CHAPARRAL, New Mexico (Border Report) — Saying that asylum seekers are being held in “deplorable” conditions at detention centers, faith leaders from across the country called for an end to government contracts with the private companies that run them.
More than 40 of the religious activists — many from the East Coast and the South — also denounced biases against migrants of color and Trump administration policies slamming the door on asylum seekers. With song and impassioned speeches, members of the group on Thursday held their protest outside the Otero Country Processing Center, where two Cuban immigrants late last year reportedly tried to take their own lives.
“I’m deeply grieved to see how people are dehumanized here at this detention center and throughout the country, and to see people who are sometimes in danger, sometimes fleeing hunger being treated with indignity and injustice,” said Julio Hernandez, a member of the children’s ministry at Christ Crossman United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia.
The faith leaders say they’ve been following the humanitarian crisis at the border through the news media and accounts from members of their congregation, but decided to come to the border to see the situation first-hand. They were invited by the Faith in Action network and hosted by local activists.
Moacir Weirich, pastor at St. Steven’s Grace Community Lutheran Church in Newark, N.J., said his congregation includes immigrants from Brazil, Ecuador and Central America.
“As pastors, we are here to have a biblical reflexion on what God expects from us as far as being compassionate and taking care of the stranger,” Wierich said.”What we see here, unfortunately, is not that. We see a wall that is a waste of money while people, both here and in New Jersey, are struggling.”
He said he met immigrants in southern New Mexico who are “devout, church-going people” but live in fear of having a close relative deported or being separated from their children themselves because of their immigration status.
“As a nation, I fear we are losing our soul. Sure, we need background checks and people need papers, but you can do that in a much more humane way than this,” he said.
The pastors said they will share their observations and findings with their communities when they go back home.
The protest comes as some New Mexico Democrats back a bill to prevent the state from renewing contracts or signing new ones with private companies to run detention centers.
In a statement to Border Report, the company that runs the Otero facility denied any allegations of mistreatment of detainees or neglect in their care.
“The employees at this facility are dedicated to the humane and dignified treatment of the men and women in their care,” said the statement from MTC. “Allegations of inhumane conditions, deaths and mistreatment are simply not true.”
The company said the facility is audited regularly by third-party organizations including the American Correctional Association, the Nakamoto Group and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
“Detainees have access to timely medical and dental care — some of whom have never had access to quality healthcare before. The staff also provides detainees with daily recreation, nutritious meals, legal-rights courses, legal library resources, religious services and other programs while they await their civil detention hearing,” the company said.
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