The Origins of ICDI

ICDI informally began one cold and snowy morning in January 2007. Sisters of Mercy Pat Murphy and JoAnn Persch heard that undocumented immigrants, who had already been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), were being processed to be sent back to their home countries at a place called the Broadview Processing Center in Broadview, Illinois, just west of Chicago. Many detainees had families in the U.S., and this center would be the last place for detained immigrants to sec their loved ones. Along with immigration attorney Royal Berg, the sisters decided to go and see with their own eyes. When they arrived at the facility, they saw that families were lined up outside waiting to enter the building to bid farewell to their loved ones. The sisters talked with family members who were exiting the building in tears, and they learned that people were losing their loved one—a brother, father, sister, aunt, cousin, or friend—to deportation. They asked the prison staff if they could enter and provide pastoral care for the people who were being deported, but they were not allowed. They were told to try visiting McHenry County Jail instead.

Sister Pat and Sister JoAnn learned that approximately 200 immigrants were detained in McHenry County Jail. When they asked to enter, they were turned away there as well. The call to provide pastoral care was strong and the sisters were determined. As the sisters still say, “We do things peacefully, we do things respectfully, but we never take ‘no’ for an answer.” They assembled an interfaith committee of faith leaders and worked diligently with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to create legislation that would afford pastoral care workers the right to access immigrant detention centers. Eventually, House Bill 4613, also known as “The Access to Religious Ministry Act of 2008,” was passed unanimously. Illinois is the only state known to have such a provision.

Once they had access to the jails, Sisters Pat and JoAnn began to provide pastoral care to people in detention and created additional programs as they learned of needs. They worked hard to form relationships with everyone with whom they interacted. ICDI continues to work under the premise that human dignity is universal and that one cannot uphold the dignity of immigrants without upholding the dignity of all, including ICE officers and jail staff. This stance has proven invaluable in gaining more access and cooperation to better meet the needs of people who are detained.

8 What Does It Mean to Be an Engaged Institutional Neighbor?

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