Members of a progressive North Carolina Baptist Church took a weekend road trip to demonstrate outside a privately owned U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Farmville, Virginia.
Group members met Friday night at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, to make protest signs for the two-and-one-half hour trip to the Immigration Centers of America facility located midway between Petersburg and Lynchburg.
More than 60 people gathered Saturday morning outside the Farmville center – one of more than 250 immigrant detention facilities across the country run by private security corporations funded by tax dollars through government contracts – to bear witness to Jesus’ teaching to welcome the stranger.
“We are not there to harass the local citizens, we are there to shed light to the immoral targeting of our immigrant brothers and sisters seeking asylum, to bear witness that our faith calls us to welcome the stranger among us and to call out the greed of the these private facilities by making exorbitant profits on the backs of traumatized human beings seeking a better life,” according to an event description.
Pullen is a congregational partner of the Alliance of Baptists, which invited other like-minded Baptists to join the prayer vigil.
“Both the Alliance of Baptists and Pullen Memorial Baptist Church seek to embody the promise of God’s extravagant love, and call others in and beyond the faith community to embody the love of God and love of neighbor,” said an article on the Alliance of Baptists website.
“Seeking to ‘love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action’ (1 John 3:18), we gather to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. We rally to stand alongside the poor, oppressed, marginalized and those disenfranchised by the church, the community and the world.”
Nancy Petty, pastor of the North Carolina Baptist congregation with a long tradition of advocacy on behalf of social justice, told local media the group is upset about how people crossing U.S. borders are being treated.
“We treat people with great disrespect,” Petty told WRAL television in Raleigh/Durham. “We put them in horrific situations where they have no care. They are dying in our custody, and that is not a moral response. If we are going to be a moral nation, we have to come up with a different way to respond to the people who need our help.”
The number of people detained by ICE has grown from about 34,000 on an average day in 2016 to an all-time high of 54,000, according to a recent report by Mother Jones. In his 2019 fiscal year budget request, President Trump sought $1.72 billion in new funding for ICE, giving the agency its richest budget in history at $8.8 billion.
According to federal government data, over 60 percent of people are held in privately-run immigrant prisons, generating profits for private prison companies that in return pour millions of dollars into political campaigns and lobbying.
The owner of the Farmville facility, Immigration Centers of America, says the institution’s mission is “to provide a safe, humane and appropriately secure civil detention environment that offers an appealing alternative to the standard method of detention for federal immigrants while they navigate the immigration process.”
In June the Farmville center quarantined prisoners during an outbreak of mumps. Experts say it’s part of a larger problem, citing an increase in the number of cases of chickenpox in ICE facilities attributed to overcrowding that in turn contributes to the spread of infectious disease.