Religious community statement on ICE detention of Elena Felipe Mateo

By: Rev. John Gill, Pastor, Church of the Savior, UCC, a Weekly Witness congregation
Charles Mulligan, Weekly Witness and a member of St. John XXIII Catholic Parish

Knoxville – In less than 24 hours after the February 5th ICE detention in Knoxville of Elena Felipe Mateo, a mother of two young children, over 90 people, including the Roman Catholic Bishop of Knoxville, local rabbis, and many Protestant faith leaders signed a joint statement condemning the arrest. The statement declares, “This startling and seemingly arbitrary act is a cruel and harsh reminder of the behavior of the Border Patrol and ICE on the southern border of the US last year. It is quite simply immoral to impose this separation between a mother and her small children with no warning, no due process, and no accountability to the wider community.”

The detention of Elena struck a chord in the religious community. Signatures poured in from nearly every faith tradition in Knoxville, including Baptists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Methodists, Episcopalians, two local rabbis, the Southeast Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ, and the Catholic Bishop of Knoxville. All of them expressed an urgent desire to lend their voices to “call for the immediate release of Elena Felipe Mateo so she can be reunited with her young children. Our faith, and any sense of fairness, care for families, compassion for children, and basic human decency demand no less.” Continue reading Religious community statement on ICE detention of Elena Felipe Mateo

Knoxville religious community calls on ICE to release Elena Felipe Mateo

For the past 18 months, individuals and representatives from religious communities in Knox, Blount, and Anderson counties have been present to witness hundreds of immigrants, mainly from Central America, reporting to ICE at their office in Knoxville. These men and women, many of whom fled violence and turned themselves in at our southern border, were given a court date and told to report to ICE in their local communities every few months. Two days a week, every week, 40 or more people from all over East Tennessee line up in Knoxville to report.

These men and women and their families stand in the rain, the cold, the hot sun, with no bathroom facilities for perhaps 90 minutes to report as ICE requires. They come from Johnson City, Morristown, Chattanooga, and Sevierville, in addition to Knoxville. They report change of address and assure ICE they will report for their court date. We talk to the people in line, their drivers, and their families. In the process, we have learned that these are people trying to do the right thing. They are suffering due to forces beyond their control, but want to conform to the law in their new country. Continue reading Knoxville religious community calls on ICE to release Elena Felipe Mateo

AKIN statement on ICE detention of Elena Felipe Mateo

Knoxville – AKIN strongly condemns ICE’s February 5th detention of Elena Felipe Mateo, a young mother and resident of Knoxville. We call on ICE to immediately release Felipe Mateo to her family.

Felipe Mateo has an infant and toddler who need her immediate care. Felipe Mateo’s immigration attorney notes that the Knoxville detention of a young mother is “unprecedented.” The attorney also notes that Felipe Mateo is not considered a flight risk, and that she has complied with a requirement to check in with immigration authorities as she awaits her scheduled asylum hearing later this year. Continue reading AKIN statement on ICE detention of Elena Felipe Mateo

AKIN statement on violent rhetoric from KCSO detective and pastor

As outlined in our mission statement, “AKIN is a network of people in the Knoxville area who work to encourage dialogue about issues related to immigrants and refugees; to build better understanding among immigrants, refugees and members of local receiving communities; to support and learn from immigrant and refugee communities as they engage in civic and political life; to promote more just and reasonable policies toward immigration and asylum; and to foster a welcoming atmosphere in which all people are treated with dignity and respect and recognized for their positive contributions to the community.”

We take seriously every part of our mission.

Our entire community suffers when members of law enforcement and others devalue and dehumanize any human being.

Today, we stand in solidarity with Knoxville’s LGBTQ community, and we affirm the right of all people to live, and love, in peace. 

“Love Your Neighbor. No Exceptions. End 287(g)”

By Rev. John Gill

One of the primary things we are called to practice as Christians and people of faith is love of neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others as you would like to be treated. This calling is at the very core of our faith. We don’t get to pick and choose which neighbors to love, even when it comes to our undocumented neighbors. In Exodus, we are told quite clearly and simply, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were once aliens yourselves…” In Deuteronomy: “You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers yourselves…”

Faith asks us to see more deeply when it comes to issues like this. The people who are targeted by Knox County’s 287(g) program are not violent criminals. They are hardworking parents, children in schools, young people who have lived here all their lives. Faith asks us to see beyond our fears to what it means to truly love our neighbors, whoever they may be. That’s not always easy, but that’s what we are called to do. Love your neighbor as yourself, practice hospitality, welcome the stranger. That’s what we are called to do with faith, courage and compassion. There are many practical reasons to oppose the implementation of 287(g), but there is also a deeper reason: God’s call to love our neighbors — ALL of our neighbors — as we love ourselves.

