Solidarity Walk in New Hampshire helps energize state’s immigrant justice efforts

By David Paulsen
Posted Aug 27, 2018
Solidarity Walk

Participants in the Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice make their way through New Hampshire, from Manchester to Dover, tracing the path immigrants take when they are detained by federal authorities and held in the Strafford County jail. Photo: David Price

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians and their faith and community partners in a New Hampshire immigrant justice movement hope to build on the momentum gained during last week’s Solidarity Walk and a concluding prayer vigil held outside the county jail where federal immigrant detainees are held.

The four-day trek covered about 40 miles from Manchester to Dover, with several dozen people joining at least one of the segments along the way. On the final day, Aug. 25, Diocese of New Hampshire Bishop Rob Hirschfeld was among the speakers who addressed a crowd of about 100 people gathered on the lawn in front of the Strafford County Jail.

“Jesus said to have compassion for those who are in prison,” Hirschfeld told Episcopal News Service by phone on Aug. 27, recapping the experience. He compared it to his experience in July when hundreds of Episcopalians who were attending the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas, gathered for a prayer service outside an immigrant detention facility in the area.

Rob Hirschfeld

New Hampshire Bishop Rob Hirschfeld speaks Aug. 25 outside the Strafford County jail in Dover during the prayer vigil that concluded the Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice. Photo: David Price

“What I remember about both [vigils] is the Spanish sentence ‘te vemos’ – ‘we see you,’” Hirschfeld said. “The walk in New Hampshire was a way of our saying, ‘We see you, we value you, we see your plight.’ And I would also say we need to see ourselves and what this country is becoming, which is increasingly callous, brutal, insensitive to the suffering of our neighbors.”

The New Hampshire Council of Churches was one of the lead organizers of the Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice, which sought to raise awareness of the plight of immigrants in the state at a time when much of the focus has been on conflict along the Mexican border, especially under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward immigrants crossing into the United States.

As Hirschfeld mentioned, another goal was to offer support for those who have been detained or who face deportation, said the Rev. Jason Wells, an Episcopal priest who serves as executive director of the council. He also noted that the several days spent on the road have strengthened the state’s community of immigrant supporters.

“There is a real shared experience, a real shared struggle in a way, to make the walk, and it brought us closer together,” he said. That solidarity is expected to carry through to the weekly prayer vigils held outside the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Manchester, with the next one scheduled for Aug. 28.

The Solidarity Walk kicked off with about 50 walkers, Wells said. About 25 people participated on each of the following two days, and participation rose to about 75 on the final day. Wells walked some of the segments and served as a support vehicle driver on other segments.

The walkers were met by a mix of reactions from the public. Negative responses ranged from drivers giving them thumbs down signs – or a certain other crude hand gesture – to people shouting, “build the wall,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s signature campaign promise of a border wall.

But many people gave honks of support, and walkers were greeted by other “pieces of solidarity,” Wells said. They were joined on one segment by a Christian leader from the local Indonesian immigrant community, who was stopped along the way by an Indonesian Muslim leader offering words of support. At another point, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen visited with the walkers and wished them well.

A family from El Salvador joined the walk for some of the segments, and their stories of fleeing to the United States and seeking asylum filled the walkers’ conversations with a sense of purpose as friendships were formed around a common cause, said the Rev. Gail Avery, the Diocese of New Hampshire’s canon for transition and community engagement.

“It was amazing to see the support that we did get along the way,” said Avery, who participated on the first three days. “We had people that came out of their houses, offered us water, offered us a bathroom break, which was amazing.”

Avery’s commitment to working for immigrant justice has been strengthened by the experience of passing through a checkpoint that the Border Patrol had set up on a highway through her state. As a white woman driving alone, she was waved through without delay, but she suspects that if she had been traveling with her daughter-in-law – a Salvadoran immigrant – authorities would not have let her pass without stopping her.

“I just believe that we are a land of liberty and freedom, and we’re a land of immigrants, a nation of immigrants, and we have just lost sight of it,” she said.

Strafford County jail

The Strafford County jail, one of six facilities in New England holding immigration detainees for the federal government. Photo: David Price

The Episcopal Church’s support for immigrants, including those facing deportation, was underscored last month by the 79th General Convention, which passed multiple resolutions on immigration issues.

The church and other faith communities are not taking political stances but rather pushing back against “the tyranny of ideology over humanity,” Hirschfeld said. Respecting the dignity of all humans is part of Episcopalians’ baptismal covenant, he said, and that message will live on in the ongoing prayer vigils held in Manchester when immigrants are called to check in with federal authorities.

