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Detaining the Most Vulnerable (via @UndocumentedTV & @LIRSorg)

August 11, 2011

Reposted from Undocumented TV blog. Written by Anna Campbell

Esther escaped El Salvador after members of a political group threatened to kill her. She was beaten, abused and scared for her life and her children’s safety. If she did not leave the country, she knew that she would be at risk. When Esther arrived to the United States, she did not know anything about U.S. immigration laws and did not tell federal officials that she feared for her life in El Salvador. The government detained Esther and she spent four months in immigration detention until an attorney interviewed her and determined that she was eligible to receive asylum protection in the United States. While waiting for a resolution to her case in jail, Esther suffered terrible flashbacks to the trauma she had suffered in El Salvador – the beatings, rape, and threats and to the fear of running for her life. She was also very worried about her children but was unable to regularly communicate with her sister, who was caring for them in her absence. Eventually, Esther’s lawyer was successful in fighting for her release and Esther was able to leave detention. She was later granted asylum and hopes to reunite with her two children in the near future.

Last year the U.S. government incarcerated over 363,000 migrants in over 250 detention facilities across the country. Many of those detained are like Esther – victims of political or religious persecution and other forms of torture, survivors of human trafficking, elderly, sick, parents or caregivers of young children.

Despite the humanitarian concerns raised by our nation’s detention policies, this year the House of Representatives has advanced two detention proposals: one to increase detention spending from $1.9 billion to $2.05 billion (an increase of $150 million) and another to give the federal government expanded authority to indefinitely detain asylum-seekers, refugees and other vulnerable migrants.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS has witnessed the impact of detention on migrants and communities and works to provide legal and social services to asylum seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking and other migrants negatively affected by detention. In cooperation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), LIRS is mobilizing faith-based groups and like-minded individuals to visit detained persons and explore innovative ways to help migrants navigate the U.S. immigration system with the support of a welcoming community. We are putting our beliefs, values and respect for human dignity into action.

Immigration issues impact families, church congregations and communities. Congregations can respond to our country’s broken immigration system in ways that affirm community and abate fear. People have been on the move since the beginning of time. Ruth followed Naomi, making Naomi’s people her own. Abraham and Sarah sought relief from famine by going to Egypt. Crossing borders today is much more complex; however, people move for many of the same reasons. Family members seek to reunite. Individuals and families search for survival. Communities long for freedom from persecution. Fears and controversies are part of the conversation about immigration today, but there are also joys and ways to make a difference. As a person of faith, you can turn back people’s fear by exploring faithful responses, debunking myths and accompanying vulnerable people on their journey to safety. Join LIRS in our work to provide a more hospitable welcome to newcomers and to reform the U.S. immigration detention system to ensure that all of God’s children are treated with respect and dignity.

Anna Campbell, National Network Coordinator for LIRS’s Access to Justice Unit, has been working with migrants and refugees for nearly ten years. Prior to her joining LIRS, Anna was a foster care case manager for unaccompanied foreign-born children seeking protection in the United States.  She loves being an aunt, travelling, and dancing, and is a University of Michigan graduate with bachelor’s degrees in Sociology and Spanish.

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