Mothers and children who fled for their lives from Central America continue to be held in U.S. detention facilities far longer than the 20 days allowed by law. Any concept of fairness in the United States of America flies out the window with such indifference toward human suffering. Twenty-two mothers detained at the Berks County Detention Center in the borough of Leesport, Md., went on a hunger strike Aug. 8 to protest this injustice. They were responding to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s remarks about families being held in detention facilities for approximately 20 days.
The families in Berks have been detained longer than any other detainees in three U.S. family detention facilities, said Ashley Feasley, director of advocacy for Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC.) She said these families are seeing firsthand the “effects of detention — the trauma to their children, depression, and uncertainty about their future in the U.S. Three of these families are coming up on a whole year in custody.” These families left their Central American homes to escape violence and persecution. El Salvador and Honduras, for example, are two of the most violent areas in the Western Hemisphere.
CLINIC has devised a clever and hopefully effective response to call attention to this long-drawn-out battle over the detention of undocumented women and children. CLINIC’s “Diapers in Detention” campaign features baby showers to be hosted at Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices across the country next week, Aug. 29-Sept. 1. These showers — complete with balloons and other decorations — are being described as peaceful demonstrations to alert the public that moms and young children are languishing in detention centers.
All are welcome to attend the baby showers, arrange a baby shower, or send a baby card to Johnson at Homeland Security. CLINIC has created a web page — cliniclegal.org/DiapersInDetention — that lists baby shower locations and provides doable ideas for the campaign, such as emailing a press statement to your local ICE office and a letter to the editor of your newspaper (don’t forget your diocesan newspaper). For those of us in Iowa, the closest ICE facility is at the Hardin County Correction Center in Eldora — between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. While CLINIC offers a ready-made press statement, your message will be more effective if you compose it yourself, based on the facts you glean from studying this issue. Good resources are available at www.justiceforimmigrants.org (a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) and at cliniclegal.org.
CLINIC also encourages social media usage to get the word out. Let your friends on Facebook, Twitter and other media platforms know that family detention must come to an end. The Diapers in Detention campaign offers compelling photos and other images to make the point. One features a baby resting her head on an adult’s shoulder. The caption reads: “She should be held … but not in detention.”
That’s a message we ought to share with members of Congress as well. The backlog at U.S. immigration courts tops half a million cases, Human Rights First reports. That leaves people in limbo for years. Families can’t start to rebuild their lives until their cases are resolved. New judges have been hired, but the number of immigration cases — particularly asylum cases — is outpacing the number of judges to hear them. “Our immigration judicial system is taxed to the limit and we need to devote resources to improving it,” Feasley said. That’s the job of Congress: to provide appropriate funding so that asylum seekers don’t languish in despair.
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, puts the immigration issue in perspective: “People do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status. No matter how they got here, we cannot lose sight of their humanity. Let us pray for all of our immigrant brothers and sisters today.”
Follow prayer with action; take a few baby steps by participating in Diapers in Detention.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor