"Jesus suffered and died because he spoke out for justice," said Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, a pastor at Old First Church in Bound Brook and head of the immigrant rights group Casa Esperanza. "Our lord was somebody who stood up for everybody, no matter where they came from."
Friday's event marked the conclusion of a statewide campaign called "Lament, Compassion, Solidarity & Conversion" that organizers said was meant to focus on "recognizing the human value of immigrants." It featured six weeks of events aimed at raising awareness of what the groups see as problems in current U.S. immigration policy. They want to push for immigration reform policies that center around keeping immigrant families intact.
The campaign began on Ash Wednesday in March with participants walking more than 10 miles from Liberty State Park to the Elizabeth Detention Center.
The groups, including Pax Christi, Casa Esperanza, Wind of the Spirit and the United Day Laborers of Passaic, among others, have also been objecting to plans for a new immigrant detention facility that will likely be built in Essex County. They claim the federal immigration detention system is inhumane and disruptive to families.
A service agreement for the facility has not been finalized, but Essex County officials have proposed expanding the existing Essex County Correctional Facility to accommodate the additional immigrant detainees. The facility already houses some immigration detainees at a per-bed rate of $105 per day, said a spokeswoman for ICE.
An Essex County spokesman said earlier this week the agreement was not yet finished. Participants in Friday's event held signs that said, "Do not throw Jesus to jail," and "You were immigrant too," as people marched and sang religious songs.
Kathy O'Leary, the New Jersey coordinator for the group Pax Christi and an organizer of Friday's event, said she took inspiration from the story of Easter and Jesus' example to help society's marginalized, including immigrants.
"We are called as people of faith to recognize the suffering of Jesus in the faces of our brothers and sisters and our neighbors," she said.