On Sunday a thousand General Convention-goers drove to the small town of Taylor, Texas to protest the administration’s policy of separating migrant families arrested at the border. Stepping out of the air-conditioned bus we confronted a heavy, humid heat as we made our way to a grassy assembly area five hundred yards away from the Hutto Residential Center, an ICE detention center for women. We broke out in spontaneous song, hoping that the women inside the warehouse behind barbed wire might hear our voices.
I felt disappointed that we weren’t closer to the facility, and others must have, too. As the prayer service began, hundreds of us in the back half of the crowd began slowly walking toward the building — though it wasn’t clear if that was permitted. The walk down the side of a one-lane road followed train tracks on which were two lines of rusted-out freight trains. Suddenly one of the trains started moving and bashed against a container car with a shudder. A minute later the train inched ahead, its wheels grinding inexorably forward.
Amid this dramatic backdrop, police officers ensured that we did not cross onto the detention center’s property as we gathered a mere fifty yards from the side of the building. We began singing “This Little Light of Mine,” and then began shouting “We see you!” and “You are not alone!” in English and Spanish.
Unbelievably, a piece of paper began moving up and down the slit of a window of the building. Then, through another slit: a hand pressed up against the glass. More hands, arms, and paper appeared over the following minutes of heart-stopping connection between us and the detainees.
It was difficult to keep singing with the lump in my throat.
After about ten minutes we made our way back to the larger worshipping assembly. In a daze I struggled to make sense of the image of a hand pressed up against the glass, the hand of a woman whose children may be God knows where and who has come to this country asking for help.
We heard later in the day that one of the detainees made a phone call to one of the local organizations that put together the protest to let us know that the women were huddled around the windows until the last one of our buses left.
I’m not sure why it took a trip to Texas for me to visit an ICE detention center since there are three in the San Diego area. What a privilege it was to personally and demonstrably show detainees that our prayers, presence, and protest are for them during their drawn-out nightmare.