With his blonde pompadour flying in the cold January sky, activist and performance artist “Reverend Billy” Talen preached through a megaphone outside of the Varick Federal Detention Facility in New York City to more than 250 immigrants detained there. Reverend Billy and his “congregation” of activists, known as The Church of Life After Shopping, gathered on Jan. 14 to sing songs of encouragement to the detainees and to demand that the U.S. government free those that Reverend Billy believes are being held unjustly. “This is the dark side of our tradition. This is our lack of forgiveness,” Reverend Billy told Sojourners.
The Varick Federal Detention Facility has come under scrutiny since last November, when a team of volunteer lawyers found that Varick’s population includes undocumented immigrants, asylum-seekers, legal immigrants with past criminal records, and some with a possible claim to citizenship. Without legal representation, however, many detainees are unfairly held and deported. “How can a nation of immigrants and a city of immigrants treat the newest Americans in this way?” asked Reverend Billy, who hopes that immigration reform will close the Varick Federal Detention Facility for good. “We will continue to stand up for them, continue to sing and to preach as best we can for the freedom of these good people,” Reverend Billy said.