PUYALLUP – When Mar Corpuz stepped into the parish center at All Saints Parish recently, he wasn’t expecting to be arrested by immigration officers.
“My initial reaction was borderline despair,” said Corpuz, a member of Holy Disciples Parish in Puyallup. “Although I recognize the law is the law,” he added, “I found myself wondering, ‘Where is the compassion, the mercy and understanding that our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of?’”
His “arrest” and reactions were part of an immersive performance of “The Detention Lottery,” written by Seattle immigration attorney Margaret O’Donnell, based on experiences of immigration lawyers. The performance was a collaboration of All Saints and Holy Disciples parishes in Puyallup and Our Lady of Good Counsel Mission in Eatonville.
As nearly 200 people looked on March 28, Corpuz and seven other members of the audience were chosen to be detainees by actors playing federal immigration officers. As the play progressed, each detainee went before the immigration judge to learn his or her fate.
The performance was intended to educate parishioners and others about immigration, according to Ramonda Huff, a Holy Disciples parishioner who helped organize the event.
“With the play, we’re not saying we don’t need to protect our borders. We are telling the stories,” Huff said.
Veronica Fehrenbach, All Saints’ pastoral assistant for outreach, said the play shows “that Catholics really care about these issues. It gives us an opportunity to learn more and practice our faith.”
Human dignity forgotten
Corpuz played the role of a detainee with mental illness (detainee profiles were fictionalized) who went before the judge without an attorney to help him. He said he was astonished the judge’s responses were so “cold and stark,” since she was dealing with people who don’t understand the language or the immigration system.
“The system seems to have forgotten about human dignity,” Corpuz said.
When the play ended, the performers asked audience members to shout out words that expressed how they were feeling. Responses included ashamed, sad, angry, overwhelmed.
“I felt indignant that our system doesn’t seem be welcoming of our global brothers and sisters who are fleeing for whatever reason, fear of persecution or seeking a better life,” Corpuz said. “For a nation built on God, we seem to have lost our way in the way we treat immigrants.”
Father Anh Tran, parochial vicar for All Saints and St. Martin of Tours Parish in Fife, said the play caught him off guard.
“It made me see how our immigration system is very black and white with no gray area,” Father Tran said. “That’s very different from how we practice our faith and different from how God operates.”
And he came away with a better understanding of why it’s important to vote.
“We can bring our faith into politics,” Father Tran said, “and make sure that our government upholds human dignity and treats everybody with their rights as human persons.”
After watching a performance of “The Detention Lottery” at All Saints Parish in Puyallup, audience members lift their cellphone flashlights during a moment of silence for immigrants who are being detained. Photo: Anna Peterson
‘People out there who care’
It was important to host the play, Fehrenbach said, because a lot of Catholics don’t know how to deal with the issue of immigration. It’s crucial for people to see accounts based on real life, she said, “so they can be more compassionate toward the actual people affected by the situation.”
Melissa Campos, the play’s director as well as a performer, wanted audience members to leave the evening with a sense of hope. “There are people out there who care and who are fighting to help those going through this system,” said Campos, an immigration attorney in Federal Way.
More than $950 was donated by the audience, and the parishes are considering how the money can support immigrant justice programs, including All Saints’ ministry to unaccompanied minors and the archdiocesan-wide “Walking & Witnessing for Families” pilgrimage April 29 to May 11, Fehrenbach said.
After the performance, audience members participated in a moment of silence, holding up their cellphone flashlights, remembering all those who are being detained, including those at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
“The play brings the issue of immigration one or two steps closer,” Corpuz said. “It brings it home.”
The evening, said Holy Disciples parishioner and organizer Anna Peterson, was a good reminder of how all people are part of one family.
“Ignoring the plight of others is not honoring the family of God,” she said.
• Stage your own production of the play. Download the script and other materials.