BY KEVIN TUERFF | October 18, 2018

Imagine if someone kidnapped you, and then threatened to murder you. You escape, but you have no support from police to protect you. Wouldn’t you flee to save your own life?

If this happened to you, and you managed to get a visa to the U.S., and you declared asylum at JFK airport—you are then shackled and handcuffed. Your luggage is taken from you and you are forced to wear a blue prison jumpsuit. You are taken to corporate-run jail for at least six months while you await a hearing from an immigration judge. Inside, you are offered food which is often inedible. You have little access to medical care. If you are lucky, you have volunteers from a church who accompany you in detention, coming weekly for a one-hour visit. If you are lucky, you have help from a pro-bono attorney, otherwise you will likely be deported, sent back into harm’s way.

If you are granted asylum, and you are freed from this nightmare, would you return to the detention center soon thereafter to join a prayer vigil and visit other detainees? Sam, a new refugee from West Africa did just that on Sunday, September 16 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He shared his stories of the terrible conditions in detention, and also led the group in a prayer for the 400 detainees inside who are seeking freedom in the United States.

Sam, a new American who was granted asylum after spending 7 months inside the Elizabeth, NJ immigration detention center, joined the group to pray for his former detainees who remained inside the corporate-run jail. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

Sam told those gathered, “For seven months, inside this detention center, I never saw the sun, or breathed fresh air. I was forced to flee from my home, but I never thought I would be treated like a criminal when I came to America, seeking asylum. It was torture.”

When one of the guards at the Center came outside to dissuade the group from getting close, Sam went and shook hands with his former captor. It was a powerful moment.  

More than 100 Catholics walked the 30-minute journey through a Newark, NJ warehouse district, from the nearest bus stop to Elizabeth Detention Center. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

More than 100 parishioners of the New York City Churches of St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius participated in the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Light in the Darkness pilgrimage. They stood in solidarity with immigrants facing deportation, and with refugees seeking asylum, offering prayers and songs. Other groups participated, including the Migrant Center at St. Francis of Assisi, Catholic Worker, and Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth.

The group walked two-by-two for more than 30 minutes in the heat from the nearest transit stop, past a maze of distribution warehouses, to the corporate-run detention center. When detainees are granted asylum there, they are usually set free in the middle of the night with no assistance to find public transportation to a refugee shelter.

Teresa Carino, pastoral associate at St. Ignatius Church in New York City spoke outside Elizabeth Detention Center. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

Fr. Dan Carrou, S.J., acting pastor at Church of St. Francis Xavier, led the group in prayer, saying, “We gather in this sea of warehouses to remember that no humans should be treated as commodities.  All humans possess dignity and a violation of the dignity of one of our companions is a violation of the dignity of all.”

Fr. Daniel Corrou, S.J., acting pastor of Church of St. Francis Xavier (New York City) led the pilgrims in prayers for the hundreds of women and men inside the immigration detention center. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

Immigrants detained by ICE are held under civil, not criminal, law. According to the International Detention Coalition, dozens of countries only use detention as a last resort for migrants seeking refuge. They require weekly check-ins with immigration court officers or wearing of ankle bracelets.

Recent news reports have shed light on the horrific plight of migrant children also being held in detention, separated from their parents. Christ calls us to pray, and advocate for humane policy changes with Immigration Customs Enforcement.


Este verano tres jesuitas en formación llegaron a El Paso en un momento inesperadamente crucial.

Desde el 17 hasta el 26 de julio Nazareth Shelter, uno de los muchos albergues temporeros de la Iglesia, completamente voluntarios, y coordinados por Casa Anunciación, una organización con 40 años de compromiso para servir personas que recién llegan a la frontera USA-México, se hizo cargo de una misión temporera: recibir a parientes e hijos reunidos, separados por la política “zero-tolerance” de la administración Trump.

Rafael García S.J., pastor asociado en el Sagrado Corazón, la parroquia jesuitas en El Paso, con Conan Rainwater, S.J, Matt Cortese S.J. y Matthew Baugh, S.J.

Conan Rainwater, S.J. (Provincia USA Medioeste), que sirvió como director temporero del albergue, coordinando turnos voluntarios y grupos de comida, más otra logística, fue acompañado por Matthew Baugh, S.J. (Provincia USA Central y Meridional) y Matt Cortese, S.J. (Provincia USA Noreste).

Se juntaron con una red extensa de voluntarios encargados de proveer comida refugio y atender necesidades materiales básicas, además de ayudar a las familias a reconectarse con familias en los EE.UU. Así coordinaron planes de viaje, proveyeron transportación y acompañamiento al aeropuerto o la estación de autobuses a familias que quedaron abandonadas inesperadamente por horas del día y de la noche.

Un padre reunificado y su hija de nueve años en Nazareth Shelter. Los dos fueron separados durante dos meses cuando ella cumplía años. Mientras estaba detenido, el padre pintó una tarjeta de cumpleaños para ella. La recibió ese día de la reunificación.

“En vez de llegar al albergue todos al mismo tiempo en uno o dos autobuses, como es el caso típico de parientes e hijos menores que son procesados y soltados con tobillera electrónica en sus parientes, las familias llegaron en números pequeños en camionetas durante todo el día y la noche”, compartió Rafael García, S.J., quien sirve a personas migrantes y refugiadas y es pastor asociado en el Sagrado Corazón, la parroquia jesuita en El Paso, que es miembro de la Campaña de Hospitalidad.