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Bishop joins walkers backing immigrants in Manchester

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 19. 2018 9:22PM
Bishop Peter Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester greets marchers supporting immigration detainees at the federal building in Manchester on Tuesday morning. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



MANCHESTER — Honduran native Oscar Gutierrez, his American-born wife and their two young boys stood in front of the Norris Cotton Federal Building downtown on Tuesday morning in one of the most nerve-racking situations imaginable.

Gutierrez has been a focus of Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities since he was caught fishing without a license at Hampton Beach in May 2017.

He was held in ICE custody at the Strafford County Jail, having entered the country illegally, but was later released after the intervention of Catholic Bishop Peter Libasci.

He regularly reports to immigration officials to apply for a new “stay of removal” to enable him to remain with his family.

As the family nervously waited for their appointment with ICE on Tuesday, Bishop Libasci was there to offer prayers and support, along with dozens of others who make it a point to be at the federal building when immigrants appear to face possible deportation.

The members of the Interfaith Prayer Vigil and Jericho Walk for Immigrant Justice were also there to support 20 Indonesian families from Dover whose cases have garnered widespread attention.

They walked in a circle seven times around the building in a symbolic gesture derived from the book of Joshua: “By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after being marched around by the Israelites for seven days.”

“We’ve come here for the past year every time a person has to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to find out if they are going to be able to stay or not,” said Sarah Jane Knoy, with the Granite State Organization Project. “We’re here to provide them support. It’s a very scary thing.”

The group of about 100 gathers for prayers, songs and readings before and after the walk. As regards the biblical reference, “We don’t really want these walls to fall down because there are people in there,” said Knoy, “but we would like the walls of injustice to fall down.”

Bishop Libasci has closely monitored the fate of the Gutierrez family, well-known parishioners at St. Anne-St. Augustin parish in Manchester.

Libasci didn’t participate in the walk, as he spent most of his time with the Gutierrez family and greeting many supporters as they passed the front of the federal building.

“I haven’t walked because I keep visiting with people and we keep talking,” he said, making sure to point out that the event is not a protest.

“It’s a witness. They made that very clear to me,” he said. “It’s a prayerful witness to accompany people who are coming here frightened and concerned about their status ... to pray for their wellbeing. I think that’s an important thing. It’s not a protest by any stretch.”

Libasci visited Gutierrez during his detention and says the experience demonstrated to him that there is a way for the government to enforce immigration law without tearing families apart.

“The people at the detention center were so good, and I will always say that,” Libasci said. “There was great understanding and great accessibility to talk to Oscar and to see the family reunite. What’s beautiful to see is when it works, families can be held together during the process and then reunited. God forbid anyone gets lost in the shuffle. That’s what I’m concerned about.”

The next Jericho Walk is scheduled for June 27. Gutierrez has to report in again on July 17.

In addition to the Granite State Organization Project, sponsors include the American Friends Service Committee, N.H. Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, N.H. Council of Churches and the United Valley Interfaith Project.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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