Episcopal Church joins immigration-reform push

Presiding bishop supports Ash Wednesday vigils, US Senate hears church’s stand

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined people from New Jersey and New York representing faith-based, community and immigrant rights groups on Ash Wednesday morning to begin a whole day of actions aimed at repenting the sin of immigration detention.

“When the status of immigrants is questioned, our government frequently holds them essentially incommunicado and/or moves them far away from any family and local support they might have locally,” the presiding bishop said during the vigil. “Citizens of these United States share some responsibility for those undignified and unjust practices, and our prayer today must be that hearts and minds are opened to the need for justice.

Also on Ash Wednesday, representatives of the Episcopal Church submitted written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont, for a Feb. 13 hearing on immigration reform.

“The fundamental principles of legal due process should be granted to all persons and all immigration enforcement policies should be proportional and humane, which is why the Episcopal Church has called for the immediate termination of destructive enforcement programs like Secure Communities … and the implementation of community alternatives to the costly prison-like immigration detention system,” Office of Government Relations Director Alexander Baumgarten and Katie Conway, immigration and refugee policy analyst, said in their testimony.

“Our immigration system must be transformed into a just and humane system that discerns between those who enter illegally to do us harm and those who enter because our system cannot provide them with a clear and timely path to family reunification or legal employment,” they added.

For the fourth year in a row, the morning interfaith vigil took place in Liberty State Park in Jersey City in front of the bridge to Ellis Island and in sight of the Statue of Liberty. It included members from IRATE & First Friends, Pax Christi NJ, Wind of the Spirit, American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program-Newark and NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees as well as recently released detainees and friends and family members of current detainees, according to a press release.

The day’s actions were a series of vigils titled “No More Silence! Awake to Justice!” meant to repent the sin of immigration detention “and the silence from the community that allows the deaths of people in detention to go unrecognized and makes it acceptable to profit from the separation of families and the exploitation of the thousands of immigrants in detention in conditions that place them at risk of psychological and physical harm,” the release said.

Jefferts Schori was joined by Roman Catholic Diocese of Newark Auxiliary Bishop Thomas A. Donato as well as Jewish and Muslim clergy.

The other New Jersey vigils were in Hackensack on the town green outside the Bergen County Court House, in Newark at the Hall of Records and later at Delaney Hall in the Essex County Jail complex, South Kearney on the street outside the Hudson County Correctional Center and at the detention center in Elizabeth.

The day was due to culminate with the annual vigil at the Elizabeth Detention Center, the for-profit facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) where the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency first started incarcerating immigrants almost two decades ago, the release said. This will be the 17th year that a vigil has been held in Elizabeth.

“We come to lament the injustice done to our brothers and sisters who are being harshly punished and to cry out to God,” Gene Squeo, a member of the board of Pax Christi NJ, said in the release, explaining why it was appropriate and important to gather on Ash Wednesday. “We know that God hears the cry of the poor, but we also know that detainees in New Jersey continue to cry out and our county governments profit from their pain but our community has yet to hear them.”

Local governments often earn income by housing federal detainees in their facilities.

Lorna Henkel, president of the IRATE & First Friends board of trustees said, “even though politicians in Washington seem committed to comprehensive immigration reform we see no signs that the federal government will reduce its reliance on a ballooning, financially wasteful and inhumane system, and there is no incentive for local governments in New Jersey to put the well being of immigrants in detention and their families above the revenues that it generates.”

Organizers said it the release that the history of immigration detention in New Jersey which includes “shocking deaths, a culture of secrecy there are no enforceable standards of care and no real oversight.”

“Families are separated, people are abused and sometimes they even die in detention,” said Diana Mejia, co-founder of Wind of the Spirit. “We feel morally obligated to speak out and if we cannot abolish mass immigration detention we must establish a way for members of the community to monitor conditions and end the silence and the secrecy.”

Other co-sponsors of the vigils were Casa Esperanza, Felician Sisters of North America; Office of Peace, Justice and Ecological Integrity for the Sisters of Charity of New Jersey; St. Joseph’s Social Service Center; Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, CEUS; NJ DREAM Act Coalition; Anakbayan-USA; St. Peter’s University Social Justice Program; Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast; Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill and Monmouth County Coalition of Immigrant Rights.

