Faith leaders prayed, sang and chanted at Rep. Devin Nunes’ office in Visalia on Tuesday morning to voice concerns about federal policies regarding immigration and health care.
They also requested a meeting with the Republican, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, making him one of the nation’s most powerful representatives.
Leaders of Faith in the Valley, which represents around 120 congregations in the central San Joaquin Valley, took their interfaith service on the sidewalk a step further with the brief occupation of a hallway outside Nunes’ office. Visalia police arrived, responding to a disturbance call. Faith leaders left shortly after, and no one was arrested.
We are prayerfully encouraging Representative Nunes to remember his commitment to represent all of his constituency by publicly opposing this immoral, mean-spirited budget that will harm the most vulnerable in the Central Valley.
The Rev. Booker T. Lewis, pastor of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church
Nunes’ office door remained locked during most of the demonstration, with only a few people allowed in. The group was told Nunes was out of the country and may not be available to meet with constituents until next year. That’s too long to wait for the Rev. Tim Kutzmark of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, who was among around 20 members of Faith in the Valley at Nunes’ office Tuesday.
“In a very short amount of time, decisions are going to be made on the (federal) budget,” Kutzmark said, “and the current budget is going to harm the most vulnerable.”
Numerous requests by Faith in the Valley to meet with Nunes in the past have been ignored, as have requests from a number of other groups, sparking some protests both in Visalia and at Nunes’ Clovis office.
“I’m sad that he feels he has to hide from us,” Kutzmark said. “If he strongly believes the way he votes, he should at least have the courage of his convictions to speak with us.”
Faith in the Valley is pushing for a DREAM Act that’s not tied to additional funding for border security, along with a commitment from elected officials not to increase funding for immigration officers and detention centers, or to pass legislation that could result in people losing health insurance.
The gathering included statements from people who faith leaders are working to protect. Among them: Retired police officer Jennifer McLelland of Clovis, who worries for the future of her 6-year-old son, James, who depends on a ventilator to survive, and small-business owner Reyna Castellanos of Visalia, who is enrolled through the recently repealed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
If your policy takes health insurance away from the 6-year-old son of a cop and a school teacher, that’s not what anybody wants. That’s not what anybody voted for.
Castellanos says she pays taxes, isn’t on welfare, underwent a background check for her job, and is the caretaker of two children – one with Down syndrome.
“Does it sound like I deserve to be imprisoned?” Castellanos said tearfully. “My heart says I am American, my life says I am American, yet the only thing that keeps me from being treated like one is a piece of paper.”
She’s praying for immigration reform that could provide a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” like her – immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The Rev. Art Gramaje of St. Anthony Claret Church in Fresno is among those working to protect Castellanos and others in similar circumstances.
“Pray for Nunes,” Gramaje said. “That’s what we do.”