BURLINGTON — About 100 people of different faiths convened at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Burlington to protest the federal crackdown on illegal immigration and to launch a local campaign to deprive the agency of funding.
Cantor Vera Broekhuysen, of Temple Emanu-El of Haverhill, said one of the goals is to urge legislators to exert more pressure on ICE and encourage constituents to voice their displeasure with the agency.
“We want to encourage people of faith and people who are not of faith to voice their opinions to their public officials and stress that this is an important issue to them,” Broekhuysen said. The group plans another march June 26 at the same location, she said.
The “FREEZE ICE in CD-3” movement — referring to the state’s Third Congressional District — isn’t the only group encouraging ICE’s defunding. National immigrant rights groups, including United We Dream, have called for action, raising concern about reports of mistreatment and separation of families.
On Tuesday, the protesters walked in a loop along District Avenue, adjacent to the ICE office. There were no chants or arguments: For the duration of the march, protesters remained silent. The only sounds were the shuffling of feet and the rain hitting umbrellas.
“We are demonstrating for people who don’t have voices,” Broekhuysen said. “We’re going to be here with our bodies to represent people whose voices won’t be heard.”
Many of the protesters held signs that read “Keep families together,” “Family not fear,” and “Hate has no home here.”
Burlington police were present at the protest, but just to ensure protester safety. There were no arrests.
Local faith leaders called the protest a “Jericho Walk,” which alludes to the Bible story in which the Israelite army marches around the walls of Jericho, causing them to crumble. Rabbi Mike Rothbaum of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton said the “Jericho Walk” name has a special significance.
“These walls house evil, destroy families, and take mothers and fathers away from their children,” Rothbaum said after the march, referring to the ICE office. “We’re hoping to bring the walls of this facility down, if not physically but spiritually and emotionally.”
Protesters highlighted the demographic of the marchers: Many were older and white.
“We’ve heard from the immigrants that it’s powerful to see white faces here,” Rothbaum said. “It’s time for white people who benefit from immigrant labor to say, ‘It’s not OK.’ And you can see that people’s hearts have been moved.”
Marching isn’t the only way Rothbaum and others say they can help immigrants. As a member of the clergy, he is allowed to accompany immigrants during ICE check-ins, so he can get a glimpse of how they are treated. He said that being accompanied often can buy immigrants more time — whether it be months or days — if they end up facing detention.
“If you have to make sure you know where your children are going to be before being sent back to the Caribbean or Central America, a day can be the difference between your children being with family or your children being in foster care,’’ he said.
Among the faiths represented Tuesday were Pentecostal, Jewish, United Methodist, and Roman Catholic. The Rev. Will Green of Ballard Vale United Church in Andover stressed the importance of unity.
“We want to build relationships with each other. . . . And we don’t always agree; it’s rare,” Green said. “We have community. We have shared values. And we can put those to work for our collective future.”
Protest participants said they felt empowered by the demonstration, as well. Mark McDonough, who is retired, said he participated because he was not happy about the reports of ICE separating families.
“My father was an immigrant,” McDonough said. “The immigrants today are no different than the ones who came from Europe. They came because they were desperate, they came with no papers, and came hoping that they would be let in. They just want a peaceful life.”
Todd Lyons, ICE’s deputy field office director in Massachusetts, said ICE is committed to ensuring that family members have the ability to communicate with each other.
“We strongly reject any allegation that ICE officers or agents in any way violate federal regulations, engage in inhumane practices or act in anything other than a professional manner consistent with our mission to enforce federal law and protect the American people,” Lyons said in a statement.
“ICE is committed to connecting family members as quickly as possible after separation so that parents know the location of their children and have regular communication with them in line with ICE policies and detention standards,” the statement added.Thomas Oide can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thomasoide.