Some activists will kick off Holy Week in Gainesville by calling attention to immigration reform.
A 50-mile "interfaith pilgrimage" for immigrants will begin in Gainesville on Sunday afternoon with participants walking and praying on the sidewalks to show solidarity with the local immigrant populations.
The trek will continue through Friday as supporters walk and pray through cities and counties in the region where immigrants suffer, lead organizer P.J. Edwards said.
Organizers chose Gainesville as the starting point for the pilgrimage because of the planned opening of the North Georgia Detention Facility, a privately-run detention center in downtown Gainesville that will house illegal immigrants, Edwards said.
The pilgrimage will also pass through areas of Gwinnett County where law enforcement officials are trying to start a 287(g) program with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The program, installed in Hall County last year, allows local law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of arrestees and process those in the country illegally for deportation.
Organizers say they hope to show people how to view the polarizing issue of immigration through a religious lens and appeal to most faiths’ belief that all people are entitled to a sense of dignity and equality no matter their country of origin.
"It’s just a prayerful walk, hoping that we can bring people together ... and be less polarized about it," Edwards said. "The starting point is our faith. Most religions believe in the dignity of an individual."
Organizers also are calling for the end of law enforcement raids that separate families, asking for humane immigration reform and the revision of trade policies that increase unauthorized immigration, according from a news release from the sponsors of the pilgrimage.
Among the sponsors of the pilgrimage are St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Justice for Immigrants campaign.
Noey Guajardo, a Gainesville organizer of the event, said the effect of deportation has broken homes in Hall County. It is "hurting everybody," he said.
"It’s just very unhuman," Guajardo said. "It’s very unfair."
Guajardo, who owns a photography studio on Atlanta Highway, said the changes in law enforcement tactics since Hall County started its 287(g) program are such that Latino immigrants are afraid, and many are leaving.
As a result, Guajardo said he has considered closing his business.
"It’s just a lot of Latinos are leaving," Guajardo said. "They’re scared to walk. They’re scared to go to the store. We shouldn’t be walking in fear."
The Gainesville portion of the trek will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday and include a six-mile route from the Georgia Mountains Center to Plaza del Toro on Atlanta Highway.
"We just want to say ‘You know what? We’re here; we can act; we can unify; we can actually do something together,’" Guajardo said.