About 350 people attended a mass for immigrant rights held at St. Peter’s Church on 24th Street Friday evening in the Mission District. The mass, organized by the San Francisco Organizing Project and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, was lead by father Moisés Agudo who talked about the fear that permeates the undocumented Latino population.
“In a society catalogued as one of the safest in the world. It shouldn’t be safe for just a few,” he said in Spanish during the mass.
The mass also featured brief presentations by two relatives of people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known by its acronym, ICE.
Ameli, from Guatemala, spoke on behalf of her husband Ricardo Martínez, who was wrongfully detained by ICE, she said. Ameli was recently released from ICE detention in Texas, where she was placed in a cold room for hours –a tactic known as the ‘ice box’ where detainees are forced to sign their own deportation orders.
ICE authorities continue to delay her husband’s release and Ameli fears her husband will be deported to Guatemala, leaving her and her U.S.- born daughter to care for themselves.
Dorila followed next, but, her voice broke so often, she could hardly be heard. “She misses her family,” a mother told her son who was asking why Dorila’s voice sounded so strange.
Dorila said her two daughters, Yeni Lizzette and Dariela Melissa Escobar-Pereira, left Honduras to escape domestic violence. On their way here, the sisters were kidnapped by smugglers. The Border Patrol detained them and the sisters have been in detention for almost six months.
Agudo said that a mass will be held every month in which the community will come together to for “the creation of laws that can benefit people that live in this country,” he said referring to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
Outside the church, Alex García, who was born and raised in the Mission, handed out orange vests to volunteers and explained how the vigil would be directed through the streets. “When I heard the testimonies, it was something that moved me. I want to help [reunite them with their families],” said the 20-year-old volunteer.
Teshone Jones, 25 and a Baptist said that the project offered her a chance to integrate faith with social justice issues. Her personal experience with racism has made her realize how other communities are impacted.
Juan Aguilar, a member of St. Peter’s Catholic Church said he was volunteering “because we are all here for the same reason,” referring to immigration reform.
Erick Pari, originally from Peru, has been working with the project for a year. “As undocumented, I want to be present in these vigils or marches, because the people that do it are not that many because of the fear. I do it for myself, for my family and for people that are marginalized,” Pari said. He came to United States as a 12-year-old and works for the LGBTQ Center and as a cook in a Mission District restaurant.
A bit before the hour-long mass ended, volunteers were setting up outside waiting for the crowd of more than 300 people who attended and then walked in the vigil up 24th Street.
The walk did not resemble a protest as believers could be heard praying and chanting religious songs throughout the walk.
At the corner of 24th and Harrison, José Cruz, 25, had just gotten off work and was heading back home when he ran into the vigil. He stopped to take in the crowd . “This is not a protest. This is a movement of the masses,” he said and hurried to add that he has participated in protests before in which an ICE truck had been stopped. Cruz approved of the partnership between organizations and religious institutions because “it’s the only way to bring people and educate [them] about what is going on and how they can fight”.
By then, the walk had advanced to Folsom and 25th Streets and started heading back to the church.
Carolina Zúñiga, from Nicaragua, was lagging behind with her 94 year old mother but was insistent in walking until they reached the church. “We are here to show support, united in prayer for all immigrants that struggle in jail or that are afraid and can’t work in peace or be with their family [in peace],” she said, with her mother walking by her side.
“Even if some people tell you that nothing can change, fight and come walk with us,” were the words of the last song the crowd chanted back outside the church.
The next vigil will be held on September, 26th and free legal assistance will be provided.