July 29, 2009 STATEMENT — Lutheran Leaders Support Critical Immigration Detention Reforms

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org

Lutheran Leaders Support Critical Immigration Detention Reforms 

Statement of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Bishops E. Roy Riley and Robert Rimbo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the Reverend E. Roy Riley, Bishop of the New Jersey Synod and the Reverend Robert Rimbo, Bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) call upon President Obama and Congress to reform the immigration detention system and uphold our nation’s most fundamental values of fairness, dignity and respect. We urge all members of Congress to support S. 1549, the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act, sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and S. 1550, the Strong STANDARDS Act (Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System), sponsored by Senators Menendez and Gillibrand. These bills that would greatly improve our detention system, establish standards governing the conditions in detention facilities, and ensure that no one is needlessly detained be they a U.S. citizen or an asylum seeker needing protections on our shores.

“Our nation’s core values are at stake. A society is measured by how it treats the most vulnerable and the stranger in our midst,” said Bishop Riley. “We must stop the devastating harm that unreasonable detention has inflicted not only on immigrants but also our communities and our nation,” he said. Last year Bishop Riley and other Lutheran leaders visited five detention facilities in New Jersey, Virginia, Michigan, Arizona, and Washington states.

In just two years, more than 14 reports by government and independent organizations have been issued citing the poor medical care, abusive treatment, lack of basic due process in detention facilities. In 2007, LIRS conducted a study of two family detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania leading LIRS to call for an end to the practice of detaining immigrant families. Today the detention of families continues. Lutheran congregants are joining community members to pray for and stand vigil for those families and others in immigration detention.

“Because of the government’s unprecedented enforcement activities in recent years, we have seen skyrocketing numbers—exceeding 400,000 annually–detained in jail-like conditions,” said LIRS President Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, Jr.  “Where is our nation going when we regularly lock up families with children, torture survivors, and pregnant or nursing mothers? Most detainees have no criminal record.  They pose no threat to society.  They should not be detained in the first place. It shocks the conscience to see them languishing in detention facilities,” he said.

“Detention is a severe and extreme measure that should be reserved for dangerous criminals or those who pose a flight risk,” said Bishop Rimbo, “Why pay a dollar when you can pay a dime? Parole, bond, and other alternatives to detention are not only more humane and effective but less costly. They should be the norm, not a jail cell.” The bills expand alternatives to detention programs and could save DHS hundreds of millions each year in detention costs. “We applaud Senators Menendez, Kennedy and Gillibrand for leading the efforts to reform this horribly broken system and urges Congress to pass these bills as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.”

If you have questions about this statement, direct them to Eric Sigmon, Director for Advocacy, 202/626-7943, esigmon@lirs.org.