Immigration and Customs Enforcement

RNS points out how ICE detainees' religious rights get shafted in prison

RNS points out how ICE detainees' religious rights get shafted in prison

Shortly after I posted a blog about Sikhs in a western Oregon jail last week, Religion News Service came out with piece about what kinds of spiritual counsel –- if any –- detainees get in America’s prisons.

The idea for the story, reporter Tom Verde said, came in September while he was watching something on TV about jailed immigrants and wondering if any of them have access to any clergy. The resulting story apparently took about six weeks of research and digging.

The short answer to his question is: Infrequently or not at all.

(RNS) — In May, Roberto Rauda, an undocumented immigrant, went to a New London, Conn., courthouse to pay a fine for carrying an open container of beer. Instead he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in a routine sweep and ended up in the Bristol County House of Corrections in North Dartmouth, Mass.

Rauda, 37, who came to New York from El Salvador as a teen and several years ago found work in construction and at a lobster processing plant in Connecticut, was released in September, after members of the New London advocacy group Unidos Sin Fronteras paid his legal fees and $3,500 bail.

Sitting in his lawyer’s living room, Rauda grimly recalled conditions at the Massachusetts facility, such as cramped and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements and inedible food.

Yet his face softened as he recounted how prayer helped him endure.

“We had a Catholic priest who came every two weeks, and we would get together in a room to pray and sing hymns,” Rauda told Religion News Service through a translator. “I was scared I wouldn’t get out, that my wife would be left alone, and I prayed to God that she would be all right,” he said.

Rauda was one of the more fortunate ones, according to Verde’s piece. Typically, there’s nothing at all.

Being that the prisons weren’t too forthcoming about this information, he had to rely on information from the International Institute of Akron, a refugee services organization, whose lawyers have access to detainees. He also got a quote from CoreCivic, a private corrections company.

CoreCivic Manager of Public Affairs Rodney E. King, in an email, said that NEOCC provides for the spiritual needs of detainees. The facility, he said, has “a full-time chaplain, as well as a part-time chaplain.”

He added that there are six active religious service volunteers who currently serve evangelical Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Sikhs for the U.S. Marshals Service and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. One of those, the Catholic volunteer, has recently been cleared by ICE to minister to detainees and approvals are pending for a Muslim and a Sikh, King wrote.

But reports from human rights organizations, immigrant advocacy groups and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general chronicle religious rights concerns at various ICE detention centers. The concerns range from prison guards mocking some faith traditions to the disruption or denial of detainees’ rights to worship.

First, getting access to a prison as a clergy volunteer can take forever.

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The second storytelling rule: Get the name of the church (click the link to learn the first)

The second storytelling rule: Get the name of the church (click the link to learn the first)

"The first storytelling rule: Get the name of the dog."

That terrific advice for journalists comes courtesy of Roy Peter Clark, the longtime writing coach best known for his work with the Poynter Institute.

The gist of Clark's idea: If the reporter remembers to ask the dog's name, then "he or she will be curious enough and attentive enough to gather all the relevant details in their epiphanic particularity."

To move that thought into the GetReligion realm, let's consider a second rule: Get the name of the church.

Adherence to that rule would have improved The Associated Press' recent coverage of an Iraqi man who helped the U.S. military but is now facing deportation:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Iraqi man who fled to the U.S. during the Gulf War and trained tens of thousands of American soldiers is facing deportation orders that could lead to his death in his homeland, his supporters say.
Kadhim Al-bumohammed, 64, decided to seek refuge Thursday inside a New Mexico church. He announced through his attorney that he would defy a federal immigration order to appear for a hearing where he was expected to be detained for deportation over a domestic-violence conviction in California.
"After consulting with his family, and with other members of the faith community, (Al-bumohammed) has chosen to seek sanctuary with the faith community," Rebecca Kitson, his lawyer, said to a cheering crowd outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Albuquerque.
Immigration officials typically don't make deportation arrests in churches and other "sensitive areas" such as schools and churches.

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This is what happens when a small-town church embraces an immigrant facing deportation

This is what happens when a small-town church embraces an immigrant facing deportation

The Los Angeles Times has a nice feature this week on a United Methodist Church in small-town Colorado embracing an immigrant facing deportation.

Overall, I really enjoyed the piece.

The writer does a terrific job of using simple language and precise details to tell a real-life story.

Let's start at the top:

MANCOS, Colo. — A small piece of paper hangs above a bed in the pastor’s office at the Mancos United Methodist Church.
It’s a sign-up sheet with the names of local residents committed to watching over Rosa Sabido, a Mexican national who has found sanctuary from deportation in the Colorado church. The residents sleep in the church office, while Sabido rests in a separate room normally used as a children’s nursery.
“We are here in case someone should show up at night or just to comfort her,” Joanie Trussel, a local resident whose name was on the list of volunteers, said recently. “We don’t want her to be alone.”
For the last 30 years, Sabido has lived in the U.S. on visitor visas or by receiving stays of deportation, but she was denied a stay in May and became eligible for immediate deportation.

She is the latest in a series of immigrants whom the government suspects of entering the country illegally or overstaying their visas to seek refuge in a church to avoid deportation. Many others have found sanctuary in big cities like Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.

Mancos, a town of about 1,300 in rural southwest Colorado, is an island of diversity in a largely Republican sea with the motto “Where the West Still Lives.” It’s an eclectic place of cattle drives, art galleries, cafes and coffee roasters.

“People think independently here,” said Silvia Fleitz, lay leader of the church. “You think they are one thing and they do something that totally surprises you.”

I'm not a big fan of the "island of diversity in a largely Republican sea" description. Showing readers — as opposed to telling them — that it's an island of diversity would be preferable. Also, if the Republican Party is going to be made a part of the story, a local party official probably deserves an opportunity to speak.

But that political detour aside, I appreciate how the Times quotes a variety of local sources and lets them explain — in their own words — their thinking on joining Sabido's cause.

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Offering sanctuary: The church/immigration story that’s not going away

Offering sanctuary: The church/immigration story that’s not going away

Back in 2007, the Bush administration wasn’t budging on immigration, so a number of churches began offering “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants whereby the immigrant’s family literally lives on church property where the police won’t touch them. It was similar to a much larger sanctuary movement in the early 1980s when Central American refugees camped out in churches across the country.

I was convinced this new sanctuary movement was going places, so talked the Washington Times (my employer at the time) into sending me and a photographer to interview immigration officials, pastors, activists and the illegal immigrants camped out in church basements in Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles and the Seattle area. The result was a four-part series that you can read about here, here, here and here. (It was quite a switch from the kind of coveragethe Times usually runs on immigration). One of my photos from a pro-sanctuary demonstration in Kansas City runs atop this story.

 So when I saw a recent story in Religion News Service about a press conference about the incoming Trump administration creating the need for sanctuary churches, I took notice.

Sanctuary is a complex topic and the villains aren’t always who you think they are. The story began:

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) -- First came the mayors of New York, Chicago and Seattle declaring their cities “sanctuaries” and saying they will protect undocumented immigrants from President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to deport them.
Then thousands of students, professors, alumni and others at elite universities including Harvard, Yale and Brown signed petitions asking their schools to protect undocumented students from any executive order.
Now, religious congregations, including churches and synagogues, are declaring themselves “sanctuaries” for immigrants fleeing deportation.

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