Witness: Tornillo and Target: Homestead*

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

When we were in El Paso, we visited Tornillo, a tent city that housed unaccompanied and separated children ages 13-17. At its peak, it held around 2,500 children. It closed down while we were there and most of the children were united with their sponsors. Some of the children, however, were sent to another camp in Homestead, Florida which has become the focal point for efforts to eliminate child detention.  Homestead is the largest of the child detention centers and unlike others, is run by a for profit organization and does not have state oversite.

There are numerous reasons why children are held in detention. If they are separated from their parents, come alone or are with an aunt, uncle, cousin, or brother instead of a parent, they are defined as unaccompanied and put in detention. The large number of children in detention was largely due to an administration policy to require every adult in the sponsor’s household to get a background check instead of just the sponsor. Not surprising, some adults refused to get them and the children remained in detention.  That policy has now been rescinded.

There were 3,000 children separated from their parents during the zero tolerance policy of this administration. 2,737 have been reunited but there may be still more children who were separated before the court required the administration to track them and since the ruling to stop separating children.  There is no way to know how many children this represents. Even though this policy of separating children has been banned, over 100 children have been separated since June 2018. Some children may never be reunited with parents or family because there is no way to find the parents who have been deported or the children were given into foster care.

Because Homestead is a “temporary” or “influx” shelter on federal lands, it is not subject to state regulations and inspections intended to guarantee child welfare – only a loose set of Health and Human Services guidelines.  The concern for advocates is that Homestead is a for-profit organization and it is in the best interest of the owner – Comprehensive Health Services, a division of Caliburn International – to house as many children as possible as long as possible (an average of 67 days) with the least amount of services. The time of stay has increased to 89 days during 2019.  This arrangement is also a way to get around the Flores Settlement that limits the amount of time a child may be detained to 20 days. Another downside of keeping the children so long is that if they are in detention when they turn 18, they are immediately taken into ICE custody and deported.

Examples of reduced regulation occur in healthcare and education. In regular children’s shelters, Health and Human Services (HHS) requires a 12 children to 1 clinician to provide mental health care. At Homestead, it’s 20-1. Other detention centers require an educational component with certified teachers. There are also no certified teachers providing any educational programs and the superintendent of schools for the Homestead area has not been contacted.

Currently, HHS spends about $775 per child per day at Homestead. This is compared to other facilities that cost around $276/day. Comprehensive Health Services has been issued state licenses for three permanent shelters in South Texas to hold 500 migrant children for the government.  In an IPO filing last fall, Caliburn International stated that the administration’s “border enforcement and immigration policy…is driving significant growth” for the company.

This problem is only going to grow.  In January, the Customs and Border Protection collected over 5,000 unaccompanied children. As of the middle of February, there were 11,500 children in HHS custody, down from nearly 15,000 last December but nearly 80% higher than the year before.  A bill was recently introduced in congress called the “Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act” (H.R. 1069). This bill prohibits HHS from maintaining and opening any more emergency shelters. This really is an unacceptable situation.  Children need to be with family not in shelters.

*Facebook Group for those wanting to close Homestead

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Seeing Christ in Everyone

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Last week there was a Facebook Live press conference at Annunciation House in El Paso. Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, was joined by two women and their children seeking asylum and one citizen immigrant. Each explained that they wanted to be in the U.S. because it was where they could live in peace and provide a good livelihood for their families.

Throughout the press conference, people sent emojis or made comments about how they felt about the people speaking.  There were many who felt compassion but there were also a lot of negative comments.  Some of them were downright mean. I felt a great sadness in my heart for these attitudes. What is it that causes this hate?  Are they afraid of losing their own freedom and liberties?

I heard recently that it is human nature to want to limit freedom to our own group whether that group is our race, our religion, or maybe, our country. This is a scarcity mentality in which I want to be free and enjoy the benefits of that freedom but I don’t want to share it with others.  As Christians, aren’t we called to transcend our human nature and be more like Christ?  The Scriptures are filled with Jesus coming in contact with people outside his comfort zone – women, demons, Samaritans, prostitutes, Romans, Pharisees.  Jesus didn’t think freedom – the kingdom of God – was limited to just his group. He wasn’t afraid to share the liberating and beneficent power of God.

On February 13th, in his daily meditation, Fr. Richard Rohr commented “In fact, that is my only definition of a true Christian.  A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else.”  Maybe we can’t see Christ in immigrants or asylum seekers because we’ve never met one and we hear so many bad things about them.  I must admit that spending time on the border gave me a very different perspective on what these brave folks are experiencing.  Knowing someone who is different – color, religion, class, nationality – can provide us with a new understanding and acceptance of them.

