On Thursday, September 19, dozens of Oakland and East Bay faith and community leaders sang, prayed, and even meditated outside the office of Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, gently calling upon him to “open his heart” to immigrant families and support a bill called the TRUST Act.

The nationally-watched measure, by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF), is currently awaiting Governor Brown’s signature. TRUST is supported by many organizations in Alameda County and across the state because it would ease the painful impact of the “Secure” Communities or S-Comm deportation program and advance federal immigration reform.

S-Comm has deported nearly 100,000 Californians, and has long been criticized for turning arrests of victims and witnesses of crime into extended detentions for deportation purposes in local jails. This, in turn, has deeply undermined community confidence in local law enforcement.

Unfortunately, California’s State Sheriffs Association, headed by Sheriff Ahern, is opposing the bill, even though law enforcement leaders like Los Angeles’ Sheriff Baca and San Diego’s Chief Lansdowne support the bill.

At Thursday’s “pray-in,” Pastor B.K. Woodson of the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy led a moving litany highlighting the pain caused by S-Comm stating, “We are here in gentleness and peace, but we will not go away.”

Woodson declared, “When a child comes home from school to find his parent missing because they were detained . . .”

“Trust is broken,” the audience answered.

“When witnesses are afraid to come forward to report information, for fear of being deported, trust is broken,” the litany continued.

During another portion of the “pray-in,” participants sat in silent meditation, lead by a local peace activist who is actually facing deportation for just that—meditating.

Pancho Ramos-Stierle was arrested for peacefully meditating during the removal of Occupy Oakland from Frank Ogawa Plaza in 2011. Through S-Comm, that minor arrest triggered an immigration “hold” request. Despite the community’s pleas, Sheriff Ahern submitted to the hold and detained Pancho for extra time, at local expense, just so he could be turned over for deportation.

Nearly two years later, Pancho is still fighting his deportation case, but his voice remains strong. “We need to unlearn how to unlove,” Pancho said. “Brother Greg (Ahern) needs to know that hurting families is not okay.”

Rev. Deborah Lee of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, California (CLUE-CA) echoed Pancho’s sentiments. “We pray that Sheriff Ahern will open his heart to hear the pleas of the people, for safety and protection from indiscriminate detention and deportations. And we pray that the Governor will sign this bill, so as to advance immigration reform.”

Co-organized by Oakland’s Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy and CLUE-CA, members of local groups Mujeres Unidas y Activas and Causa Justa: Just Cause also joined the pray-in.

The current version of the TRUST Act gives law enforcement much broader discretion in honoring immigration “hold” requests than an earlier version of the bill that Governor Brown vetoed last year. At the same time, it sets a minimum standard to ensure that those with low-level, non-violent offenses are not wastefully held for deportation purposes.

Support is pouring in for the bill from former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, 28 Members of Congress including Oakland’s Barbara Lee, and top legal experts. Advocates believe Governor Brown will sign the bill.

A signature would send a clear message to Washington, D.C. in support of humane immigration reform, protect many local families, and answer the prayers of those who gathered in Oakland Thursday.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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