At the end of May I was part of a small delegation that went to Dallas to attend the opening festivities of a newly formed group, the Center for Theological Activism. At the dinner I met a number of progressive clergy who expressed real interest in learning more about the groups we represented. Alejandro Caceres and Susana Pimiento were there from the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition and I was there to talk about immigrant detention and the Hutto Visitation Program. Two of the clergy that seemed to be the most interested in the issue of detention were a Methodist Youth Minister, Jason Redick and the Rev. Jim Mitulski, the senior Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope.
It was the first time I had been to the Cathedral of Hope, which is known as the largest LGBT congregation in Dallas, and probably in all of Texas. The congregation was also racially diverse and included many families and children as well. In fact, I believe the Cathedral of Hope may be the most integrated, inclusive religious congregation I have had the opportunity to visit.
I was accompanied to Dallas by a two-person team of social justice interpreters, Geoff Valdez and Susana Pimiento. Truthfully, there weren’t that many Spanish only speakers who availed themselves of the service – but those who did expressed appreciation. Most importantly, Geoff and Susana, members of Austin’s growing social justice/language equity interpreters collective were able to model how linguistic inclusion can work.
After the panel I was surprised to see how many people wanted to speak to me about immigrant detention and expressed interest in visiting the closest detention center in Dallas, the Johnson County Detention center. We will need to organize a visit to this facility, determine what legal resources are available to work with us and eventually hold an orientation to visitation for those interested. Rev. Mitulski and a few of his excellent team members, Sheila Coughlin and Patti Chavez expressed their support and have offered the Cathedral of Hope as a place where we might hold orientations and other activities in order to get this new visitation program off the ground.
It was really inspiring to be on the program with Jose Antonio Vargas who expressed interest in my presentation and later that evening, at the screening of his film, quoted from my text. He wanted to make sure the audience knew that Texas is the leader in the number of immigrant detention centers in the country. His film has yet to be shown in Austin though I hope that will be remedied soon. He has crafted a very personal, moving account of his own struggle to come to terms with both being gay and his undocumented status. His separation from his mother as well as dealing with the secrets that his family tried to keep from him, in order to get him to the U.S., figure strongly in the film.
No doubt I will be sharing more with Tuffistas and Hutto Visitors as our work and friendships in the Dallas area progress.