Family detention centers across the U.S. are filling up with children and young mothers who are seeking shelter from violence, abuse, and persecution in their Central American home countries - and U.S. bishops are not pleased with the policy. The Church has stood against the policy of detention centers for women and children fleeing violence, saying that they are contrary to social teaching and the dignity of the human person. Controversy over the practice of immigrant detention has sparked exasperation among Catholic bishops and Lutheran leaders who say family detention centers are shameful and place heavy burdens on families, while staining the moral character of American society. "Why do we feel compelled to place in detention such vulnerable individuals - traumatized young mothers and children fleeing persecution in their home countries?" stated Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio in a March 27 statement following his visit to the detention center for immigrant families located in Dilly, Texas. Archbishop Garcia-Siller was not alone in his indignation at the detention facilities - he was joined by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, and Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo. Other Christian leaders, including Michael Rinehart and H. Julian Gordy, both bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, united with the Catholic bishops in their stance opposing the detention of families fleeing violence and domestic abuse, imploring goverment officials to end the practice. As of last summer, multiple detention centers have opened across the U.S. as a result of approximately 60,000 migrant families fleeing Central America and seeking aslyum across the border - many of whom have viable international protection claims or have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution. Although there were only about 100 spots for detention in the entire U.S. in 2014, that number has jumped to thousands over the period of one year. The Department of Homeland Security has detained these families at facilities in New Mexico, Texas, and Pennsylvania. The bishops are afraid that the use of detention centers could turn into a means for migrant deterrance, which would make the immigration policy violative of international law, according to the USCCB. Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered a preliminary injunction that halted the government's policy of detaining families solely for detterence purposes. The case was made on the behaf of families who are fleeing the credible fear of persecution and would have the possibility of granted asylum. The family detention network is costly, employing around $2 billion taxpayer dollars per year. "The detention of families serves no purpose and undermines due process. It especially harms children, who experience emotional and psychological harm from detention," stated Bishop Elizondo, saying the detention method marks a low point in American immigration policy. Looking for other alternatives for families seeking asylum, Bishop Tamayo stated there are humane ways to deal with the buildup of immigrant families who are entering the United States. "The government should consider placing these families in humane alternatives to detention, where they could live in the community and access needed services, including legal representation," he urged, saying the Church is ready to help in this effort. Perhaps the most telling consequence of detention centers for families could be what the policy says about the moral character of society, suggested Archbishop Garcia-Siller. "A great nation such as ours need not incarcerate the most vulnerable in the name of deterrence," the San Antonio bishop said. "The moral character of a society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable in our midst. Our nation's family detention policy is shameful and I impore or elected officials to end it."
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