging when we don’t hear [a call for action] coming from the pulpit as often as we want, and as integrated as some of the rituals of our faith,” said Conley.
Religious orders present included the Sisters of Mercy, the Bon Secours Sisters, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Jesuits, and Franciscan friars. There were also several men at the protest wearing clerical collars, who did not appear to be part of any order.
Members of the group who intended to provoke arrest wore yellow bracelets, and many wore signs with pictures of migrant children who had passed away in U.S. custody and the date of their deaths. Five people laid in the center of the Russell Senate Building rotunda, forming the shape of a cross.
Among those arrested included Sr. Pat Murphy, age 90, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Pat has worked in immigration and migrant advocacy in the past, and has held a weekly prayer vigil outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Chicago for over a decade.
Sr. Judith Frikker, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, was not one of the people who got arrested, but was still present at the protest “to stand in solidarity with my sisters, and more importantly, with immigrants.” This was not Sr. Judith’s first time participating in demonstrations of this kind, and she told CNA that she believes that “immigrants, detainees, their families--especially children--are being treated in a way that violates their human rights.”
Sr. Judith told CNA that she believes the crisis at the southern border is not about immigration itself but about how immigrants are received into the country as they try to enter.
“The crisis isn’t the people coming in, the crisis is what is happening to the people when they try to enter,” she said. “They’re seeking to live with dignity. Many people are seeking asylum and their rights are being denied. We have to act against that.”
Frikker said that she advocates for policy options to address immigration, asylum processing, and detention at the border which do not require changes to infrastructure.
“Instead of building a wall, I would increase our judicial system [in a way] that would allow the processing of immigrants and their asylum cases so they could enter here,” she said.
Katie Murphy, a local resident and Catholic, said she was attending the event out of “concern for the children, and also for the character of our nation, the soul of our nation.”
“I feel that the way we treat the most vulnerable is who we are, is like our character. I am deeply saddened and distraught over what our nation is doing. We have a crisis on the border, and we need to address that crisis in a way that dignifies the values that we stand for.”
The demonstration occurred just days after the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference publicly denounced action by the Trump administration to tighten rules on asylum seeking at the southern border, and to enforce court-ordered removals against thousands of people who had exhausted their legal appeals to remain in the country.
On Tuesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo issued a statement condemning a newly-announced rule which requires that those seeking asylum along the U.S. southern border first apply for asylum in any country they may pass through along the way.
“The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection,” DiNardo said.
The cardinal also spoke out against a recent series carried out by ICE in cities across the United States.
“Enforcement actions like those anticipated this week by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities,” said DiNardo.
“I condemn such an approach, which has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the country. I recently wrote the President asking him to reconsider this action.”