Possible reform of US immigration system hailed by church critics

Published August 13, 2009

Those involved with church-based efforts to change the detention system for US immigrants, who have often railed against the scheme, say they are encouraged by reforms sought by the administration of President Barack Obama. In a statement issued Aug. 10 following an announcement of plans to change the system, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, based in Baltimore, Maryland, said it “applauds the current administration for recognising that a penal detention model is an excessive response to civil immigration violations.”That was a reference to the fact that those facing civil (non-criminal) immigration violations, believed to be about 400,000 each year, are held in local jails or for-profit “lock-up” institutions that detractors say are overcrowded and inhumane.Earlier in August, John Morton, head of the immigration and customs enforcement for the US government, said the Obama administration wanted to develop a more humane way of detaining those facing civil immigration violation charges.The New York Times reported that potential changes include medical care for detainees, random inspections at detention centres, a stronger role for immigrant advocates at the centres, and working to end a policy of detaining entire families.”Our nation must commit to a major shift in its view of immigrants who seek freedom, protection and opportunity on America’s shores,” said Anne P. Wilson, a vice president of the Lutheran immigration group, which helps settle refugees in the United States.”It is time to recognize that indefinitely imprisoning families and those fleeing persecution – who have committed no crime in seeking this protection – is fundamentally anti-American and goes against our core values of ‘liberty and justice for all’,” she stated.In an Aug. 7 editorial, the New York Times called the proposed changes, “good news, considering how bad the system has gotten, having grown quickly and without oversight into a sprawling network of ill-managed prisons rife with reports of abuse, injury and preventable death.”In June, a coalition calling itself Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, called for “compassionate reform” of the overall system. It urged President Obama “to provide leadership by fostering civil dialogue on immigration that reflects the best of our nation’s civic and moral values.”Groups supporting the coalition include the Christian Church (Disciples); the Episcopal (Anglican) Church; the National Council of Churches; Evangelicals for Social Action; the United Church of Christ; and several Roman Catholic, Mennonite and Quaker groups.


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