Sonia Avile was taken last week from her Indianapolis home of nearly two decades and driven more than 50 miles to the Clay County Jail, where she is being held as an undocumented alien.
The official name of the building where the sheriff’s office is also located is the “Clay County Justice Center.” But about 40 people who protested outside the facility Wednesday say there is no justice for Avile and thousands like her.
They participated in a prayer vigil and “Joshua Walk” in support of the Salvadoran mother of three U.S.-born children and thousands of other immigrants who are being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“It is our duty to fight for our families, neighbors and communities as they are terrorized by the modern-day Gestapo, ICE,” said lead-off speaker Gurt Masterson of Indianapolis.
Avile helped found Iglesia Amigos church on the capital city’s east side and “is much more of a community member and citizen that I ever am. She should be treated as such,” said Masterson, a member of the service workers union Unite Here.
Sister Barbara Battista of the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods said the group gathered to say, “las familias primero – families first.”
The Sisters of Providence and the group Faith in Indiana sponsored the vigil to send several messages, Battista said.
“One of support for Sonia and her family support for Avile and her family; another to say to our leaders in Washington and here in Indiana, ‘Respect families, respect children, support the well being of hard working contributing members of our community,’” she said. “We the people do not support tearing families apart.”
Decisions made at the highest level of government “dishonor the moral fabric of this country,” Battista said. “When ICE agents rip a mother from her children [and] when we stand by when ethnic cleansing runs rampant in our community, we are bending away from justice.”
People of Faith and others in what she called the “human community” can choose to show those in power the universe is “bending toward justice.”
Battista called facilities such as the Clay County Jail, Indiana’s only ICE detention center, “a modern day internment camp.” She spoke against recently announced plans for a new private detention facility in Kentland, Indiana, after similar plans for a similar project in Elkhart were derailed by protests.
Avile’s husband, Elmer Peña, said the only reason his wife is jailed is because she came to the U.S. illegally and that most Latinos want to support America in advancing.
“I don’t understand why the new administration is doing all of these cruel things to the Latino people,” he said. “We’re just people who came to this country to work.”
Peña said his children are suffering, waking up in the middle of the night and asking for their mother.
His voice breaking, he said, “I only ask God to give me the courage and the strength to go forward and that everything might work out OK.”
At the conclusion of its vigil, the group walked seven times around the jail while singing “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.”
Lyrics of the African-American spiritual refer to the biblical story of Jesus leading the Israelites out of Canaan. However, some scholars say the words may also allude to the escape from slavery.
Given the opportunity to comment on the vigil and the “modern-day Gestapo” comparison, ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference.”