Responding to calls from Episcopalians across the church to act on behalf of families seeking asylum at the southern U. S. border, a team of concerned leaders heading to General Convention has planned a prayer service outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, at about noon on Sunday, July 8.
The planning team, led by alternate Deputy Megan Castellan, rector of St. John’s Church in Ithaca, New York, is working with Grassroots Leadership—a local community organizing group in Texas that has held numerous gatherings at the Hutto Residential Center. Deputy Winnie Varghese, director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street, is helping to arrange buses to the event.
“What is happening to those at our borders is monstrous,” Castellan said. “My bishop, DeDe Duncan-Probe [of Central New York] and I were discussing how we, as a church, could respond on Saturday morning. By evening, and with the help of enthusiastic Episcopalians across the church, the idea had taken shape and was moving forward.»
The detention center at 1001 Welch St. in Taylor is operated for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company, and is about a 40-minute drive from the Austin Convention Center where General Convention is being held.
Varghese says Trinity Wall Street hopes to provide buses for the event that would depart from the convention center at 10:45 a.m. Organizers say participants may also drive to the detention center. Parking is available nearby.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, have arranged for a one-hour delay in Sunday’s legislative calendar to facilitate participation by bishops and deputies. The legislative session will begin at 3:15 CDT.
The event, which Curry and Jennings will attend, is open to all who are committed to praying for an end to the inhumane treatment of those seeking asylum in the United States. It has been planned not to conflict with the Bishops United Against Gun Violence event at 9:30 a.m. in Brush Square Park, near the convention center.
A former medium security prison, the Hutto center has been the target of frequent lawsuits over issues including harsh conditions, poor food and sexually abusive guards. Originally a family detention center, the facility, since 2009, has housed only female immigrants and asylum seekers.
The planning team, which includes several clergy and parishioners of the Diocese of Texas and the Association of Episcopal Deacons, is considering follow-up advocacy activities.