[NOTE: Pax Christi USA signed onto this letter.]
Dear Members of the United States House of Representatives and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Homeland Security,
The stipulation in the DHS appropriations legislation states that, “funding made available under this heading shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds.” Some members of Congress have interpreted this in recent years to mean that the U.S. government should be filling all of those 34,000 beds at all times, not just maintaining them for potential use. Neither the appropriations language nor this interpretation is in line with the values of our many faith traditions.
We are called as people of faith to seek just and humane policies for our communities, our congregations and our country. We are told in the Bible that “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Adhering to an arbitrarily determined detention quota is exceptional for any agency, but it is particularly alarming in the context of our nation’s immigration system. By mandating that 34,000 beds be maintained any given time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents face pressure to round up and detain community members for longer than necessary. The institutional pressure to fill already-paid-for beds comes at the expense of ICE agents exercising essential discretion in their day-to-day jobs and exacerbates the traumatizing effects of detention on immigrant communities…