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An Illinois Nun Continues Her Year-Long “Habit” Today

April 11, 2008

Chicago, IL – An Illinois nun today is continuing her year-long "habit" of intervening on behalf of people detained for immigration violations. Sister of Mercy JoAnn Persch, who is with the Catholic Campaign for Immigrant Justice, has been praying outside the Broadview Detention Center every Friday morning for more than a year in an effort to make the center administrators allow immigration detainees more access to spiritual counsel.

Detainees at other facilities across the country may meet with spiritual advisors, Sister Persch says, but that's rarely allowed at Broadview. When she has asked about setting up a meeting with Broadview officials to talk about the problem, she says the answer always has been "no."

"I was told 'There is no need;' 'It's all taken care of;' 'We have standards.' But we knew that wasn't true."

The Illinois legislature is expected to consider a bill within the next week that would require "reasonable" access to spiritual guidance for detainees. Federal rules do allow for spiritual support, but it's up to each center to decide when to grant that, and how much of it to permit.

Sister Persch says there's a tendency to de-humanize people being held for breaking immigration rules. People need to remember that God's love isn't bound by immigration laws, she believes.

The nun adds that detainees are isolated and not allowed to see family members. This treatment, she says, has resulted in detainee suicides.

"There's a lot of depression among those detained, with great concern with their families. I understand that."

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - IL