Perhaps we should take some advice from Wisdom 11:24: “You (God) love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate.” Let us put aside our hateful, fearful, and limiting attitudes and see Christ in everyone.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Hope Inspires Good

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Hope inspires the good to reveal itself. Attributed to Emily Dickenson.

I just got back from a DART Clergy Conference in sunny, warm Orlando.  DART, the Direct Action and Research Training Center, is the umbrella organization for a network of 21 grassroots, nonprofit, congregation-based community organizations including BREAD in Columbus and CLOUT in Louisville. Ministers from all over the United States gathered to pray together, share best practices, and celebrate achievements from the past year. They represented diverse faith traditions, worship styles, and races and were all committed to improving the lives of the people in their communities.  The preaching was tremendous!

There are many common problems in our cities including homelessness, the school-to-prison pipeline, the lack of affordable housing, out-of-school suspensions, and mental illness. Members of DART affiliates raise up issues and solutions that address problems specific to their communities. They meet with city/school officials to present their concerns and hopefully, work with them on research based solutions.  Sometimes officials are not interested in these issues and so DART affiliates bring their members to a NEHIMIAH Action.  Hundreds, sometimes thousands (BREAD turned out over 2500 last May and are looking for 3,000 this May) individuals who believe in justice show officials their support for solutions and demand their participation.  It’s peaceful and powerful.

As your justice promoter, I’m often the bearer of bad news but participating in this conference helped me see much good news. The DART affiliates do grassroots advocacy at its finest. The clergy conference demonstrated to me how seriously many leaders of faith take the justice message of Jesus and of their own faith traditions seriously.  It was an experience of great HOPE and much good was revealed.

There are other interfaith grassroots organizations around the country.  Together people of faith can work for the common good and bring hope to their communities.

The Columbus Nehemiah Action is Monday, May 6, at the Celeste Center.  If you would like to be a part of this action or of BREAD, please contact me at bkane@oppeace.org.  You can be a part of the good that our city needs now.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Promote the General Welfare

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

“We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

These words in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States explain what the founding fathers thought the government of the U.S. should be about.  The words Promote the General Welfare stood out to me.  I was recently asked to sign on to a letter prepared by OurChildrensTrust.org asking me to support a law suit filed by several children to stop the damage to our air that would be caused by reducing automotive emissions standards.  Their argument?  That the health and future of these young people would be damaged because the government is not acting in a way to promote the general welfare and that the government is not protecting the resources for present and future generations.

The government, they claim, is responsible for stabilizing the climate for future generations. This idea is called Public Trust Doctrine and it requires government stewardship of the natural resources upon which society (and, by extension, our economy and government) depends for continued existence. (Douglas Quirke. University of Oregon School of Law Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center. February 2016)

There are many natural resources that are part of the public trust including beaches, waterways and harbors, wetlands and wildlife, tributary streams and groundwater, parklands, and atmosphere – air.  Yes, according to the constitution, the government has a responsibility to protect the air that we breathe.

We know that our environment is in crisis and that each of us has a responsibility to do what we can to eliminate and/or reduce our destructive impact on it. But the government also has a responsibility to help us and corporate America take actions to lessen or slow the damage such as reducing the amount of damaging chemicals released into the air from cars and trucks.  Our founding fathers were right in insisting that government promote the general welfare, we should do the same.

If you want to learn more about Our Children’s Trust, watch this video. Click this address and then select the video, A Climate of Trust.  It’s 15 minutes long.    https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/short-films/

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Feeling Superior

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

I can’t seem to get the picture of the young man from Covington Catholic looking at Native American Nathan Phillips out of my head.  I truly hope that the expression on that young man’s face was “Holy moly, what have I gotten myself into!” but unfortunately, to me it looked like disrespect and smugness.  It seems to be just another occurrence of one person feeling superior over another.

Seeing oneself as superior has been happening since the beginning of time. Did the original farmers look down on the hunter-gatherers?  We know the conquering countries felt superior to those conquered and enslaved.  In our reading from St. Paul on Sunday, he seems to rank the value of the various gifts to the church – apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. Are they superior to others?   It happens in the workplace also – we rank jobs (and the people in them) based on how much money we pay for that work.

Having a more important job or higher ranking is not a bad thing unless that person considers himself/herself superior to everyone else.  When this happens a priest/pastor feels that he/she has a right to take advantage of a child…. a boss feels he/she can demand sexual favors of an employee…. a person is forced into sex or labor slavery…. and a president thinks it’s good to build a wall or enforce a ban on people who speak a different language or practice a different religion. It can even be seen in a teenager’s face.

Let us remember that believing that one is superior is damaging for the person feeling superior and those whom he/she feels superior to. It is often the cause of most of the injustice that takes place in our world today. Take a minute to reflect on your attitude toward others.  Are you guilty of feeling superior?


Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog