A small group of people gathered July 19 near the children’s play area at Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway for an interfaith prayer vigil for the families and children of those detained at the border by federal authorities and for those who have been deported.

Rev. Tom Hagood, center, chair of the Atlanta Sanctuary Movement and pastor of Columbia Presbyterian Church in Decatur, and other area pastors held a prayer vigil July 19 at Plaza Fiesta for the families being detained and separated at the border. (Dyana Bagby)

Pastors from several metro Atlanta churches led more than a dozen people in prayer for the families being separated and detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The names of dozens of people recently deported were also read aloud.

“This is affecting us all,” Rev. Fabio Sotelo of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church said in an interview following the vigil. Sotelo said he works with many immigrants as part of his ministry. Small children being taken from their parents and families is not Christian, Sotelo said, and people are being treated inhumanely.

Arizbeth Sanchez of Norcross said she is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and is attending Freedom University in Atlanta, a school for undocumented students. She said she attended the vigil to support the families that have been separated.

Dulce Esquivel of Chamblee stands next to a mural at Plaza Fiesta and reads a prayer. She said she and members of her family attended the vigil to show support for their community. (Dyana Bagby)

“We are under attack,” she said. “I have protection, because I have DACA, but that doesn’t my parents or my community has protection.”

For Fede Apecena, a pastor at The Nett Church in Gwinnett County, a United Methodist Church, holding the vigil at Plaza Fiesta was intentional.

“This is a safe place for the Latino community and the church should be a safe place, so we are bring a safe place to a safe place,” he said.

“We want to create awareness that we are all human beings and ask more than anything that people hear and listen to our stories … rather than our status.”

Those attending a vigil at Plaza Fiesta prayed for immigrant families being separated by ICE. (Dyana Bagby)

The vigil was held by the New Sanctuary Movement of Atlanta, an interfaith and multicultural immigrant rights organization. The main tenets of the organization include:

  • All human beings are loved by their creator and deserving of a safe place to live, work, and worship without fear, without regard to nationality, ethnicity, religion, economic status, immigration status, gender, ability, age, or sexual orientation;
  • We have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of all in our decision making, and to hold the governments of city, county, state, and country accountable;
  • We advocate for laws that ensure the rights of immigrants;
  • We reject using power or speech to bully, intimidate, threaten or cause emotional or physical violence.
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