An Open Letter to the Mayor and Trustees of the Village of Hopkins Park, Pembroke Township, Illinois

The Catholic Diocese of Joliet, with parishes throughout Kankakee County, including Sacred Heart Parish in Hopkins Park, stands in opposition to the for-profit, private Immigration and Custom Enforcement (I.C.E.) detention center – an immigrant prison – under consideration in Pembroke Township.

As early as 2000 the U.S. Bishops expressed concerned about the rise of For-Profit Prisons. They write, “We are concerned about the rise in for-profit private prisons because previous attempts to introduce the profit motive into prisons have failed to respect the fundamental human dignity of every prisoner.”  “Prisoners are persons, with inherent God-given human dignity. When prisoners become units from which profit is derived, there is a tendency to see them as commodities rather than as children of God. Our troubled times have taught us that, once people are dehumanized, they are more liable to be exploited, abused and violated…”  “Since it appears that private prisons are not consistent with the need for our prisons to respect the human dignity of each and every person, we call for an end to all for-profit private prisons. The trend towards more and more people being held in private prisons should be reversed immediately. We call on all levels of government to refuse to sign new contracts or to renew expiring ones with private prison corporations.” 

We are opposed not only to For-Profit Prisons in general, but to this Immigrant Prison in particular. We go further and call for an end to our present system of deportation. The detention and deportation policy of I.C.E. divides families, often separating individuals from spouses and children who are U.S. citizens. The division of families through detention and deportation places more of our citizens at risk, increases the number in poverty, and even forces many children into foster care.

What we need is comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform. We call for a moratorium on detention and deportation until such policy can be developed.

Presently U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents must endure many years of separation from close family members who they want to join them in the United States. The backlogs of available visas for family members results in waits of five, ten, fifteen, and more years of waiting for a visa to become available. This system is cruel and inhumane, and only increases the numbers who live in the shadows, not wanting to endure the separation of loved ones.

We call for a reduction of the pending backlog and more visas available for family reunification purposes. Until such action can be taken, detention and deportation serve only to inflict punishment and harm on families, families who are contributing to the economic and social well being of our communities.

Pembroke Township should not participate in unjust, unproductive, economically harmful policies by allowing the building of an I.C.E. detention center.

I am sure you are aware that the Department of Justice recently determined to end all contracts with for-profit prison corporations. This impacts federal prisons, but not immigration detention centers – these fall under the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is now considering following DOJ’s lead. Clearly Pembroke Township should not enter into negotiations for a prison which most likely will have no future.

Respectfully,

Thomas L. Garlitz,
Director
Office for Human Dignity
Catholic Diocese of Joliet

 

Diapers in Detention

by Edith Avila Olea

“Will you hear my cry?”

Over the past few months, we have heard every argument for and against the refuge and immigrant crisis the U.S. and the world is facing. I don’t know about you, but the crisis is so overwhelming, I can’t help but to feel useless. I often ask, “What can I do to help? How?” I haven’t found a satisfying answer yet, but here is where I stand with this one issue: family detention centers.

Allow me to clarify a few things. A family detention center is slightly different than your average ICE detention center. Why? They are centers designated for holding immigrant families while their case is pending. Mothers and fathers with their children, sometimes even infants. The thought of having babies in detention centers is frightening and simply despicable, and certainly, not the way Christ desires it.

Some argue that it’s humane because the mothers get to stay with their children. Others argue it’s inhumane because despite the families staying together, it’s pretty similar to prison. The cells have four, white walls with simple bunk beds. Families get fed simple meals and many do not know when they will be let go. Many of them have no access to lawyers and few of them even speak the English language. The families get offered minimal hygiene, minimal healthcare, minimal communication with their families, if any, and no entertainment.

Did you get a glimpse of prison or a family detention center? Perhaps it’s even worse in detention centers because the level of stress and uncertainty is at its greatest. At least in prison you know your sentence and why you are in there. We all know that uncertainty can cause a great levels of stress which can affect health issues no matter who you are or where you’re coming from.

Let’s talk about the families’ journey getting here. Many mothers are fleeing violence and starvation from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Risking their own lives and children’s lives, they’ve made the journey across four of five borders. The amount of trauma that people may experience crossing borders is inconceivable unless you’ve crossed yourself. People cross because all they have left is hope.

“He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’” Matthew 25: 45

My brothers and sisters crossing the borders are resilient. It is humbling to be able to stand with them and learn from them. However, as we have seen in this election, others have different opinions.

In America, land of the free, the system has adopted a culture of immigrant oppression. In America, land of the immigrant, the system has adopted a culture of stripping the oppressed of their inherent dignity. In America, land of opportunity, the system has forgotten (or may have never known) that we belong to each other.

But people do not know this when they are crossing the borders. And even with such injustices, the decreasing chance that they might make it out here in a foreign land is still greater than the oppression and hopelessness they leave behind in their homelands. The agony of realizing that you are not loved, not welcomed and, in fact, hated by some is the worst way to begin your fresh start.

I have to ask myself, why are so many Christians turning away the stranger? Why would people rather look the other way? Since when is it okay to put politics over people? I can’t help but to feel sorrow. I find myself in complete disgust of the wickedness of the human heart. It is my understanding that our only mission on this Earth is to love like Christ loved us.

Being an immigrant myself, and living through the horrors of a broken system, I can’t help but to be thankful for at least beginning to make it in this country. Where is the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for them?

I often find myself repeating the Pope’s words to the inmates in Michoacán, MX. “Brothers and sisters, I always ask myself on entering a prison: ‘Why them and not me?’ This is a mystery of divine mercy; and that divine mercy we are celebrating today, all of us looking ahead with hope.”

I find hope in the cross. I have great hope in God’s people because I’ve experienced the love of Christ in my own life. I must continue to give what I’ve been given.

In my young life I’ve learned that being silent can support injustice. Justice most often doesn’t happen without people crying out. Can you hear their cry? Can you hear my cry? I implore you, join me is saying no more #DiapersinDetention #notonemore #niunomas!