Family Detention

Supporting the Spiritual Care of Child Migrants and Moms

TexasImageSupportDilleyFamilyCenterYou’re invited to support children and moms in the Dilley Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, by providing Children and Adult Spanish Bibles & Bible Story Books.  For additional information and how to order.

Angel to Angel Project

Families in Detention Angel to Angel Project:  Please join children, parents, friends and people of faith across the country in sending cards of care and prayer to the almost 700 undocumented mothers and children (infants through teens) who have been detained.  For an informational flyer on this letter writing project to children and families in detention, visit: (English)(Spanish) (revised 2016)


  • There are lots of ways Disciples can help immigrant moms and kids in detention. Click here to find out how you can help.
  • There are lots of ways Disciples can learn about and advocate for immigrant kids and parents in detention. Click here to find out how you can help advocate.
  • Click here for Faith Community Talking Points against the detention bed quota for immigrants.
  • Escaping for Family Safety — This resource includes: a background on family detention in the US, why families are detained, what the family residential center is like, and how people of faith can help families. It also includes scriptures, a reflection and a prayer.

“Responding to Humanitarian Crises: Syrian and Central American Refugees” – Interfaith Immigration Coalition Webinar, October 19, 2015: PowerPoint Presentation and Audio Recording.

Additional Resources:

End Family Detention Now

Action Alert

Disciples! Continue to Work to End Family Detention — Nov.

July 31, 2016

Dear Disciples Friends,

Since returning from General Assembly a week ago, much has happened related to immigrant detention!  So many of you have been advocating for MONTHS to END FAMILY DETENTION of the mothers and children who came to the U.S. last year fleeing violence in Central America.  Sadly, thousands have been placed in family detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas, and in Berks, Pennsylvania after arrival.  Throughout the past year, Disciples have prayed, written cards, held vigils, sent Bibles, and raised your voices through legislative visits to end family detention.

Then, just last Friday, Judge Dolly Gee of California issued her long-awaited ruling on family detention; stating that the U.S. use of family detention centers is a violation of the previous “Flores Settlement” from 1997, and calling for the parents and children to be released from today’s family centers in Dilley, Karnes, and Berks (unless they can be shown to be a flight risk or threat to national security).  In response, Dr. Sharon Watkins made a statement on Monday of this week to urge the administration to not appeal the judge’s ruling.  Read excerpts from Dr. Watkins’ statement, and learn what you can do to help the mothers and children, here. (in Spanish)

July 22, 2015
A Humane Approach Can Work:
The Effectiveness of Alternatives to Detention for Asylum Seekers

Washington D.C. – Today, the American Immigration Council and Center for Migration Studies release A Humane Approach Can Work: The Effectiveness of Alternatives to Detention for Asylum Seekers by Mark Noferi. The paper argues that widespread U.S. detention of asylum seekers is not only harmful, but unnecessary. It summarizes empirical research that asylum seekers fleeing persecution arrive uniquely inclined to appear for court hearings, and will do so if they are treated humanely and fairly—i.e. released instead of detained, and provided legal assistance before their hearing.

Given this evidence, the U.S. government should design a system of supervised release with legal assistance for asylum seekers—which can work with both far less human cost and financial cost to taxpayers.

To view the paper in its entirety, see:

July 2, 2015
Dear Faith Partners,

As we approach this July Fourth holiday and focus on the values and privileges of liberty so deeply cherished, we wanted to thank you each for how you supported the freedom goals of detained immigrant women and children when you signed last Spring’s “Faith Leaders’ Open Letter Against Family Detention.”  By doing so, you witnessed to the prophet Isaiah’s call to seek to “correct oppression” (Is. 1:17) and to “speak out in defense of the poor” (Prov. 31:8-9).

While it is true that the number of mothers and children currently in detention has expanded greatly over the past 2 months to more than 2,500 (with 461 now detained in Karnes, TX, 2,043 in Dilley, TX, and 89 in Berks County, PA as of last week)[1] nonetheless your faith voice, through the letter and ongoing prayer vigils and demonstrations, has helped strengthen a steadily growing avalanche of resistance to family detention and march towards mercy for those detained.

On May 21st, the letter you signed was hand delivered to officials in the Obama administration as a part of lengthy conversations about the inhumanity of family detention and alternatives to detention by a group of more than 18 faith partners.  The group met with four White House representatives, including the Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and senior representatives from the Office of Public Engagement and Domestic Policy Council.  While it was clear that White House staff listened intently, took frequent notes, and were surprised by the unity and volume of faith voices against detention, their responses nonetheless stopped short of any commitment to end family detention.

Yet momentum against detention continued to mount the following week when 136 Democratic members of Congress called on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to stop detaining families.[2]  Thirty-three Senators quickly joined suit with their own letter on June 1st that reiterated “the prolonged detention of asylum-seeking mothers and children who pose no flight risk or danger to the community is unacceptable.”[3] Sister Kathleen Erickson, recent chaplain inside the Dilley Center, testified June 11th on Capitol Hill in private member meetings and to full rooms of Senate and House staffers about the immorality of detention and psychological traumas caused by incarcerating mothers and children.[4]  A week and a half later, at the request of DHS Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, a Congressional delegation of 8 traveled inside Karnes and then Dilley to see first-hand the conditions faced by immigrants themselves.

