By John Andrews
VICTORVILLE—On a day when tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policy at the nation’s southern border, Catholic faithful from the Diocese took part in a demonstration just outside a federal detention center in Victorville that is now being used to house those suspected of being in the country without documentation.
About 250 people gathered on June 30 just a few hundred feet from the Victorville Federal Prison, carrying signs, singing, chanting, praying and voicing a fervent opposition to the current federal policy that separates children from their parents during arrests for illegal border crossings. The Diocesan Ministry of Advocacy and Justice for Immigrants coordinated two buses of protesters, one from the Diocesan Pastoral Center in San Bernardino and one from Riverside.
The protest, part of the national “Families Belong Together” observance, reflected the diversity of the Diocese with Asian-Pacific, African and European-Americans turning out in greater numbers. This may have reflected a more universal opposition to the latest ramp up of federal immigration enforcement, said Abraham Joven, Director of Advocacy and Justice for Immigrants for the Diocese.
“You separate children from their parents and there’s a visceral reaction,” he said. “There’s increased outrage over these particular actions.”
With an increased flow of undocumented immigrants into the Victorville facility, the Diocesan Restorative Justice Ministry has sought to extend pastoral care and accompaniment to these inmates but has been met with restrictive policies. There are an estimated 850 inmates being held in a section of the Victorville prison that has been leased by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“There are no regularly scheduled religious services for the detainees there,” said Marciano Avilla, Director of Restorative Justice for the Diocese. “This is now an ICE facility and our volunteers are not cleared to go in there. That’s part of the problem.”
Joven, Avilla and Father Innocent Emechete, who is the Catholic chaplain to the prison, have been in contact with both the prison warden and ICE in efforts to gain access to the new detainees but, as of press time, had been rebuffed. The detainees must, themselves request religious service in order to receive them but many may not know this, Joven said.
Most of the new detainees at the Victorville prison are of Asian or Middle Eastern descent, Avilla said, and are typically held there for only a few weeks before being transferred to another facility for longer term detention.
Meanwhile, the California Catholic Conference has coordinated a visit of six bishops from around the state to the nearby Adelanto Detention Center that was to take place July 26. Bishop Gerald Barnes and Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego were among those to attend the visit, which included a Mass with inmates, roundtable discussion and a meeting with the warden about conditions in the prison and access to religious services there.