Catholic leaders call for families to be freed from US detention centres

More than 50,000 migrant men, women and children, including newborn babies are currently being incarcerated in desperately overcrowded detention centres in the USA, where they are given poor nutrition and little access to medical care. Why? Because they are waiting for their immigration applications to be processed. In an open letter, Catholic organisations from across North America are appealing for them to be allowed to live in the community until their cases are heard. They write:

Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, we, representatives of national Catholic organizations, recognize that the recent ruling by US District Court Judge Dolly M Gee to release children from family detention centres by July 17th seems to be a positive step for their health and freedom. However, as national organizations whose members accompany and advocate for immigrant families, we know firsthand that the situation is more urgent and complex than it appears.

First, children and parents currently detained are already experiencing untenable living conditions and grave medical issues, exacerbated by the traumatization of being treated like criminals. Couple that with the positive COVID-19 cases among the families and the facility employees and the situation is not just dire, it is deadly.

Second, similar rulings by the federal judge have already been made during the pandemic and yet the children have not been released. We are concerned that ICE and collaborating agencies may seek to comply with the judge's July 17th deadline by recreating a family separation policy similar to those deployed in the past. This is unacceptable.

Therefore, we, the undersigned Catholic advocates join the #FreetheFamilies Campaign in calling for immediate, and comprehensive, conclusive action.

We demand the immediate release of all children and their associated family members detained at the three detention centres named in the ruling.

We demand that the administration stop using children as bargaining chips. Parents must never be forced to make a choice between their children's health and family unity. As Pope Francis has said so clearly, "Migrants are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity."

We call for an end to the fundamental injustice of deporting and detaining children and families seeking to exercise their right to seek asylum and protection in the United States.

We know that a unified voice and action can achieve change. On July 18, 2019, more than 70 Catholic leaders joined in prayerful public witness and nonviolent civil disobedience at the US Capitol in Washington, DC to demand that our nation's leaders end child detention. This Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant and Refugee Children was followed by other acts of advocacy, public witness, and civil disobedience that brought together hundreds of people calling for the end of child detention.

On September 4 last year, Cardinal Joseph W Tobin, at a public witness convened by the Catholic advocates outside of the ICE office in Newark, New Jersey, described the detention of children in grave terms, saying, "These draconian measures are not, they are not, a solution to our broken immigration system. They are violations of human dignity and are contrary to all religious teachings and the sacred call to care for our most vulnerable populations."

This same spirit must prevail now. There is no humane way to detain children and families. We will not be silent until every family is free.

In Solidarity,

Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Franciscan Action Network
Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Pax Christi USA
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Society of the Sacred Heart, United States and Canada Province

To sign a petition supporting the #FreetheFamilies campaign, visit:

Tags: Migrants, Mexico, Family Detention, ICE, Free the Families

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