Most importantly–in the few short months since you signed the “Faith Leaders’ Open Letter Against Family Detention”–legislators, activists, and people of faith alike have continued to be inspired to action especially due to the suffering, bravery, and constant resistance to detention by those most personally affected — the mothers and children themselves.  Stories of attempted suicide (such as the case of Lilian Oliva Bardales and her 4-year-old son,)[5] resulting retaliation from the early April hunger strikes at Karnes,[6] actions of 10 women in the Berks center to stop working for $1/day,[7] and the powerful calls for “Libertad!” recorded inside Dilley on a congressional leader’s video camera during their June 22nd tour[8] have coalesced as a resounding shout for freedom for child and mom migrants who have arrived seeking the protection of asylum.

Against such a backdrop of voices, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the need for “substantial changes to our detention practices when it comes to families” on June 24th.[9] Yet, while such reforms are important steps toward helping families potentially experience more fair processes in seeking protection, children and mothers are still left bound by an inappropriate and traumatic model of detention, in facilities most often run by corporations for private gain.  A number of faith communities have drafted comments in response to such decisions.[10]

In the days ahead, Federal Judge Dolly Gee, with the U.S. Central District Court in Los Angeles, is likely to issue a previously delayed ruling on whether the U.S. practice of family detention violates sections of the 1997 case settlement of Flores v. Meese.  That case required that migrant children be released to foster care or relatives, or if detention is deemed necessary, that they are placed in the least restrictive environment possible — and in facilities specifically licensed for care for children.  Judge Gee had released a tentative ruling in April that such violations exist, but placed her ruling on hold to allow immigration and government officials to negotiate.  The future of the Obama Administration’s use of family detention, and the centers themselves, are likely to be significantly affected by such a ruling.  It is anticipated that Judge Gee’s ruling will be made public within a week.

We can expect several possible scenarios, depending upon the decision contained in     Judge Gee’s announcement:

1)  Undocumented women and children may be released, and/or the centers may be asked to close;
2)  Children may be released, but the mothers still held in detention;
3)  Revisions to practices of family detention may be implemented;

Of course, other scenarios could also emerge, dependent upon the decision announced.  But importantly, faith leaders are already preparing to respond, through Press Conferences, issuing statements, using social media through faith campaigns like #freefamilies, and seeking opportunities to raise concerns about family detention in summer faith conferences and assemblies.

IN THIS CRITICAL MOMENT, can you, as ones who have already demonstrated your commitment to ending detention, continue to join us in preparing to respond–and let us know how you will continue to commit your heart and raise your voice to help families in detention? PLEASE ACT NOW TO:

*Continue to speak, write op-eds, and visit your legislators to share your resistance to detention.

*Utilize education resources like the one from IIC partners below—and join the faith social media campaign to tell the Administration to #freefamilies?  (See link below)[11]

*Join in events around the country for the July 7-11 “Week of Action to End Detention”[12] (See link below)

As we all plan for Fourth of July celebrations of freedom, may we thank God for enormous opportunities we enjoy to move and speak and work so openly.  Yet, may we also continue to pray for courage “to proclaim that captives will be released” (Luke 4:18).  And may we especially pray for ears to hear and continue to respond to their own chanting—even while in detention—that “Libertad!” might be offered at last to migrants seeking asylum.

In shared faith, seeking justice,

Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Refugee & Immigration Ministries, (in representation of ecumenical faith partners grateful for your support for the “Faith Leaders’ Open Letter Against Family Detention”)

[10]As one example, see:

June 10, 2015
Disciples Continue to Seek End to Family Detention

On April 22, Disciples clergy, Rev. Charles Kutz-Marks and Rev. Lyndon Rogers from Austin joined with Disciples Women leader Rev. Lori Tapia from Gilbert, Ariz., and Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director of Refugee & Immigration Ministries to help coordinate a prayer vigil for women and children being held in detention inside the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. All of the women and children fled violence, like refugees, from the countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador last year. Most are eligible for asylee status due to the violence they have faced—but are being held by private prison companies at high bond rates. (See our RIM background resources on family detention below.)

Visit to Dilley Detention CenterBefore the afternoon Prayer Vigil with dozens of faith leaders, nearly 20 ecumenical faith partners joined in a morning meeting with Sister Kathleen Erickson, who was serving as Chaplain at the Dilley Center. (See photo.) Faith leaders learned from her that “The children’s bibles and story books your churches are sending are like gold to the children and Moms in the Center.” See our ongoing call for these resources, as the numbers of the kids and moms being held in detention unfortunately continue to grow.

Now this week on Capitol Hill, Sister Kathleen Erickson, is spending time in Washington, D.C., to offer her testimony in both a Senate and a House briefing on family detention.  Prior to leaving her position recently as Chaplain, she promised the women and children she cared for on a daily basis that she would share their stories with members of Congress.

Sister Kathleen will join with Karen Lucan from the American Immigration Lawyers Association in sharing the sobering reality of family detention with our nation’s leaders who could help push the Obama Administration to shut down family detention facilities to end this inhumane practice, as well as Congress’ existing 34,000 detention bed mandate. Dozens of faith leaders, including RIM’s Director, also met last month with Obama’s top immigration and faith-based officials to call for an end to the practice of family detention.

As early as Monday, a federal judge could issue a ruling that would close the Dilley facility, as well as a partner one in Karnes, Texas. Both are corporately owned, and are our nation’s largest family detention facilities.  Over the past few weeks, 33 Senators and 136 Representatives have sent letters to President Obama demanding an end to family detention.


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