I spent my morning with nuns from the Sisters of Mercy and other Catholic immigration activists in front of the Broadview detention center – a nondescript facility in a west suburb of Chicago where undocumented immigrants are processed before they are deported. The Sisters have been gathering here every Friday at 7:15 am (Friday is deportation day) to pray the rosary and protest the abysmally broken immigration system in this country.
Our current immigration policy is our national shame. We are punishing individuals for the crime of seeking a better life (and for taking the jobs we somehow consider beneath us) and we are literally ripping families apart in the process. We are also detaining and deporting individuals at an unprecedented rate. In 2007, more than 322,000 undocumented immigrants passed through immigration detention facilities, and approximately 280,000 of them were deported from the United States.
It was my honor, together with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, to join the Sisters of Mercy in their prayer vigil and in particular to urge the passage of the Access to Religious Ministry Act (SB 2747) which is currently stuck in the Rules Committee of the Illinois State Senate. This bill would permit religious workers “reasonable access” to inmates in order to minister to their significant spiritual needs. Amazingly, contact with religious workers and chaplains are among the various rights denied inmates at immigrant detention centers. As I commented at the gathering, this kind of spiritual sustenance is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. I believe fervently that a society that actively denies contact between clergy and those they serve is in danger of losing its very soul.
During the course of our vigil, vans and buses with their windows papered over would periodically pull out of the lot and head toward O’Hare. It was truly a chilling sight to behold. Even so, I am in awe of the steadfast courage and compassion of the Sisters of Mercy. Every time a bus went by, they paused their recitation of the rosary and lifted their hands in solidarity.
For more about the prayer vigil and the Access to Religious Ministry Act, check out this article from the Chicago Sun-Times. If you are an Illinois resident, I encourage you to call Senate President Emil Jones and Senate Rules Committee Chair Senator Ricky Hendon and ask them to publicly support SB 2747. We need both Senators to use their leadership to get the bill out of Rules Committee and onto the floor for a full Senate vote. Here’s their contact info:
Senate President Emil Jones: (D-14) 217.782.2728
Senator Rickey R. Hendon: (D-5) 217.782.6252
Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret (1869-1931) described the sin of Sodom as the mentality “by which the dwellers of this planet are declared to be either ‘owners’ or ‘intruders,’ with the former having the privilege of disposing of the latter as they see fit.”
The film THE VISITOR is a poignant reminder of this tragedy.