Fort Wayne Solidarity Network to seek just treatment of immigrants, minorities

October 6, 2017 | Fort Wayne Sentenial | Link to Article

People in northeast Indiana have to decide how they want to be known: Will they look the other way or do nothing, or will they work to help others and to ensure all people are treated with fairness, respect and dignity?

The new, all-volunteer Fort Wayne Solidarity Network will answer that challenge by beginning work Sunday to bring public scrutiny to the way law enforcement authorities treat people when they arrest, detain or question someone from a local immigrant, minority or marginalized community.

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which has led the effort to organize the network, will officially launch it with a ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 2213 Brooklyn Ave.

"Showing up for one another in our most vulnerable moments is what the network is all about," said Audrey Davis, the diocese's social justice ministries coordinator.




 Development of the Solidarity Network grows from the Catholic Church belief that all people should be able to migrate to improve their lives or the lives of their families, said Davis and Theresa Driscoll of Fort Wayne, a member of the network's steering committee.

Northeast Indiana has a growing number of immigrant residents, and a large percentage of them didn't wait to go through the legal immigration process.

"Many of them came thinking we are a country that welcomes immigrants because that has been our history," Driscoll said.

Most of the people live quiet, law-abiding lives, she said. But because of the heightened focus nationally on deporting people who came here without going through legal immigration process, many now are extremely afraid of being caught and sent away.

Many of those adults also have children who were born here and are U.S. citizens, said Katie Driscoll Ware, who is Driscoll's daughter and who also is a member of Fort Wayne Solidarity Network steering committee.

"We also know this is going to get worse before it gets better," Theresa Driscoll said of the immigration issue in the United States. Leaders must develop a solution that is both humane and respectful, she said.



The network also plans to assist people from minority or marginalized communities, such as the homeless, who fear mistreatment by law enforcement authorities, Driscoll and Davis said.

"For example, while African Americans make up only about 13 percent of the Allen County population, they make up roughly 60 percent of the (Allen County) jail population at any given time, which is unacceptable," Davis said.

The network will be pilot-tested in Fort Wayne before possibly being expanded to the South Bend and Elkhart areas, which also have large immigrant communities, she said. Similar networks also exist in other U.S. cities.

Organizers hope the Solidarity Network moves another step closer toward building the grassroots, multifaith and multi-ethnic Northeast Indiana Congregation Action Network (NE-ICAN) into an institution that can advocate for the rights and needs of marginalized people across the region, Davis said. The Solidarity Network is a ministry of NE-ICAN.

Key issues for NE-ICAN, which is connected with the IndyCAN statewide organizing effort founded in Indianapolis, include "immigration inclusion, economic dignity and ending mass criminalization," it said on the local diocese's website, People involved in NE-ICAN also plan to hold elected officials and other leaders accountable for their actions and decisions on social justice issues.


Beginning Sunday, when a person or family faces an immigration-related arrest or detention or a similar encounter with law enforcement, they can call a 24-hour bilingual Rapid Response Line, which will be announced Sunday, to ask for help, Davis said. The closest team of volunteer, trained "moral observers" will be dispatched to wherever the arrest or detention is taking place, hopefully arriving within minutes.

Moral observers will document the situation with photos, video and through their own observations, Davis said, but they won't interfere with law enforcement officers.

A Solidarity Network team including people with legal and social-services skills also will meet with the person or family after their arrest or detention to protect their rights and to help them through the legal process, she said.

For example, the Trump administration has said it will deport only "bad" people first, Davis said. So a person who is church-going and hasn't committed any crimes or caused any problems should be able to argue that he or she shouldn't be deported now.

Through the Solidarity Network, organizers hope to get a more accurate understanding of the amount of immigration enforcement work going on in the Fort Wayne area and how officials are carrying it out, Davis said. Information gathered by moral observers “will be an entry point to develop deeper analysis and engage the affected community in being the catalyst for change," she added. 

The goal is to help marginalized communities share their stories and to take more leadership publicly in advocating for their needs and issues impacting them, Davis said.

More Information

Helping immigrants, the marginalized

WHAT: The Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will help launch the Fort Wayne Solidarity Network, which will use volunteers to ensure undocumented immigrants, minorities and others are treated properly if arrested or detained. The launch includes testimonials, statements from faith community members and a blessing and commissioning of volunteer, rapid-response moral observers.

WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: St. Joseph Catholic Church, 2213 Brooklyn Ave.


Fort Wayne Solidarity Network organizers based their program on one started in February by IndyCAN and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said Audrey Davis, social justice ministries coordinator for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Since the Trump administration took office in late January, Indianapolis officials reportedly have seen a 160 percent increase in both immigration detentions in that area and use of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainment powers to keep people in jail after they have posted bond to leave jail, Davis said.

Officials with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend began discussing plans for a local Solidarity Network in June and started training volunteer moral observers in August, Davis said.

So far, about 60 of the 100 network volunteers have been trained as moral observers, she said. She would like to have about 125 or more trained observers.

Volunteers have come from a variety of faiths, including various Christian denominations, Jewish rabbis and members of the Islamic and Buddhist faiths, she said.


If you or someone you know is more comfortable reading about the Fort Wayne Solidarity Network in Spanish, look for coverage in the local Spanish-language publication El Mexicano at