BY ELI MCCARTHY | July 26, 2019

It is our faith in Jesus that draws us to enter spaces of intense systematic injustice and violence.

When we speak out about such injustice and violence, we take some risk. When we enter such spaces, we know like Jesus that this increases our risk. But Jesus does not back away. He enters on a donkey, a symbol of nonviolent resistance, into the center of systematic religious and political injustice. He continues to increase his social, political, and physical risk in order to expose, overcome, and transform such injustice and violence.   

Last year in Washington, D.C., we had 40 Catholics offer nonviolent civil disobedience for the migrant Dreamers. Our goal for this year was fifty at the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children. Yet, the Spirit brought 71 who offered prayerful civil disobedience! Another 130 have said they will or are seriously considering joining in similar actions during this ongoing campaign.

Catholic Day of Action

71 Catholic faith leaders form a circle in the Russell Senate Building Rotunda at the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children.

As we formed a circle in the Senate Rotunda and five of us laid down in the center forming a cross, we began our nonviolent civil disobedience with a call and response: “We are here to stop the inhumanity, and to end child detention. We are Catholics: lay, sisters, professors, brothers, deacons, priests. We are here especially for the six children who died recently: Darlyn, Jakelin, Felipe, Juan, Wilmer, Carlos. We know that an unjust system will fail if we refuse to cooperate. We will increasingly refuse to cooperate. We live the nonviolent Eucharist: that we are one body; and willing to be broken for others.”

civil disobedience

The author (center) at the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children.

Inspiring…and yet, also strategic. Our campaign goal is to significantly improve the treatment of children and end child detention by mobilizing Catholics to increasingly take visible risks. We believe that if we do this it will spark more Catholics and other faithful to take risk, significantly increase pressure on the government by impacting key sources of power, and usher in a tipping point to end the trauma-inducing practice of child detention. This will create more moral and political space to challenge family separation, long-term family detention, and increase community-based, licensed alternatives to detention overall.

Catholic Day of Action Religious Sister

Sister Gayle Cumbley, R.G.S., is arrested at the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children.

What are these sources of power we impact by such nonviolent actions? One is the “intangible” or cultural elements. In this case, as Catholics we reduce the religious legitimation and acquiescence to migrant child detention. Another source of power is authority or political legitimacy, which we reduce by exposing the role of key government actors in causing trauma to children. We also impact sanctions or enforcement by illustrating concretely the willingness of residents to non-cooperate in particular legal boundaries and policing mechanisms. We also impact this source of power by challenging people who work for ICE, border patrol, police, detention facilities, etc. to discern their conscience about whether to follow unjust orders. If the sources of power are diminished adequately, the top political leadership can’t maintain their injustice even if we don’t change their minds.  

This first phase of the campaign has generated amazing momentum. We had about 30 people offer civil disobedience for their first time and many others signed up for civil disobedience after that action. Although over 300 attended, we now have over 500 formally signed up for the campaign. We also had seven bishops send statements of support. In addition, we have seen over 100 media articles covering this action, including from Nicaragua, Germany, France, and the UK.

We invite you to join us, walking courageously with Jesus, with deep empathy for the children, to transform this unjust system. Yes, “love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

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