El Paso bishop calls for release of nonviolent migrants in detention

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, celebrates Mass at St. Pius X Church in El Paso Sept. 23, 2019. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow in the U.S. faster than anywhere else in the world, the Catholic bishop of El Paso, Texas, is asking local authorities to release nonviolent migrants at his local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.

"Faith and reason tell us that the right thing to do right now is to protect each other by taking steps toward social distancing," wrote Bishop Mark J. Seitz in an April 7 statement. "The federal government has already recognized that this is very nearly impossible in facilities like prisons and detention centers."

Advertisement

That's why he is making the call to the agency "to urgently and quickly prioritize the release of nonviolent migrants from the immigration detention facilities in our community," he said.

"This will protect the health of migrants, our immigration enforcement personnel and our entire El Paso community. Our faith compels us to welcome the stranger with compassion. And this is also a matter of public health," he said.

[Explore all of America’s in-depth coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

"By keeping nonviolent migrants in immigration custody, we are placing everyone in danger. Together, I know we can overcome this crisis," Bishop Seitz said. "I also invite our local government leaders to join me in calling on ICE for an urgent dialogue on the need to release nonviolent offenders. This cannot happen soon enough. Our lives depend on it."

In mid-March in a letter to Congress, two doctors expressed "gravely concern" about the consequences of confinement of migrants in detention centers during the pandemic.

Dr. Scott Allen and Dr. Josiah Rich, experts in medical care in detention settings, warned in a March 19 letter to lawmakers of the "imminent risk to the health and safety of immigrant detainees" and to the general public if the virus spreads in immigration detention facilities.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

In a March 17 opinion piece in The Washington Post, they argued for the release of detainees in general who do not pose a threat to society, warning of a public risk to workers inside facilities and their families -- as well as those detained.

Bishop Seitz, in his statement, said that "this is an unprecedented moment when every El Pasoan and all of our institutions are being called to solidarity, compassion and concern for the entire community."

He continued: "In a sober way, now we see how each of our destinies really are intertwined, and how every one of us really is our brother’s keeper."   

The El Paso based organization Hope Border Institute expressed its support for the bishop's statement and also called for "immediate steps to release migrants from immigrant detention centers in the borderlands."

"The vast majority of migrants in ICE custody have committed no crime at all and represent no threat to our community," said Dylan Corbett, the organization's executive director in an April 7 statement. "However, the continued mass detention of migrants and asylum seekers in these facilities in this time of COVID-19 pandemic represents a clear and present danger to the health of migrants, border enforcement personnel and the entire El Paso community. As Bishop Seitz has pointed out, this cannot happen soon enough; our lives depend on it."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

Advertisement

The latest from america

People visit Hagia Sophia in Istanbul June 30, 2020. (CNS photo/Murad Sezer, Reuters)
Pope Francis' brief words at the Sunday Angelus are the Vatican's first public response to the Turkish president's move to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
Gerard O’ConnellJuly 12, 2020
Catholic Charities staff and volunteers in the Archdiocese of Washington distribute 500 grocery boxes and 500 family meals in the parking lot of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception July 10, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
U.S. bishops: “The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to protect the jobs of Americans from all walks of life, regardless of whether they work for for-profit or non-profit employers, faith-based or secular.”
Kevin ClarkeJuly 10, 2020
From Meatless Mondays to Black Lives Matter, old Christian truths take hold in a world that seems to have left religion behind.
André M. PeñalverJuly 10, 2020
The Unesco World Heritage site in Istanbul, founded as a Christian church in the 6th century, transformed into a mosque in the 15th century and then into a museum in 1934, will reopen as a mosque on July 24 with Friday prayers.
Gerard O’ConnellJuly 10, 2020