August 8, 2009 NEWS RELEASE — Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Hopeful That Detention Reform Will Continue

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

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Hopeful That Detention Reform Will Continue

BALTIMORE, August 10, 2009—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) commends the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for recently announced changes to the immigration detention system and remains hopeful that extensive reform will continue.

“Our nation must commit to a major shift in its view of immigrants who seek freedom, protection and opportunity on America’s shores. 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,’” stated LIRS Executive Vice President Anne P. Wilson.

LIRS has long championed the rights and fair treatment of immigrants caught up in the U.S. immigration system. In “Locking Up Family Values,” a joint February 2007 report that highlighted the imprisonment of immigrant families, LIRS offered several recommendations that included discontinuing the practice of detaining families in prison-like institutions. We continue to work toward broad immigration and detention reforms that unite families and protect human rights.

Lutherans across the country are engaged on the issue of immigration detention and strive to make America a more welcoming place for newcomers.

The Rev. Maristela Freiberg from St. Stephan’s Grace Community in Newark, N.J., gathers monthly with other Lutherans for prayer vigils outside the Elizabeth Detention Center where many immigrants are held. She shared, “We pray for the detained, for those who work on their behalf, for those who work in the detention center and for our lawmakers, because we know that our broken immigration system needs to change.”

“This kind of warehouse is no place to hold people, especially those fleeing life threatening situations, as is the case for most asylum seekers,” Freiberg lamented. “No one has any doubt that God wants this situation to change so that people who come to this country seeking our protection are treated with dignity and respect and have the chance to live in freedom.”

Mark Junkans, executive director of Lutheran Inter-City Network Coalition in Houston witnessed our broken immigration system firsthand when the wife of a Lutheran missionary pastor was detained for weeks as she attempted to reunite with her husband.

“Individuals seeking asylum in the United States have faced challenges far beyond what we can imagine,” Junkans explained. “Our country should not inflict further trauma to asylum seekers by holding men, women and children as criminals for indefinite periods of time. The return to a humane and just detention system is long overdue.”

While several major issues with the current immigration detention system have been addressed by these first steps, there is still a long way to go in reaching reform that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of vulnerable immigrants.

LIRS applauds the current administration for recognizing that a penal detention model is an excessive response to civil immigration violations. LIRS advocates for critical immigration and detention reforms that ensure that immigrants will not be detained without a fair court hearing, allow detention only as a last resort for those who pose a threat to the community, broaden alternatives to detention programs for immigrants awaiting rulings on their cases, and abolish the practice of family detention.

Wilson continued, “We look forward to working with the administration and Congress to create an immigration system that truly upholds America’s values.”

Since 1939 LIRS has created welcoming communities for America’s newcomers. It is one of the nation’s leading agencies serving refugees and immigrants. The organization resettles refugees, protects migrant children, advocates for just treatment of asylum seekers, seeks alternatives to immigration detention and stands for unity for families fractured by unfair laws. To learn more about LIRS’s work of welcome, please visit lirs.org.