My Visit to South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley

By Mark Peters

Director of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, Priests of the Sacred Heart

The August 25 Washington Post ran a story about the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, the largest of three in the U.S. specifically dedicated to the holding of mothers and children.  Opened to reporters for the first time, the center was described by reporter Maria Sachetti as clean and well-equipped, very different from the images we’ve all seen of kids in pens at the border. 

I can confirm her story – I was there two weeks earlier and saw everything she described:

…a dental office, with a reclining chair and sterile instruments… cafeteria serving hot dogs, lime-cilantro chicken, tortillas and green salad — all you can eat… Kindergartners [singing] “If You’re Happy and You Know It…” access to a wide array of services, including a 24-hour infirmary, a day care, a library with Internet and email access, a beauty salon, a charter school and a canteen.

I’d been asked by SGI to take part in a tour of the Dilley facility and sit in on a dialogue of ICCR members with CoreCivic, the private corporation that runs Dilley and is one of the “big two” in that field, along with GEO Group.  At one time they were in dialogue with GEO, but the company had “paused” that conversation. (In fact the CEO had suggested they sell their shares and leave them alone!

CoreCivic has been a more willing partner, and after the dialogue I sat in on later that afternoon after the tour of the detention facility, the ICCR delegation saw signs for hope that human rights were getting needed attention.  But one has to wonder what an organization like Catholic Charities could do with the money CC is getting to run this camp, whether it’s full or not (surprisingly it never has been and often is way under its 2400 bed capacity).  The director told us he had “no idea” how Customs and Border Patrol and ICE decide who to send and not – mothers have reported an almost “eenie-meenie-minee-moe” approach at the border.

The Post reporter’s story is excellent in my opinion, and I encourage you to read it.  I especially call attention to her explanation of the Flores Agreement and the impact the Administration’s plan to nullify it would have on the length of time families are forced to stay in these camps (in a “vast stretch of scrubland in a tiny former oil-boom town, an hour south of San Antonio”), where the temperatures are often above 100 degrees and people generally don’t leave their air-conditioned pods.

The women who’ve left and were interviewed by Sachetti all agreed that, while “far better than the Border Patrol holding cells or the safe houses they stayed in during their trip through Mexico,” they still considered Dilley a jail.  Most currently stay less than the 20 day Flores limit, but if Flores is negated stays are expected to go to 3 times that and could legally be unlimited.  What will it do to the admittedly good morale (for the circumstances and relative to the trauma they’ve just passed through) we witnessed if that becomes the case.  We need to be telling Congress to keep the Flores Agreement!

I and the others were very surprised by what we saw in Dilley and relieved to know that not every detention facility is as bad as the worst of them (I can only vouch for this one, but I would also have to say that we all felt it was not “staged,” that we were seeing normal life there).  The next day, we heard a group that provides pro bono legal services say that residents were not being allowed to see them without an appointment, which should be their right, but we weren’t able to ask the CoreCivic official about that.  Follow-up is planned.  I’m grateful to SGI and ICCR for the opportunity to participate in this visit and commend the dialogue team for their dogged efforts to ensure that human rights are not trampled.  Perhaps what we saw would not have been that way without the efforts of them and so many others to let government and business know we are watching.

ICCR and SGI: Shareholders Committed to the Rights of Immigrants

Four SGI members participated in ICCR‘s Spring Conference: Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A., Chris Cox, Frank Sherman, and Friar Robert Wotypka, O.F.M., Cap. This post from Sr. Ruth is another report of what we heard and learned at the conference.

The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes has a strong connection to immigrant communities and their needs. The congregation was founded in 1885 in response to the faith needs of German immigrants in Wisconsin. When Hmong, who were allies of the United States in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and later stages of the Laotian Civil War, started seeking asylum as political refugees after the communist takeover in both nations in 1975, the Sisters of St. Agnes were instrumental in welcoming them and helping them resettle in Fond du Lac, WI. Today, sisters in Arizona provide legal aid and other forms of assistance to the immigrant population along the Naco border with Mexico. Recently the congregation has been advocating on behalf of Dreamers and for a just US immigration policy. They are pleased to join ICCR’s effort to invite companies to look at their policies and practices around immigration.

ICCR believes that just and equitable immigration policies are critical to a stable and prosperous business environment and will promote sustainable communities. At its recent conference in New York, an ICCR session was devoted to the topic of immigration. While some companies claim that immigration does not affect them, they need only look down their supply chain to discover how immigration impacts them. They also will discover that immigrants are very vulnerable to injustices.