Comments

  1. Theron Patrick says:

    I don’t understand the issue here. The people that ICE is picking up are ones that are not only illegal immigrants but have been convicted of another crime in a U.S. Court. What is wrong with that?

    • Shane Patrick Connolly says:

      Amen, Theron! They need not repent on my behalf for holding criminals incommunicado pending verification of their legal status.

    • Dorothy Harrelson says:

      Mr. Patrick,
      You are simply mistaken. While it’s true that the government indicated some time ago that they would concentrate their efforts on immigrants who had committed serious crimes, unfortunately they’ve not stopped detaining persons who do not fit in that category. One way they have done this is to charge them with “enhanced” crimes, so if they’re here without documentation and they commit a simple civil offense, such as a traffic violation, they are then treated like criminals. Even if this were not still going on, there are many, many individuals who are still in detention from before that announcement was made. Remember, these for-profit corporations that are running these detention centers are in business to make money – lots of it! The more detainees they can jam into their facilities and retain, the more money they make. And who’s paying for all this? We, the taxpayers, of course. So, instead of allowing people to continue to support their families, care for their children and elderly family members, and participate in the life of their communities, they are removed from the midst of all that, often detained for interminable lengths of time, and then shipped “back” often to a country they haven’t even seen since they were children. Sometimes, they don’t even know the language of that country.

      Please become better educated about the facts so that you can avoid making such inflammatory and insensitive comments. We very much need the compassionate witness of Bishop Katherine and other faith leaders at this juncture when the President is trying to get the Congress to take meaningful, humane action on the plight of our undocumented brothers and sisters, as well as for those who are still stuck on the other side of the border and wish to be reunited with family members in the USA. As one who has a family member in the latter situation, I can tell you that the total failure of our government over these past 25 or so years to deal effectively with the immigration situation is the cause of great pain, suffering , and unwarrantable expense to our family. Multiply that by 11 million families and what do you get?

      I hope that you will reconsider your attitudes on this subject and try to do something positive that would help to alleviate the suffering, rather than to escalate it further. At the very least, try to do no further harm to people who have endured so much pain already. Thank you!

  2. Immigration reform needs to begin with visa categories opened up and family not waiting 10-15 years for family to come to the United States. This process is done legally but like a snail! We all have ancestors who came here for a better life. What a wonderful statement to make – I WANT A BETTER LIFE FOR MY FAMILY! AMEN.

  3. Ruppert Baird says:

    Dorothy, “if they’re here without documentation” they have committed a crime. By definition, committing a crime means you are a criminal. Criminals commit crimes generally because it is easier than doing those things legally. People steal because they find it easier than getting a job, paying taxes, etc. There are MILLIONS in America who have dealt with the aggravation, time, and finacial requirements to come here legally. Those who refuse to do these things, who refuse to LEGALLY immigrate, should be treated as criminals because they are.

  4. Theron Patrick says:

    Ms Harrelson
    I am not trying to escalate anything I asked a question.

    In your comment you stated a number of things as though they were fact. I don’t think you are correct. A few points:
    • There are a number of traffic violations that are serious crimes. The first that comes to mind is DUI. In Virginia, my home, it is a crime where jail time can be assessed and is in fact required even on the first offence under certain circumstances.
    • The “for profit” companies who run the detention centers have no control over who is incarcerated or released.
    • Concerning “those who are still stuck on the other side of the border and wish to be reunited with family members in the USA” the family members in the USA can reunite with them by returning to their country.
    • I would point out that not all illegal immigrants are innocents.
    o Nineteen of them hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and were stopped from crashing into the capitol only by the courage of the passengers of United 93
    o Many others have been convicted of major crimes and/or having ties to violent gangs. Again, in Virginia, a significant percentage of the “gang bangers” arrested are illegals. (The sources vary all over the place but my sense from reading several sources is somewhere around 30%.)

    I am well informed on the issue not only from research but from personal experience. With all that negative stuff (from your view) said let me repeat what I have said in other posts. It is about time that our elected officials do their job and straiten this mess out. I do not know the answer and I suspect that the next immigration system will be created in many small steps. What has stopped many of the possible steps has been one of the various “interested parties” inserting a demand for a particular action that is unacceptable for the others. This “do it my way or take the highway” attitude gets us nowhere.

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