Immigration marchers gather at York County Prison


A crowd of more than 100 people, mostly woman, gathered outside the York County Prison on Tuesday as they prepared for a roughly 100-mile walk to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about migrants and deportation.

Ellen Dionna, who goes to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, said she attended the march because of the "mistreatment of people who want to be in the United States and have the kind of opportunities that the Statue of Liberty promises."

The Dover Township woman said she planned to march with the group for part of Tuesday before she had to go to work.

The march, which coincides with Pope Francis' visit to the United States, started at the Springettsbury Township prison because the husband of Pilar Molina was held there for part of his five-month incarceration. He was detained in early 2014 for illegally re-entering the country.

"That's when my nightmare began," Molina told marchers who came from across the country to take part.

Strike: Molina's husband, Israel Resendiz-Hernandez, led a 19-day hunger strike while he was held in the prison, which houses immigration detainees. The Norristown business owner and father of two children who are U.S. citizens was eventually released in June 2014, Molina said.

Molina's story is similar to those of some of the people who attended the rally and blessing on the lawn in front of the prison before they put their feet to pavement.

The marchers were jovial at times, chanting and singing. But the mood became more somber as individuals told their stories of loved ones being detained.

Behind the guarded walls of the prison, hundreds of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are being held.

The daily average of immigration detainees totals 707, according to York County spokesman Carl Lindquist.

Additional marchers are expected to join the group as it winds through Maryland.

Pope Francis: Some in the crowd said they hope to gain Pope Francis' attention in Washington since they will arrive in the city on Tuesday, Sept. 22, the same day the pope will arrive in preparation for his address to Congress.

Francis will also celebrate Mass in Philadelphia the following weekend.

"I feel the pope has had an eye on immigration, and I think this will get his attention," said Yared Portillo, a marcher from Philadelphia.

The pope, who will meet with immigrants in New York City as part of his visit, has taken a strong stance about the need for wealthy countries to open doors to migrants. He also addressed the plight of Syrian migrants who are flooding into Europe to escape their war-torn country.

"The pope, in Europe, has called on churches to open their doors to migrants and refugees," said Andrea Cristina Mercado, co-chair of We Belong Together, adding she hopes the pope calls on North Americans to do the same.

Helping out: Maria Galleta made the trip from San Diego to York County to march the full 100 miles to Washington.

The U.S. citizen works in Tijuana to help migrants deported back to Mexico. She feeds about 1,500 of them breakfast most days of the week, she said.

Once a week, families on the U.S. side of the border gather along the border fence to meet their loved ones who were deported to Mexico. The heartbreaking encounters allow children in America to talk to and touch their fathers through holes in the chain-link fence, Galleta said.

Though the immigration issue in the United States typically centers on migrants from Latin America, Galleta said she sees an increasing number of Africans and Iraqis being deported to Mexico. Since the migrants use Mexico as an entry point to the United States, they are deported back to Mexico, she said.

"I think this is important, not just as a Catholic, but for everybody," she said.

— Reach Greg Gross at