By Scott Forstner

For a second time in recent months, a herd of demonstrators stood in protest outside the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Morgan Hill.

In the early afternoon April 13, about a dozen clergy members from different faiths and institutions throughout South County performed a Holy Thursday ritual of the washing of the feet in a show of solidarity.

Father John Pedigo, the Director of Office for Peace and Justice with the Diocese of San Jose, and Nancy Palmer-Jones of the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, addressed the more than 50 demonstrators, including a dozen who volunteered to participate in the cleansing ritual.

“All people are to be treated or honored and nobody is to be turned away,” said Pedigo in relating the foot-washing ritual’s significance to the current state of immigration policy under the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

“We all believe all those here are valued members of our community,” added Palmer Jones as she addressed the crowd that gathered in an open field just steps away from the ICE office located on Vineyard Court, just down the street from the Morgan Hill Police station. “We choose to wash feet because we choose love.”

Trump’s views and policies on immigration have increasingly been under fire by large swaths of voters, organizations and the courts since he started campaigning for the office of President. Shortly after entering office in January, he signed executive orders mandating construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and severely limiting travel for foreign-born residents from a list of seven predominantly Muslim countries. The latter of these has been delayed by the courts.

Union President Gemma Abels, of the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, was also among the April 13 organizers that included Services, Immigration Rights and Education Network (SIREN), Community Agency for Resources and Advocacy Services (CARAS) and People Acting in Community Together (PACT).

“Our teachers are in their classrooms with students right now, but they are deeply concerned about the fears that their families face over their immigration status,” said Abels, who added that these same local residents are scared about having an ICE detention center opened in “our small community.”

This is the second of three scheduled protests against ICE. The first took place Feb. 20 with about 100 demonstrators holding signs and repeating chants against the enforcement agency. On Thursday, many held signs that read “Family First” and the same motto in Spanish.

A third demonstration, organized by students at nearby Gavilan College, is planned for May 1, also known as May Day, where demonstrators will march from Galvan Park to the ICE office, according to Raymundo Armendariz, a CARAS organizer.

ICE moved its regional office from San Jose to Morgan Hill in September 2016 when the agency's lease ran out at its former location. The local office is an Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) sub-office.

The federal agency has requested a permit from the city building department to add an unspecified number of "holding rooms" at the Vineyard Court location. However, city staff have said such an addition violates the city's zoning ordinance which prohibits detention facilities in Morgan Hill.

The City of Morgan Hill’s city council and Morgan Hill Unified School District’s board of education have both passed proclamations vowing to not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Scott Forstner is a general assignment reporter who covers education and other community issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 963-0122 or via email at