Faith in Indiana: Protecting and Empowering Immigrants in the Hoosier State

Center for Migration Studies
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Faith in Indiana, founded in 2011, brings together clergy, faith leaders, and volunteers from Indiana’s 17 largest faith communities to resolve social justice issues facing immigrants and other marginalized communities. It is a member of the national Faith in Action network and represents a powerful example of faith communities working together to challenge anti-immigrant policies and narratives. Its members include Roman Catholics, Protestant Christians, Muslims, and Jews from about 160 congregations in six Indiana counties. Its members seek to develop the leadership capacity of individuals affected by racial and social injustice, to work with clergy to advance a narrative of belonging, to encourage marginalized people to vote, and to build pro-immigrant coalitions across Indiana’s diverse religious and cultural communities.

Faith in Indiana engages in direct action to protect the rights and dignity of immigrants in the Hoosier State. It regularly organizes town hall meetings, rallies, and vigils on behalf of vulnerable immigrants such as detainees and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Following the 2016 election, it organized a series of town hall meetings in congregations across Indiana to gauge how people felt about the Muslim ban and President Trump’s executive order on interior enforcement. These meetings revealed a high level of fear among immigrants across the state. In response, Faith in Indiana set up meetings between clergy, immigrant representatives, and the mayor and sheriff’s office in Indianapolis. It organized a public vigil in support of detained immigrants at St. Philip Neri parish in Indianapolis, a congregation with a large Latino population, at which Joe Hogsett, the mayor of Indianapolis, pledged to work with the City-County Council to pass a resolution banning the use of local resources to support discriminatory immigration enforcement practices, including the detention of immigrants not charged with crimes. Some 3,000 people attended this vigil, including local immigrants invited to share their stories. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers persisted despite the mayor’s public pledge, Faith in Indiana organized additional vigils and press conferences highlight immigrants’ stories and experiences. At one of the largest vigils, several hundred Faith in Indiana members and supporters marched in solidarity with immigrants from the City-County Council building to local churches. Ultimately, John Layton, the sheriff of Marion County where Indianapolis is located, agreed to sign a joint resolution against ICE detainers.

Faith in Indiana also supported efforts to prevent the establishment of two proposed private immigrant detention facilities in Elkhart and Newton Counties. Faith in Indiana volunteers joined other civic, faith, and industry leaders in protest. Ultimately, CoreCivic, the company contracted to operate the Elkhart County facility, withdrew its contract.

In conjunction with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Faith in Indiana operates one of two Catholic Accompaniment and Reflection Experience (CARE) programs in the United States. This program, sponsored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, marshals volunteers to provide immigrants with accompaniment and spiritual support. Volunteers accompany undocumented immigrants to ICE check-ins and court appointments. They also attend court hearings to make sure immigrants’ rights are upheld and that appropriate translation is provided. Volunteers are connected with immigrants through Faith in Indiana’s bilingual rapid response hotline, through which immigrants and teams from parish and congregations report ICE encounters and law enforcement activity. Currently, rapid response networks operate in Indianapolis, Richmond, Lafayette, and Elkhart. In an average month, Faith in Indiana volunteers accompany one or two immigrants, although the number of immigrants varies from month to month. In addition, volunteers provide legal referrals and help undocumented immigrants to understand their legal options and fill out paperwork—including applications for passports that enable their children to accompany them if they are deported. Referring to Faith in Indiana’s accompaniment program, Charles Thompson, the Archbishop of Indianapolis, stated, “We’re a great nation, but we’re only as great as we care for the most vulnerable and the most in need among us. We must go to the margins, the peripheries of society, to be especially attentive to those that society so often overlooks.”[1]

Faith in Indiana staff also work to develop and train CARE program leaders in those congregations most affected by immigration enforcement and offers training and support to congregations across the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Together with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, it is working to raise awareness of CARE programs and extend them to new parishes and communities.

In addition, Faith in Indiana works to promote civic engagement, particularly among Latino and Muslim immigrants and their children. Prior to the 2018 elections, Faith in Indiana canvassed door to door and organized phone banks and texting campaigns resulting in 30,000 conversations across the state. In some communities, undocumented volunteers went door to door to share their stories.

Faith in Indiana draws the bulk of its volunteers from its constituent congregations. It seeks to build capacity by holding regular trainings and meetings across the state, including a week-long intensive course on faith-based community organizing. It encourages its volunteers to go back to their congregations, start conversations about the challenges immigrants and their families face, and equip them with the tools and knowledge to help.

Faith in Indiana brings together members of diverse faith communities across Indiana to support and empower immigrants and challenge anti-immigrant narratives. It represents a powerful example of what faith communities working in concert can accomplish. For more information about Faith in Indiana, please contact Shoshanna Spector, its Executive Director, at shoshanna@faithinindiana.org.

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