Faith Leaders Call for Reform of Immigrant Detention System and Protect Human Rights

Priests, pastors, rabbis, lawyers, advocates and community members gathered on Monday, Dec. 12 to call for an end to unjust conditions and the expansion of the inhumane system of immigration detention in a press conference at the Chicago Temple.

A new report on the state of immigration detention in the Midwest was released by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human RightsJCUA, as part of the Interfaith Committee on Detained Immigrants, called for an end to the human rights abuses that occur in Illinois and beyond.

JCUA leaders Rabbi Maralee Gordon, Sidney Hollander, and Rabbi Larry Edwards were among the  speakers at the press conference.

Click here for the report Not Too Late for Reform.

Media Coverage:

Rabbi Maralee Gordon who visits with detained immigrants to administer pastoral care recounted the travesties they have witnessed behind the bars of the Illinois jails.

Here’s her statement:

Rabbi Maralee Gordon

Leviticus chapter 19:

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your God.

Last Friday was International Human Rights Day, and in the Jewish community we observed Human Rights Shabbat over the weekend.

The Hebrew term K’vod Habriot means the dignityof human beings, all human beings, as we are taught in the first chapter of the Bible that human beings are created in God’s image. Thus every time we look into another person’s eyes we owe them honor and respect. The teaching “Love the stranger as yourself” reminds us that we owe that honor and respect to those who are not like us to the same degree as those we recognize as family or members of our tribe.

In Jewish liturgy, ritual and teachings we continually bring forward the experience of our oppressed ancestors, slaves in Egypt, as motivation for gratitude for being free and the obligation first to treat immigrants in the same manner as citizens, and second to combat oppression whenever and wherever we encounter it.

That honor and respect includes the right to earn a living, the right to not be separated from family, the right to due process, rights I see have been violated when every Tuesday, along with a dozen of the 50 or so rotating members of our immigrant detainee jail ministry, I meet with immigrant detainees housed in the McHenry County Jail, a mile from my home in Woodstock.

Over the two and a half years I have been involved in this ministry I have witnessed growing cooperation and increased flexibility between jail officials and personnel and members of our ministry. This is one of the “good “places to be incarcerated, admittedly an oxymoron.  At the same time, immigrant detainees seem to be incarcerated for months longer than they used to be due to terrible backlogs in the so-called justice system. As consequence, we’ve gotten to know some detainees quite well.

In August, Seleman traveled here from an African nation to go to school at Valparaiso.  When he arrived at O’Hare, he was informed that his visa had been cancelled, and he was brought to the jail. No effort was made by ICE to contact school officials who were expecting him and who could have helped him through the bureaucracy—perhaps.  Now that he has recently been released, he is not allowed to leave Illinois, and is thus unable to begin his studies.

Last Tuesday I met with Rashid, 18 years of age, who came here when he was nine years old with his family from Jamaica. The rest of his family has citizenship or permanent resident cards, but as the youngest, his status got overlooked. He graduated from high school in Brooklyn last spring, applied for a green card and was accepted into Cuyahoga Community College for this past fall semester.  When a neighbor accused him of a burglary, a charge of which he has since been cleared, Immigration detained him, not in New York where family members could visit him, but in the McHenry County Jail.

I can’t begin to count  the number of Mexican men, now in their late 20s or 30s, who came here with their parents when they were three or four years old, now have families of their own, whom they miss terribly, for whom they were the sole breadwinner, and some by dint of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some by dint of doing the wrong thing at any time, are up for deportation to a place they do not recall in any way.

The number one cause of anguish I hear over and over from the men I meet with is separation from their children. These children are American citizens who will not be going with them if they are deported. They miss them terribly right now, and face the prospect of being separated from them for decades. Number two on the anguish list is sitting around idly–wanting to go back to being productive, working, earning a living, as they were doing prior to incarceration.

As good a place to be detained as is McHenry County Jail, it is a county jail, meant for temporary incarceration. There are no outdoor facilities, no chance for face-to-face visits with loved ones—which anyway wouldn’t help those Immigration has placed there from Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, and yes, New York.

When all is said and done, this begs the question. What are these human beings doing in jail?! Let them be with their families, productively employed or in school, while they engage in the process of obtaining official resident status or leaving the country in dignified, respectful manner, with the chance to make plans and say goodbyes.


Maralee Gordon is rabbi of the McHenry County Jewish Congregation

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One Response to Faith Leaders Call for Reform of Immigrant Detention System and Protect Human Rights

  1. […] knowledge, skills and leadership, the campaign to stop CCA gained steam. In December 2011 there was a press conference. This was followed by protest at the Crete Village Board meetings in early and late January, along […]

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