Churchgoers in more than a dozen houses of worship turned their attention and their prayers Sunday to an issue they say is tearing apart immigrant families, namely the collaboration they say exists between the city’s Department of Correction and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. At the heart of the debate: the presence of federal immigration agents on Rikers Island.
"New Yorkers are being scrutinized, their rights are being violated. At Rikers Island which is a pre-trial jail, people haven’t been found guilty or innocent," said Juan Carlos Ruiz of the New Sanctuary Coalition, [a partner of Make the Road New York]. "So when they judged, even if they are found innocent, they are handed over to immigration police."
As a result, activists say close to 4,000 people are identified and deported by way of the justice system, leaving a trail of broken families — including American-born children — in their wake.
"The father, the mother deported. What happens to the kids. We need to protect the kids," said Father Favian Arias of Sion Lutheran Church.
Participating churches asked members to sign a petition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, asking him to end the practice that was also the subject of City Council hearings last November.
In addition, some churches screened a short film called "Families Under Threat," which profiles immigrants who were sent to detention facilities even though the charges against them were ultimately dropped.
While this may seem like a political issue, Ruiz, an associate pastor of the Sion Lutheran Church in East Harlem, says it actually goes much deeper to what he calls the very soul of who we are as a nation.
"We believe the crisis on immigration is a human, moral spiritual crisis, more than a homeland security issue," said Ruiz.
In a statement to NY1, the DOC said in part, that it takes extraordinary steps to ensure inmates rights are protected, including informing them in writing that ICE wishes to speak with them. They also say they will not produce any inmate who refuses to be questioned by ICE agents.
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