Continue reading “Love Your Neighbor. No Exceptions. End 287(g)”

Press Coverage: #Stop287g Kickoff Event

Last week, AKIN and partner organizations hosted our #Stop287g campaign kickoff event at the Knoxville City County Building to urge Sheriff Spangler to decline to renew Knox County’s 287(g) program. (Click here for more information about 287(g) and why we oppose it.)

Photo credit: Meghan Conley

We heard from four speakers about the impact of 287(g) on our community, including a public school teacher, a minister, a TIRRC representative, and a member of the AKIN steering committee.

You can find some of our press coverage here:

The following day, AKIN representatives delivered 500 postcards to the Sheriff’s Office:

We hope Sheriff Spangler will listen to the community opposition to 287(g), and decline to renew this harmful program.


What is 287(g) and Why Do We Oppose It (Updated)

Note: This version of our 287(g) explainer, from January 2019, is an updated and reposted version of our original explainer from June 2017.

By Meghan Conley and Fran Ansley


What is 287(g)?

287(g) is a voluntary program through which state and local law enforcement agencies can choose to have their officers trained and deputized to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The program uses local resources to enforce federal immigration law.[i]

What is the history of 287(g) in Knox County?

Former Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones first applied to join the 287(g) program in 2009. Immigrants’ rights advocates in Knoxville and beyond mounted a hard-fought campaign in opposition to the proposal, and federal authorities eventually denied the sheriff’s application in 2013. Many in Knox County remember Jones’ alarming and dehumanizing response to this rejection: “I will continue to enforce these federal immigration violations with or without the help of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If need be, I will stack these violators like cordwood in the Knox County Jail until the appropriate federal agency responds.” In February 2017, Jones renewed his application. Despite local, state, and national objections, ICE approved the application in June 2017. The current sheriff, Tom Spangler, has signaled his approval for continuing the 287(g) program.[ii] Continue reading What is 287(g) and Why Do We Oppose It (Updated)

Don’t Politicize Corcoran’s Death

By Meghan Conley

The Knoxville News Sentinel has reported that a young man, Pierce Corcoran, was killed on the day before New Year’s Eve when another driver veered into southbound traffic on Chapman Highway, hitting Corcoran’s car. The other driver, identified as Francisco Eduardo Cambrany Franco, was arrested in conjunction with the accident.

Now Franco is being held in the Knox County jail on criminal charges, including driving without a license and criminally negligent homicide. Franco also has an ICE hold. This means that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency tasked with enforcing the nation’s civil immigration laws, is investigating whether or not he is removable (deportable) from the United States.

In the few days since the tragic death of Corcoran, I have been contacted by friends, colleagues, journalists and public officials with questions about Franco and his immigration and documentation status. I do not know Franco personally, nor can I comment on his status, except to caution that we should not assume that he is unauthorized. ICE has the authority to investigate any foreign-born non-citizens — including lawful permanent residents, temporary visa holders and, yes, unauthorized immigrants — who are held on criminal charges. All of these categories of non-citizen immigrants are potentially removable under U.S. immigration laws, but their ultimate deportability depends on a broad range of factors, including whether or not the individual is found guilty of criminal charges, the specific charges the person is convicted of, and whether the person has any extenuating circumstances or qualifications for relief from removal. These decisions are made by immigration judges, not the court of public opinion. Of course, regardless of his immigration status, Franco is innocent of any criminal charges until proven guilty.

Continue reading Don’t Politicize Corcoran’s Death

AKIN Statement on Synagogue Shooting

Today we mourn the murder of Jewish congregants at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The murderer was motivated by anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and xenophobia. He specifically professed hatred for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which for the last 131 years has been resettling immigrants and refugees who are fleeing persecution.

We condemn this horrific act of violence and terrorism, and we stand against white supremacy in all of its forms.

Contextualizing the Child Migrant Crisis

By Meghan Conley

Note: This talk was given in 2014 at a vigil in response to the child migrant crisis. It is worth revisiting now, given recent reports that the Trump administration is considering a proposal to close the southern border to migrants.

I’ve been asked to speak today to provide context for the humanitarian crisis that we are facing, and to explain why so many young people are showing up at the US-Mexico border.

Before I do that, however, let me start by identifying some things that have not caused this crisis.  You’ve probably heard pundits, politicians, and reporters blaming the Obama administration for the current crisis, saying that these young people are coming to the United States because our country is too soft, and that we treat undocumented people too well.

Continue reading Contextualizing the Child Migrant Crisis