Background and Rationale for “Divest from Detention, Invest in People” Appropriations Action Alert

Contents:

Background on the Issue

CRNCA Positions and Mandates

 

Background on the Issue

What’s happening?

Congress is in the process of determining how much money each federal department will receive for Fiscal Year 2020. DHS announced on April 30 that the White House would be sending a supplemental funding request to Congress to address the high volume of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border. Advocacy groups are concerned that this supplemental would increase funding for deportation, detention, and border militarization rather than meet the urgent legal and humanitarian needs currently at our country’s southern border.

 

What’s the big deal?

Congress holds the purse strings of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the way DHS budgets are allocated determines how immigrants are treated once they enter the U.S.: whether they're given humanitarian aid and social service support, whether they're incarcerated in a privately owned prison, whether they encounter efficient and well-trained border patrol staff, whether they receive basic necessities, whether there is oversite that prevents abuse and neglect. In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, the decisions surrounding these budget dollars will have perhaps the greatest impact on the experience of refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers.

Tens of thousands of people are detained by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs & Border Protection (CBP) every day. Many concerns have been raised about the treatment these individuals receive while in the custody of ICE and CBP. Reports point to systemic abuses within the detention facilities, including use of force by officers, deaths stemming from medical negligence, and arbitrary use of solitary confinement. Many Border Patrol holding facilities maintain dangerous and unconstitutional conditions, such as freezing, overcrowded, and filthy cells; deprivation of beds, bedding, and sleep; and inadequate food, water, medicine, medical care, and basic sanitation/hygiene items. The supplemental funding proposed by the administration demonstrates no intention to address these abuses, which is an ongoing and urgent concern.

This appropriations request comes on the heels of several other concerning policy changes, which have increased the needs for humanitarian assistance at the border, which fail to be addressed by these funding proposals:

  • Last year, controversy erupted when a policy change prompted the practice of ICE and CBP agents taking children away from their asylum-seeking parents.

  • This year, DHS began implementing its “Remain in Mexico” policy at certain ports of entry, which has resulted in a bottleneck effect at the border in these regions and has limited asylum-seekers’ access to due process.

  • Many other policy changes have been threatened, proposed, or announced that would harm, penalize, and/or deter migrants from their legal right to seek asylum. This includes a regulatory notice drafted by DHS that would expand expedited removal (i.e. fast-track deportation) - a draft that is still under review.

  • Additionally, the administration recently announced its plans to impose application fees on and take away work permits for asylum-seekers.

  • The State Department has also agreed to cut international aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, according to the administration’s directive; these funds address the root causes of migration and seek to resolve the problems that cause people to flee.

Because of these policy changes and proposals, asylum-seekers at our country’s southern border face mistreatment, long wait times, extra hurdles, and possible indefinite detention in pursuing their asylum claims.

 

Why does the CRCNA care?

Asylum-seeking families are fleeing violence and persecution and have traveled together for safety on their dangerous journey. It is legal for these individuals to request asylum in the United States. Blocking and punishing vulnerable people for seeking protection is immoral, cruel, and unnecessary; as is using dehumanizing means of conducting border enforcement, such as indefinite detention, family separation, and inhumane conditions. Asylum-seekers are the strangers among us that we have a biblical call to welcome and protect.

 

CRCNA Positions and Mandates

Scripture Synod has affirmed that the Bible has instructed the church to engage on this issue, saying:

  • All people are created in the image of God and are to be treated as such regardless of circumstances under which the church encounters individuals or of a given person’s race, background, or legal status.

  • God’s Word consistently directs the people of God to be welcoming toward the strangers in their midst and to extend special care to those most vulnerable to social or economic conditions that threaten their ability to survive.

  • The church of Jesus Christ welcomes all who profess faith in him as their Lord and Savior and who desire to live for him. God has no favorites—true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition of membership in the church.

  • God’s Word calls upon believers to respect the governing authorities and the laws of the state. However, citizenship in the kingdom of God obligates believers to the highest law of love for God and neighbor above all, and the exercise of this love should lead believers to advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant peoples.

An extended theological and Biblical treatment, which grounds the CRCNA’s position on immigration, can be found in Study on the Migration of People reportof the 2010 Synod.

The 2010 synodical report goes into detail about Scripture’s teachings regarding immigrants, refugees, and “the stranger.” Among many themes the report highlights is this: following our scriptural calling to welcome the stranger, we demonstrate Christ’s love to the marginalized, offering assistance for needy immigrants and for their children in terms of financial assistance, food, clothing, and shelter.

The Contemporary Testimony, Our World Belongs to God, says this:

53. We call on all governments to do public justice

and to protect the rights and freedoms

of individuals, groups, and institutions

so that each may do their tasks.

We urge governments and pledge ourselves

to safeguard children and the elderly

from abuse and exploitation,

to bring justice to the poor and oppressed,

and to promote the freedom

to speak, work, worship, and associate.

That governments are called to justice generally and that how a government treats the poor and the weak is a key indicator of a society’s commitment to justice is taught in all the prophets and in psalms like Psalm 72.

John Calvin taught that the government authorities had a particularly important role: to ensure that the rights of the poor are protected and maintained. “God takes a more special care of the poor than of others, since they are most exposed to injuries and violence. . . a just and well-regulated government will be distinguished for maintaining the rights of the poor and afflicted.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 72)

 

Denominational Positions

Synod passed the following in 2010:

G. That synod instruct the Board of Trustees to encourage the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action and the Canadian Committee for Contact with the Government, in collaboration with their denominational and non-denominational partners, to engage in, as a priority, policy development and advocacy strategies that will lead to immigration reform and the enactment of fair, just, and equitable laws regarding those without status in Canada and the United States.

H. That synod encourage congregations and their individual members to speak out against, and seek to reform, laws and practices concerning the treatment of immigrants that appear to be unduly harsh or unjust.

I. That synod, mindful of the need for governments to create and enforce laws that protect the security and integrity of a given nation’s borders, nevertheless encourage congregations and church members to support the need for comprehensive immigration reform in ways that will reduce the number of people without status and/or non-status workers and provide increased opportunities for immigrants to gain legal status within the nation.

J. That synod encourage congregations to advocate on behalf of those suffering in prison on account of their lack of status to ensure a more just and dignified process in dealing with them while also advocating for more humane treatment of those who are unfortunate enough to be imprisoned.

Ground: The governments of both the United States and Canada have been struggling with comprehensive immigration reform for years, recognizing that current policies are insufficient to deal with contemporary aspects of immigration. The CRC can be of service to these governments by speaking up for the just treatment of all people as part of the larger process to reform current laws and policies.

K. That synod urge the Christian Reformed Church, through its assemblies and agencies, to affirm the need to reach out in hospitality and compassion to immigrant people and that synod further encourage churches to display this ministry concern through actions that include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Prayerful study and discussion of issues related to the causes that motivate people to immigrate to other lands so as to deepen understanding of the circumstances under which many people live.

  2. Mindful attention to the plight of both documented workers and people without status and to reach out in love to those who seek assistance for themselves and for their children in terms of financial assistance, food, clothing, and shelter.

Ground: Scripture calls us to be mindful of the plight of aliens and strangers, offering compassion and love in Christ’s name to those who find themselves marginalized and in need.

 

Congress should invest in compassionate budgets that welcome asylum-seekers, refugees, and immigrants, and divest from detention, deportation, and border militarization.