CORRECTION: The original version of this article did not properly credit vigil organizers Indivisible. We regret the error.
Episcopalians were among the many hundreds of Georgians who gathered July 12th at vigils around the state protesting the treatment of children and families seeking asylum at our nation's Southern border with Mexico.
The Lights for Liberty vigils were held on five continents and in nearly 600 locations. Georgia vigils took place in several cities and were organized by many different groups in addition to Episcopalians, such as the Columbus chapter of Indivisible.
The Rev. Fabio Sotelo of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church said he and others helped organize the vigils because they are “outraged that migrant children have been denied the most basic of necessities and that these egregious violations of their human rights have gone unchecked.”
One of the largest Georgia events was held in Chamblee at the Plaza Fiesta Shopping Center where more than 300 heard speakers demand humane treatment of asylum seekers.
Juan Sandoval, Archdeacon at the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, and Catherine Meeks, Director of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing, spoke at the Plaza Fiesta vigil. Both urged those present to demand that immigration officials follow the examples and teachings of Jesus to welcome the downtrodden.
“Remember that our objective is to do the work that Our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us and has given us the example to follow,” said Sandoval, who had traveled to the border to assist migrants.
Meeks, who earlier this month gathered clergy and laity at the Absalom Jones Center to plan actions to assist immigrants, urged the crowd to donate gasoline debit cards to El Refugio, a ministry of hospitality that gives families lodging for visiting loved ones at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.
Meeks and Sandoval were among more than 20 speakers at the event organized by The Rev. Tom Hagood, Chair of the New Sanctuary Movement of Atlanta.
Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian-Universalist clergy, led prayers for detained immigrants and advocates for immigration reform said those at the event have the power to change unjust systems.
Teresa Tomlinson, former Columbus mayor, and Ted Terry, Clarkston mayor, decried current government policies. Both Tomlinson and Terry are Democrats taking on incumbent U.S. Senator David Perdue in 2020.
“Asking for asylum is not a crime, being a child immigrant is not a crime,” Tomlinson said. And noting that ICE raids on migrant families are expected to begin on Sunday, July 14, Tomlinson asked people to pray for peace, justice and for mercy.
Terry said being the mayor of a city with one of the highest number of refugees in the country makes Clarkston a “stronger, safer and more compassionate” community. The administration has made it their business to take on the weakest and most vulnerable among us,” Terry said
Episcopal clergy and laity from several parishes attending the Chamblee event included Christ Church, Norcross; St. Patrick’s, Dunwoody; St. Teresa’s, Acworth.
The Atlanta Resistance Revival Chorus, which included the Rev. Licia B. Affer of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, sang We Shall Overcome as the event transitioned from rally to a silent candlelight vigil, symbolically bringing light into the darkness of U.S. immigration policies.
In Macon, the Lights for Liberty event drew several dozen to the steps of the Macon-Bibb County Government Center. Among those speaking were Episcopal Archdeacon Janet Tidwell and other clergy and activists from Middle Georgia.
A smaller, but enthusiastic crowd gathered in Alpharetta, which included several Episcopalians. Among them, Archdeacon Carole Maddux and Deacons Victoria Jarvis and John Ray.
Other Georgia events were held in Clarkston, Cumming, Holly Springs, Lawrenceville, Athens, Blueridge, Columbus, Dahlonega, Madison, Macon, Savannah, Statesboro and Watkinsville.
Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, a co-founder of Lights for Liberty, said the idea for the vigils began with a series of tweets which “shared the horrors that one of our co-founders, attorney Toby Gialluca, had seen inside the camps.
“Since then, we’ve watched thousands of ordinary people come together to organize events and fight back worldwide,” McLaughlin said. “We intend to be here for as long as it takes, until every last detainee, in every last camp, is free.”
Information on future events can be found at lightsforliberty.org.