Grant that migrants in search of a dignified life may find acceptance and assistance. - Pope Francis
[A Honduran gang] said they would take my daughter away from me and kill her. That’s why I took the decision to come here. But I didn’t know that I would be locked up for so long... Why don’t they let us out? - Celina Gutiérrez, a mother detained in Dilley, Texas told the Huffington Post.
The Bible instruct us to welcome the stranger and recognize every human beings inherent dignity. Placing non-criminal mothers and children in detention is not in line with that principle. It is particularly inhumane to detain children and families who have come to our borders seeking safety. Even in the limited instances where a minimal period of detention might be justified to ensure attendance at an immigration hearing or protect public safety, private companies should never profit from detaining people. The Catholic perspective on immigration detention is outlined in a March report by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Center for Migration Studies called Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System. This comprehensive report describes the immigration detention system in this country and calls for extensive reforms. Following some basic information below, are suggestions of steps you can take locally to end immigration detention and uphold the dignity and humanity of immigrants in our communities.
Violations of our immigration laws are civil infractions not crimes. Therefore, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only detains non-citizens for civil immigration violations. Each day, ICE holds an average of 33,330 immigrants whom it is seeking to remove from the U.S. Most immigrants who are being detained have no criminal convictions or only minor, non-violent convictions. In 2014, for example, 44% of all immigrants removed by ICE had no criminal convictions whatsoever.
According to the ICE Detention Facility Locator, ICE operates 82 detention facilities; however ICE disclosed in 2011 that it houses detainees in more than 375 facilities. ICE generally utilizes four types of facilities to detain immigrants: ICE-owned and operated facilities (also called service processing centers), contract detention facilities (primarily operated by private companies), local and state facilities housing criminal inmates from whom ICE rents bed space under an intergovernmental service agreement (IGSA), and Bureau of Prisons facilities.
Private prison corporations currently operate nine of ICE’s ten largest detention facilities. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, Inc. (GEO) are the country’s two largest for-profit private detention corporations, but Ahtna Technical Services, Inc. (ATSI), Management & Training Corp. (MTC), and Emerald Companies also operate a number of ICE detention facilities.
ICE detention facilities cost American tax payers over $1.8 billion a year with average bed rates of $119 a day to detain immigrants for civil infractions. The U.S. Government Accountability Office suggests these costs could be even higher because ICE does not maintain data on all expenditures such as medical and transportation costs.
ICE has the resources to implement more cost-effective and humane alternatives to immigration detention through its Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, which includes GPS monitoring by ankle bracelets or other electronic devices, in-person and telephonic reporting, and community-based, case-management programs. However, Congress mandates that ICE maintain a 34,000 immigration detention bed quota that takes resources away from ATD.
Among immigrants being detained are vulnerable individuals including asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, people who serious illness or disabilities, nursing or pregnant women, and, perhaps most troubling, children with their mothers. Studies have shown that placing people fleeing violence in detention aggravates post-traumatic stress disorder. Detention has particularly detrimental effects on children. According to USCCB, “[f]amily detention goes against the tenets of Catholic social teaching. Detaining young migrant women and their children as a response to their flight from persecution violates human dignity and human rights.” And yet, ICE currently has three detention facilities designated for holding families. Private corporations run two of these facilities for a profit – the CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas and the GEO-run Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas. The County of Berks runs the third facility, the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.
Here are 5 ways you can get involved to help end immigration detention.
1. Ask your U.S. House of Representative to write a letter expressing their concern about ICE’s detention of families. Encourage your own representatives in Congress to speak out against immigration detention, especially if your representatives serve on one of the committees listed below:
- Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, whose duty is to oversee Homeland Security.
- There are 15 states with Senators on this committee: Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin (both Senators are on the committee), and Wyoming.
- House of Representatives Committee for Homeland Security, whose duty is also to oversee Homeland Security.
- There are 16 states with representatives on this committee: Alabama (3rd District), Arizona (2nd District), California (35th & 46th Districts), Florida (19th District), Georgia (1st & 11th Districts), Louisiana (2nd District), Massachusetts (9th District), Michigan (10th District), Mississippi (2nd District), New Jersey (10th & 12th Districts), New York (2nd, 4th, 11th, 24th, & 26th Districts), N. Carolina (6th District), Pennsylvania (4th, 10th, & 11th Districts), Rhode Island (2nd District), S. Carolina (3rd District), and Texas (4th, 10th, 18th, 21st, 23rd & 34th Districts).
- House of Representatives Committee on Oversight & Government Reform - National Security Subcommittee, whose duty includes overseeing Homeland Security as the Department’s work as it relates to National Security.
- 10 districts are represented in the National Security Sub-Committee: California (33rd District), Florida (6th, 7th District), Georgia (10th Districts), Illinois (2nd District), Massachusetts (8th District), Michigan (14th District), Oklahoma (5th District), Tennessee (2nd District), and Texas (23rd District).
- House of Representative Committee on Appropriations – Homeland Security Subcommittee, whose duty is to set Homeland Security’s budget.
- 11 districts have representatives in this committee: California (40th District), Iowa (3rd District), Maryland (1st District), New Jersey (11th District), N. Carolina (4th District), Ohio (9th District), Tennessee (3rd District), Texas (7th, 28th, & 31st Districts), and Utah (2nd District).
2. Ask your Bishop to make a statement, publish an op-ed, or hold a press conference addressing the injustice of immigration detention. Consider reaching out through the Catholic Conference in your state or use the Diocesan Locator to encourage your Bishop to continue his activism or join in.
3. Let your local government know you do not support the for-profit detention of immigrants in your community. Contact your mayor and your representative in the state legislature and let them know you do not want privatized detention centers in your community. Although state legislation cannot prevent federal prisons from entering the state completely, state legislation can keep local governments from partnering with private prison companies to detain federal prisoners. For example, Illinois enacted the Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act that has already greatly limited the presence of private prisons in Illinois.
4. Send letters to detained immigrants. Morale is low, especially in the family detention facilities. A friendly letter can bring hope to someone in detention who might feel hopeless. The former chaplain in the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX wrote a powerful article providing a firsthand account of the conditions families face there.
5. Consider volunteering with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Representation and Advocacy Project at the family detention centers in Texas. Volunteers who speak Spanish are especially needed.
As always, please let CLINIC know what resources and information we can provide to support your advocacy.