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Continuing to Walk Until We Have Compassionate Immigration Reform

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Aug 27, 2013
Rev. Susan Karlson gets arrested.

Post author Rev. Susan Karlson and others are arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

Each Thursday, clergy and lay people circle Federal Plaza that houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and immigration courts in New York City. We silently pray the Jericho Prayer and walk in solidarity with people who struggle with unjust immigration laws and fear separation from their families. Last Thursday, we continued marching to Varick Street, home of a detention center that brings immigrants in shackles, bound by their hands and feet. At the detention center, others joined us for a rally and eight of us remained in the street and got arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

My decision to act in civil disobedience outside a place that shackles human beings feels linked to all the current events happening around the country directly related to racism. We have immigration laws that criminalize undocumented people no matter how they entered the country initially. Under the current broken system, many undocumented immigrants pay taxes, but receive no benefits or representation. The court decision about the slaying of Trayvon Martin and Stand Your Ground laws deeply trouble many, but people of color live with this every day. The recent Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act abnegates the need for protections around voting rights for people of color.

I might scream about the endless stop and frisk rhetoric from politicians who say we must continue to stop young Black and Latino men. I think about all the enslaved people brought to this country against their will in shackles and now how people are now detained for long periods of time and suddenly deported in shackles to out of the country in shackles, a country they may not remember or have ties to now. It is time to remember the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

NYC Federal Plaza witness

Witnessing for immigrant justice at the Federal Plaza in New York City.

A dear immigration activist friend with the New Sanctuary Movement of NYC asked me to commit civil disobedience. Despite his tireless efforts for immigration reform, he cannot risk arrest because he would be deported. I risk nothing and, in fact, am treated with the utmost respect and dignity, in contrast to the treatment of thousands of immigrants brought to Varick Street. We so desperately need humane immigration reform with a path to citizenship. I hope that our rally and civil disobedience brought more awareness and might hasten the end of this ugly nightmare that undocumented immigrants face.

To learn more about the history and involvement of Unitarian Universalists in the New Sanctuary Movement, click here.


Rev. Susan Karlson is the new Central East Regional Group (CERG) Disaster Response Coordinator, charged with recruiting, organizing and developing partnerships to bring Unitarian Universalist volunteers to all the areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy. On September 1st, she is leaving her ministry at the Unitarian Church of Staten Island in New York where she and the congregation worked on immigration, antiracism, interfaith efforts, and Sandy recovery. Susan has been an active participant in the New Sanctuary Movement since her previous arrest three years ago for civil disobedience around comprehensive immigration reform. She also serves as secretary of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry.

2 Responses to “Continuing to Walk Until We Have Compassionate Immigration Reform”

  1. Lonny Myster says:

    I was sorry to see you arrested. Isn’t there a better way. after all, people look up to you…to see your minister arrested, isn’t really cool.

  2. JoyceD says:

    Thanks to those who are willing to do it! Getting arrested is the true civil disobedience model as Thoreau wrote about. Civil disobedience can be more effective when breaking the law and then doing what is right and taking the consequences, because it gets attention. I hope it works. I’ll spread the news in hopes it will make an impact & I hope others will, too.

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