The only thing that might change now at the vigils is the footwear, Wells said.

“We’ll see if people need to buy some new shoes before they go,” he said, after walking so many miles last week.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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Comments (13)

  1. Bill Campbell says:

    Illegal immigration is a crime. The correct thing to do is to use the legal system or stay in their own country.

  2. Matt Ouellette says:

    This is a wonderful example of the church speaking out prophetically against injustice in society. I commend the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire for standing in support of humane treatment of immigrants.

  3. Jordan Sakal says:

    The Episcopal Church is doing good work honouring the scriptures when they stand up for immigrants.

    Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19, and Galatians 3:28 all stand clearly as verses telling us that as Christians we must support our immigrant brothers and sisters.

  4. Hamilton Jones says:

    Any particular reason these people are being “detained?”

    1. David Paulsen says:

      According to one of the organizers, some of these immigrants came to the United States on work visas that have since expired, so they are trying to gain permanent residency status. Others are asylum seekers or refugees or have temporary protected status because the federal government at some point determined it was unsafe for them to return to their home country.

      Whatever their situation, they are required to check in at regular intervals with federal authorities while their legal cases progress. Sometimes those authorities detain them, though it isn’t clear there is any one reason for this.

  5. william dailey says:

    Another open borders demonstration. When will the church leaders protest the murders and other crimes by illegals?

    1. Jordan Sakal says:

      Mr. Dailey,

      Contrary to the claim you just made here (a belief also held by the sitting officeholder of the President of the United States) that illegal immigrants cause more crime/are responsible for more murders, the facts are that this is not true. See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/us/trump-illegal-immigrants-crime.html and https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/30/upshot/crime-immigration-myth.html and https://www.npr.org/2018/05/02/607652253/studies-say-illegal-immigration-does-not-increase-violent-crime

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Jordan – I didn’t see words where William was implying that illegal immigrants commit MORE crimes. The fact that they were here at all and perpetrated harm to citizens is the point. If they were not here the crime would not have occurred. United States citizens would still be alive. Harm would not have occurred.

        Mollie Tibbets would still be alive. Kate Steinle would still be alive. Sarah Root, Sgt. Brandon Mendoza, Dominic Durden, and hundreds of other Americans would still be alive were it not for crimes perpetrated against them by illegal immigrants.

        The following numbers were compiled by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) using official Department of Justice data on criminal aliens in the nation’s correctional system. The numbers were the basis for a presentation at a recent New Hampshire conference sponsored by the Center for Security Policy:
        -Between 2008 and 2014, 40% of all murder convictions in Florida were criminal aliens. In New York it was 34% and Arizona 17.8%.
        -During those years, criminal aliens accounted for 38% of all murder convictions in the five states of California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and New York, while illegal aliens constitute only 5.6% of the total population in those states.
        The GAO’s 2011 study shows that illegal immigrants had committed some 25,000 homicides, 42,000 robberies and nearly 70,000 sex offenses. That was back then.

        https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11187.pdf

        Welcome the asylum-seeker. Welcome the stranger. Enforce our laws and secure Americans’ safety. Seldom considered is that Americans are dreamers too, and too many Americans have awakened to nightmares. Needlessly.

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          I agree that we need to make sure to prosecute violent criminals, but we also need to be careful not to stereotype people and then proceed to legislate based off of those inaccurate stereotypes.The problem is that these incidents are often used as an excuse to demonize immigrants as inherently more criminal and violent than American citizens, but as Jordan demonstrated the evidence indicates they are less likely to commit those crimes. The deaths of the individuals you mentioned are indeed tragic, but they are not excuses to stereotype the vast majority of immigrants, documented and undocumented, who do not murder people.

  6. william dailey says:

    Another open borders demonstration. Those who attend should not lock their doors at night or leave the doors open. That’s what they support for our country.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      No, this is a march in support of humane treatment of immigrants. We can have that and protect our borders. Why is it that, according to some, the only two options on immigration are “zero tolerance” or “open borders?” Surely there must be some solution in between those extremes.

  7. Doug Desper says:

    I’m not going to comment other than to say that let’s not turn this into another Pete and Re-Pete posting where people post and get retorted repeatedly by the same few. State a point, agree/disagree, and leave it at that.

  8. John Hobart says:

    Given the recently released parochial report numbers for the Diocese of New Hampshire, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Bishop of NH should be focused on energizing his diocese rather than the state’s immigration justice efforts.

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