Photo essay by Asher Imtiaz, with reporting by G. Jeffrey MacDonald
About 900 Episcopalians traveled on 14 buses to a remote Texas field July 8 to send messages of hope and solidarity to more than 500 migrant women detained a federal facility.
The spontaneous mini-pilgrimage to the entrance was part of a day as emotionally intense as the scorching sun, which drove many to wear wide-brimmed hats and hold parasols. A small stage, wedged between two Little League baseball fields, gave a platform for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to address the crowd. Others read Scripture verses such as Leviticus 34:19: “The stranger living among you must be treated as your native-born.”
From a field in Taylor, Texas, where the group was permitted to gather about a quarter-mile away, prayer vigil participants could see the hulking, almost windowless T. Don Hutto Residential Center in the distance on the edge of an industrial park. But it was not clear whether detainees were aware of the mass event outside. That changed, however, shortly after several hundred breached the perimeter of the permitted area and slowly walked down a one-lane road to the facility’s driveway entrance.
The event provided a Sunday morning opportunity during General Convention for participants to venture beyond the Austin Convention Center and nearby hotels where meetings have been concentrated. They rode in coaches chartered by Trinity Wall Street, a New York City parish with extensive grant-making and justice ministries. During the 32-mile journey, city outskirts gave way to tree groves and open fields, dotted occasionally by grazing cattle and farm equipment for sale.
The event had the air of a prayer vigil combined with a political rally. Protesters spontaneously broke into slogan chants and songs of solidarity. They sang “We Shall Overcome,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Amazing Grace.” Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town said he had tears welling up behind his sunglasses.
“It evokes emotions of my incarceration under apartheid,” Makgoba said. “I never thought it would be happening in democracies like yours.”