In engagement with companies on immigration investors must ask:

  • Who is responsible for corporate risk oversight on labor/immigration issues?
  • What risks face immigrant workers? Are all workers covered by company policies on worker health and safety, fair wages, benefits? Do workers have a way to report grievances without fear of retaliation?
  • How does the company assess engagement with the community when it hires immigrant labor, addressing fears, reducing tensions? How does it relate to ICE? If the number of immigrants decline, where will the company look for qualified employees?
  • What are the company’s public policy positions on immigration? Does it publicly support comprehensive immigration reform? Is it supportive of the “Agricultural Worker Program Act” which was introduced in Congress to provide a path to lawful permanent residency for agricultural workers?

One breakout group grappled with guidelines for companies that rely on immigrants in the workforce (beauty, agriculture, textiles, farm-workers) asking them to prohibit passport retention, exactment of fees, harassment and discrimination. Also, the group suggested asking companies to provide contracts and to grant the right to assemble and to bargain collectively. Another group asked, “What is the role of investors in tech companies and airlines who are involved in immigrant surveillance?” And another dealt with the question “Who finances the harm?” Can the financial sector engage in pro-immigrant practices?

It was evident that this newer area of endeavor for ICCR, while complex and involving hard work, was well received by conference attendees ready to accept the challenge of engagement with companies on behalf of immigrants. In accord with a strong theme of the conference, it would be a collaborative effort with immigrants whose voices and experience would shape the efforts.

In February Seventh Generation hosted a very informative webinar, Immigration and the Shareholder. Check it out. https://seventhgenerationinterfaith.org/2018/02/17/sgi-webinar-recording-immigration-and-the-shareholder

Sister Ruth Battaglia is the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.

SGI Webinar Recording: Immigration and the Shareholder

We offer hearty thanks to Hannah Evans Graf of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (also co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition) and Dylan Corbett from the Hope Border Institute who joined us for the webinar. Also, to our members and allies from within ICCR or other networks, we are grateful that you joined us.

If you are only seeing this for the first time now, in the webinar we:

  • Reviewed our values and commitments on immigration
  • Assessed the state of play on policy
  • Highlighted what some allies are doing
  • Encouraged deeper investor engagement with our companies around concerns on immigration (e.g., the shareholder letter to JPMorgan Chase concerning investment in private prisons and immigration detention centers)

The slides from the webinar are available here.

Some helpful resources include:

Please, consider evaluating the webinar by clicking here.

Investors call on Congress to reinstate TPS

The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, with signatures from SGI and 12 of its individual members, sent a letter to the leaders of Congress advocating for “Congress to allow TPS holders to remain in the country and pursue a path to naturalization.”

TPS, temporary protected status, established by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, is humanitarian program whose basic principle is that the United States should suspend deportations to countries that have been destabilized by war or catastrophe.

There are approximately 195,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, and 2,550 Nicaraguans who are current beneficiaries of TPS status. In addition, there are 5,800 Syrian, 8,950 Nepali, and 57,000 Honduran TPS holders in the United States today. Of the total 10 countries with current TPS designations, approximately 330,000 people (or, adults and children) benefit from TPS. Many have resided in the U.S. for a significant period of time. For instance, more than one-half of El Salvadoran and Honduran, and 16 percent of the Haitian TPS beneficiaries have resided in the U.S. for 20 years or more.

Thanks to our members who individually signed on. May this week have fruitful in deliberations in the U.S. Senate. Again, to read the letter, please visit here.

SGI Member Webinar on Immigration: February 16th

As requested by members, we will host our next webinar on shareholder engagement in immigration on Friday, February 16th at 10 a.m. (Central time). The webinar will last 90 minutes.

In the webinar, we will:
  • Review our values and commitments on immigration
  • Assess the state of play on policy
  • Highlight what some allies are doing
  • Encourage deeper investor engagement with our companies around concerns on immigration (e.g., the shareholder letter to JPMorgan Chase concerning investment in private prisons and immigration detention centers)
We are very excited that Hannah Evans Graf of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (also co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition) and Dylan Corbett from the Hope Border Institute will be with us for the webinar.

Feel free to share this invitation with people within your network. For how to join the webinar, please, contact Christopher Cox, our associate director at seventhgenerationint@gmail.com.