The 100-degree southwestern Oklahoma heat beat down on Heartland for Human Justice trip participants as, one by one, they entered the center of a big circle, looked down at little flaps of paper they clutched in their sweaty hands and read aloud first-person narratives of dead migrants that brought many to tears.
The interfaith vigil Aug. 1 at Lawton Heights United Methodist Church in Lawton, Okla., lasted an hour. It was full of songs and stories and memories. Then the group of St. Louis-area activists headed to the Army post at Fort Sill, just minutes from the tiny church, for the second part of the action: a protest.
In June, federal officials announced that Fort Sill would be a “temporary emergency influx shelter” for approximately 1,400 migrant children because overcrowding at the 168 other facilities and programs in 23 states tasked with providing care for migrant children. But on July 24, one week before the Heartland trip was supposed to leave, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., announced that the center’s opening would be delayed due to a drop in border crossings.
That change of plans didn’t stop the Heartland from bringing an interfaith, cross-cultural group of social justice advocates, about half of them Jewish, to Lawton for a vigil and a protest.
For the 105 participants, protesting the detention and mourning the deaths of immigrants on the border with Mexico was an expression of their faith and experience.