Prayer vigil held for compassionate immigration reform

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

Border patrols and immigration reform aren’t just concerns for the sandy stretches of Texas or Arizona, they’re just as real in the snowy parking lots and local laundromats of the Syracuse Diocese.

That’s why a group of about 40 people showed up for a prayer vigil outside the James Hanley Federal Building in downtown Syracuse on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

The event, organized by the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS), stressed the importance of immigration reform that will keep families together, lead to citizenship without admission of criminal offense for undocumented people who are already living in America, support strong workers’ rights and bring an end to the use of local police to enforce immigration laws.

“What we’re trying to do is to bring to Senator [Charles] Schumer’s attention our call for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform in this country,” said Mike Hungerford, a representative of ACTS’s civil rights for immigrants team. Sen. Schumer is chairman of the immigration subcommittee.

Deacon David Sweenie, who ministers to migrant workers who tend the fields around Oswego County, told those gathered stories of the countless indignities suffered by migrant workers living in his community. Deacon Sweenie said he knows of instances in which local police officers walked into laundromats and demanded citizenship papers from people inside or stood outside Wal-Mart and asked for papers from anyone who looked “foreign.”

“They’ve even done that with American citizens who happen to be of Hispanic descent,“ Deacon Sweenie said.

Deacon Sweenie spoke of children being taken from cars in parking lots and detained for hours before being released, of two Honduran women who were apprehended and placed in a jail cell, built to hold two, with two other women. Frightened, they spent four nights sleeping on the floor of the cell, Deacon Sweenie said.

“Immigration is a civil process, not a criminal process,” he said. “Quite frankly, they’re out of control and doing things in the name of all of us that we should be ashamed of.”

Deacon Sweenie said most of the people who are taken into custody for possible immigration violations are put into local jail cells and treated as criminals. They may also be transported to the immigration detention center near Buffalo and held for hours or even days without word to their family about their wherabouts, he said.

Deacon Sweenie said he knows instances in which people who were being detained were refused prescribed medicine. He told those gathered of a man living in Baldwinsville who was awoken in the middle of the night and transported, without a warrant, to the local justice center wearing only the underwear in which he was sleeping.

“He was truly humiliated by that experience,” Deacon Sweenie said.

According to ACTS, there are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in America, and up to 1 million are living in New York State.

At the prayer vigil, a representative of Sen. Schumer’s office was presented with a copy of the 14th amendment, which states, in part, that no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law or deny any person the equal protection of the law.

After the vigil, Deacon Sweenie stressed the role faith should play in the way in which immigrants are welcomed into communities. “Especially people of faith, I think they need to think about how this dimension of faith impacts on the actions they take regarding immigration,” he said. “How are they received in the community?” he asked. If there is a strong immigrant community in a certain parish, Deacon Sweenie urges these parishes to consider if their needs are being met through Masses and ministry available in their own language. Even little things like a welcoming smile rather than a suspicious glance can make a difference in a person’s life, Deacon Sweenie said.

“In our religious communities, how do we welcome the stranger?” he asked.

On Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 5:15 p.m. in Syracuse’s Clinton Square an immigration reform caravan that is traveling around the state will arrive for a local rally.

For more information or to become involved, contact ACTS at (315) 254-6198 or go online to

Website Proudly Supported By

Learn More