Community members to gather on the Ped Mall in support of detained pastor

Iowa City's Ped Mall
The Ped Mall march begins today at 4:30 p.m. outside of the Iowa City Public Library. — photo by Randy Stern via Flickr Creative Commons

Community members and youth leaders will gather on the Ped Mall today at 4:30 p.m. in response to the recent detainment of several area residents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including that of Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro — a community leader whose March 3 arrest has garnered national attention.

Villatoro, having faced two criminal charges in the late ’90s, was one of more than 2,000 immigrants arrested by ICE as part of “Operation Cross Check,” a five-day sweep targeting “convicted criminal aliens.”

A father of four, Villatoro now faces deportation to Honduras — the country he left 20 years ago. The arrest has led to an outpouring of support from friends, family, community members and immigration advocates alike. A petition to stop Villatoro’s detainment and reunite the pastor with his family has received more than 22,000 signatures.

Today, community members and youth leaders, including Villatoro’s son, Anthony, will march on the Ped Mall to speak out about the flaws within the U.S. immigration system, highlighting how sweeps like “Operation Crosscheck” break apart families and cause community strife.

The march is sponsored by the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, the First Mennonite Church of Iowa City and the Iglesia Torre Fuerte (Villatoro’s church).

Organizers are encouraging supporters to wear white t-shirts “in solidarity with the Villatoro family and other affected families.”

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