By Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, Archdiocese of San Antonio
The cry to end the imprisonment of refugee children and their young mothers in detention centers is written on the heart and soul of the Catholic Church and the Gospel. “Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” I ask you, my sisters and brothers in Christ, to join me in prayerful thanksgiving for the ruling of Federal Judge Dolly M. Gee. Her decision declared that the detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City are committing serious violations of the 1997 Flores-Reno ruling that prohibited children from being held in prison-like facilities, surrounded by walls and fences that send a message to the world that these little ones are criminals, not victims seeking safety.
I welcome this decision and pray that by the time you read this, the United States Government will have already begun an orderly and compassionate process to release all of the children and their mothers from this deplorable situation. I pray that the government will not appeal Judge Gee’s ruling and not delay restoring dignity and hope to the lives of these families. I echo the response to the ruling by Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration who said, “Hopefully, the court’s decision will end the suffering and further traumatization of these families…The detention of families is unnecessary, inhumane, and unworthy of our nation.”
Judge Glee’s decision, points to another source of shame as the New York Times reported, the judge “… found that migrant children had been held in ‘widespread deplorable conditions’ in Border Patrol stations after they were first caught, and she said the authorities had ‘wholly failed’ to provide the ‘safe and sanitary’ conditions required for children even in temporary cells.” It saddens my heart to imagine this emotional suffering has been imposed on children at a most vulnerable time of their lives.
Reports from a number of legal organizations that serve the detained families indicate some of the women suffer from, “Coercive tactics ICE officials use to persuade women to accept ankle monitors,” denying them access to legal counsel and not releasing them on bond granted by a judge. They also have told us of families who have been given documentation that contains vital information on the terms of their release, written only in English. Unfortunately, many of these families only speak and read Spanish, therefore, it seems to me that they have been set up for failure, in what could be interpreted as a cynical attempt to further their self-serving cause of continued detention.
I have seen the sadness and confusion in the eyes of the children. They seek to understand why their cry for help has been met with incarceration. They look to their mothers for comfort, but they too are overwhelmed by the uncertainty, anxiety, and helplessness that comes with captivity. We must continue to be a voice for the voiceless and be a sign of God’s mercy and love behind these prison walls.
I recognize that, for some, growing to understand the moral principles at the foundation of comprehensive immigration reform are challenging to understand. However, I hope when mothers are seeking safety and justice for their families, we can agree that putting them and their children in prison is not the answer. Let us work together toward compassionate solutions. Certainly, we are a nation of laws, and we, I’m sure affirm, that our nation has a right to defend and protect its borders. However, our nation also has a moral obligation to create laws that are fair, that respect the dignity of every human person, creating a system that ensures due process. Judge Gee’s decision opens the door to righteous solutions to this appalling and misguided policy.
Pope Francis, in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, called for a “conversion of attitudes,” writing: “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization — all typical of a throwaway culture — towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”