Responding to the plight of immigrants in Michigan
By Sister Karen D.
God’s love has no borders!
Immigration reform must be just.
Each Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. a small group of us gather on the corner of Jefferson and Mt Elliott in downtown Detroit to remind motorists (and a few pedestrians) that immigration reform must be just. We hold a sign with this message and say the rosary for the thousands of immigrants held in jails, prisons and detention centers across the country. This site was chosen because it is the location of the Detroit offices of the Department of Homeland Security, the government agency that has jurisdiction over immigration.
The weekly vigil at the Broadview (Illinois) Processing Center was the inspiration for this effort. During the 2008 West Midwest Assembly in Chicago, several busloads of sisters joined Sisters Pat Murphy and JoAnn Persch at the Broadview vigil on Friday morning. One of the speakers urged us to return home and start similar vigils in our own cities.
We initiated the Detroit vigil on June 18, 2008 at the Dickerson Detention Center (a branch of the Wayne County Jail) where immigrants were actually detained at the time. When immigrants were no longer held at Dickerson, we moved the vigil downtown to the Department of Homeland Security.
While our group is small, usually anywhere from five to eight people, we have been very faithful. Over the five years, we have probably missed less than twenty Wednesdays. Detroit winters can be brutal, but even single digit wind chills do not deter us.
Jefferson and Mt. Elliot is a very busy intersection so many people see our sign. Sometimes motorists honk their horns in support and wave. One morning a man walked by and stopped to talk. It turned out he himself was an immigrant who had spent time in detention.
Each week we send a reminder about the vigil to sisters and associates in Michigan. Even though most cannot take part in person, they are invited to pray in solidarity with those of us on the street.
Again taking inspiration from the work of Pat and JoAnn and their coworkers in Chicago, Sister Maria K. has been working to set up a visitation program for immigrants detained in Michigan. About a year ago she approached officials at the Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, Michigan, about visiting the immigrants detained in that facility. Since that time she has been meeting with small groups of immigrant women to offer support and encouragement.
Maria told a group of women about the weekly vigil in Detroit and how people are praying for them. The next time she went, a woman came up and told her how she had been very discouraged one morning, but then she realized that people were praying for her and that gave her some peace and comfort. At a meeting, Maria also met a woman who works for one of the Michigan state legislators. This woman asked her if she was one of those who stood out on the corner on Wednesdays. The woman said, You are making a difference.
Maria is also working with an interfaith coalition to set up a visitation program at the Monroe County Jail in Monroe, Michigan, which is about forty miles south of Detroit. This coalition includes Adrian Dominicans, Sisters of St. Joseph, IHM Sisters and representatives from several Protestant denominations. Prospective visitors have submitted their paperwork and we are waiting for clearance from the Monroe County Sheriff. We hope to begin visitations in early June.