By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
About 10 members of Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI) filled the Davenport regional office of Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on May 15 to encourage the senator to take action on immigration reform.
“There have been a number of high profile cases in our region in which people contributing to our community — family, friends, neighbors — have been deported or detained while Congress fails to act to fix a broken system,” said Leslie Kilgannon, executive director of QCI. “Meanwhile, nearly 400,000 people are being detained (annually) in systems that are designed to punish criminals. Many of these are mothers and children. We want to raise up our voices for these families who have been separated by deportation and detention and call on Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together and not separated.”
The visit to Grassley’s office is one of four that QCI and its immigration task force will make in May and June. During their May 15 presentation group members prayed, shared immigration statistics and created a poster intended to represent families separated by detention and deportation. The group tore up photographs of QCI members’ families and attached them to poster board. These photographs were meant to symbolize families torn apart as they attempt to immigrate. “How would we feel if our families were torn apart?” Kilgannon asked. The group left the poster at the senator’s office — he was not in at the time of the presentation, as Congress is currently in session.
Margie Mejia-Caraballo, QCI Immigration Task Force chairperson, mentioned three recent cases of persons with diocesan connections impacted by deportation or detention. “This is affecting families locally. We want to bring attention to it.”
Kilgannon told The Catholic Messenger, “These were people that contributed to society. I think it’s unjust. Nationally, this continues to happen because of a lack of action (by Congress).”
Penny Vacek, Sen. Grassley’s regional director, asked questions and took notes in the senator’s absence during the five-minute presentation. She thanked the group for coming and said she would share their information and poster with the senator.
Additionally, the group provided information and statements compiled by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which has spoken out about the recent influx of family detention centers. These family detention centers came into the spotlight last year when approximately 60,000 migrant families arrived at the southwest border of the United States, many attempting to escape volatile conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The facilities are intended to ensure that non-citizens in removal proceedings appear for their hearings and, if they are removable and lack legal relief, that they will be removed. The USCCB argues that these detentions were enacted, in part, to discourage people from attempting to immigrate without documentation. Many of these facilities are prison-like and some families have been detained in them for more than a year, the USCCB said.
QCI member Nora Dvorak previously told The Catholic Messenger that language barriers and a lack of money for good, bilingual legal representation can result in refugees not receiving a fair trial, even if they have a solid case. The USCCB believes that detention should not be used as a central immigration “management” tool. Instead, the status quo should be replaced by a humane system with individualized custody hearings conducted by immigration judges or judicial officers. Individuals could be granted supervised release with case management and community-based support services in a high percentage of cases. This system would save U.S. taxpayers at least 1 billion dollars per year over the current method, the USCCB said.
In an email to The Catholic Messenger on May 18, Sen. Grassley said: “I appreciate members of Quad Cities Interfaith stopping by my Davenport office and sharing their views on immigration reform. The United States welcomes legal immigrants from around the world, but the United States is also a country that adheres to the rule of law. I agree that there’s very little argument that the immigration system is broken. In fact, I don’t know of any Senator who thinks the status quo is okay. But, we need to concentrate on getting immigration right for the future. The last time comprehensive immigration reform was signed into law, we made mistakes, and I don’t intend to make them again.”
Joe Heinrichs, a member of QCI, said, “We are asking the senator to be proactive. … We don’t expect to fix this overnight, but we do expect (legislators) to start working on it in bits and pieces.”