Evangelical Leaders Call for Alternatives to Detention for Immigrants in the Interest of Public Health

 In Press Releases

April 13, 2020                         

Evangelical Leaders Call for Alternatives to Detention for Immigrants in the Interest of Public Health

As COVID-19 spreads across the U.S., leaders urge the use of alternatives to detention for individuals awaiting court hearings who do not pose a public safety threat

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Evangelical Immigration Table sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, expressing concern for the wellbeing of both immigrant detainees and staff within immigrant detention facilities. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout the United States, Christian leaders note that detained individuals are effectively unable to practice social distancing and thus are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19.

In their letter, evangelical leaders note that the majority of individuals in immigration detention facilities are individuals awaiting an immigration court hearing who have not been convicted of criminal offenses. “In the interest of public health – for these detainees, for the staff of these facilities and for the general public – we encourage you to utilize alternatives to detention for individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety. Detainees who are elderly or who may otherwise be uniquely vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19 are of particular concern.”

The letter continues: “Expanding the use of alternatives to detention would provide those individuals who must remain in detention with more space, limiting the public health threat to them and to staff who work in these facilities, while allowing those who can be safely released to reside with family members, friends or hosts from local churches.” Indeed, many Christian ministries are already engaged in providing support to individuals within or released from detention.

The following are quotes from several of the Evangelical Immigration Table leaders who signed the letter:

Scott Arbeiter, President, World Relief:

“Just a few weeks ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic made such visits impossible, I visited an immigration detention center where World Relief staff and volunteers have long facilitated church services for detainees. Most of those detained are either asylum seekers or are long-time residents of the U.S. awaiting a deportation hearing; only a very small share have ever been convicted of a serious criminal offense. These individuals, many of whom we have come to know as brothers and sisters in Christ, would not pose a public safety threat if released under supervision, but to continue to detain them – in conditions where social distancing is basically impossible – poses a public health threat to them, to the staff of these facilities and to the general public. I pray the Department of Homeland Security will quickly expand the use of proven alternatives to detention in order to protect human life.”

Hyepin Im, President & CEO, Faith and Community Empowerment:

“With the threat of the coronavirus transmitting among both detainees and the staff of immigration detention facilities – and then potentially spreading further within the general public – it is unconscionable to detain so many individuals, especially when there are proven alternatives available. Our Christian commitment to affirming the dignity of each human life requires us to speak up on behalf of these individuals, whose lives could be at risk in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Walter Kim, President National Association of Evangelicals:

“Crowded conditions in many detention centers make it virtually impossible to implement the social distancing and hygiene recommendations of public health officials.  Most immigrants would be better protected, at far less public expense and toward greater public health, if they were released to join their families pending their immigration hearings.  Scarce detention beds should be reserved for those charged with crimes, not those seeking asylum or family reunification.”

Jo Anne Lyon, Global Ambassador, The Wesleyan Church:

“Even before this crisis, our immigration detention system was highly problematic, detaining tens of thousands of individuals who have never been convicted of any crime when there are much more humane and cost-effective alternatives for those awaiting an immigration court hearing. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, detaining so many asylum seekers and others awaiting immigration court hearings in cramped quarters also presents a public health nightmare. I pray that our government will act quickly to release the vast majority of detained individuals who pose no threat to public safety.”


Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search