A few months ago, Billy and I organized a group from our church to visit men at Stewart Detention Center in south Georgia. It's the biggest immigrant detention center on the East Coast, and it is run by the private prison group CCA (Corrections Corporation of America).
Our visit came a couple weeks after our church had mailed Father's Day cards with the hope of encouraging and remembering those separated from their families. It's difficult to find appropriate greeting cards in such painful circumstances.
Through these experiences and our church partnership with El Refugio ministry, I've learned a lot about immigrant detention over the last few months. In light of the federal government's declaration to reduce private prison contracts (but not privatized immigration detention centers), I wrote a piece called "I Saw Jesus in Detention" being featured on Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog:
A few months ago in the early morning, I joined a group from my Atlanta-based church on a two-and-a-half-hour drive down I-85 South to the Stewart Detention Center, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country. Some of the immigrants detained in the facility had requested visitors, and so our church responded. I tried to imagine—who would be so lonely as to ask a stranger to meet with him? Someone living in a very isolated place. Stewart is located in Lumpkin, Georgia, a rural town near the border of Alabama. Many of the center’s residents have been transferred from other states—some as far away as California—and as a result are cut off from family, legal representation, and support networks.
When our congregation asked about the purpose of our trip to Stewart, we relied on Christ’s invitation in Matthew 25:36: “I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Of course, this wasn’t prison exactly. It was immigration detention. Maybe that’s why, when we arrived, I was unprepared for the distinctly prison-like look of the facility.