Signs of the Times

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Detained Migrants Deserve Spiritual Care

Migrants and refugees in prisons and detention centers have the same right to spiritual assistance as any other person, a U.S. bishop told a Vatican meeting. Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, told the Vatican’s World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees that Catholic dioceses and other groups have had difficulty gaining access to detainees for pastoral purposes. The growing number of people in U.S. detention centers has made the issue of access even more urgent. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, Bishop Wester said, “The U.S. government has turned to the detention of immigrants as another weapon in the ‘war on terrorism.’” The government “detains over 280,000 persons a year, more than triple the number of those detained just nine years ago.” Because of increased security concerns, combined with an “onerous law” on immigration passed in 1996, the government in effect presumes undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers “should be incarcerated rather than released” while awaiting hearings on their status, Bishop Wester said.

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