Jesuit Refugee Service/USA manages a detention chaplaincy program that provides pastoral and religious assistance for non-U.S. citizens detained by the Department of Homeland Security. We work in five U.S. federal detention centers located in Florida, Texas, Arizona and New York.
We interviewed Sister Lynn Allvin who works as a chaplain in one of those centers, the Florence Service Processing Center in Florence, Arizona. She discussed the feelings that these migrants have, usually fear, and the important services she provides for them in their time of need.
Sister Lynn: Those traveling from Central and South America “…They don’t have freedom of movement. And a lot of them are real worried. Their families have scratched together money so they can pay these traffickers, theses coyotes they’re called here, to get them up to the border. And a lot of them are picked up on the border just after they’ve gotten across, and all that money is gone. They didn’t get to work, they didn’t get to do anything. They sit and stew (in the detention center) thinking, I’m going to be deported. And now all that money is gone, I’ve earned nothing, and I go back as a failure to my family, who are now more in debt.”
One program she coordinates is a music group: “When they’re in the music group it’s an escape to sing. They can goof around. But during the services, when they’re singing, you can see that expression – when you sing you pray twice. They really put their whole selves into it, praying… there’s a sense of purpose.”
Most detainees stay for only a few days, but some stay for weeks or months. No matter the time they spend there, they’re always grateful for Sister Lynn’s accompaniment.
“They’ll always say, ‘oh thank you for spending this time with me. Thank you for sitting with me.’ It’s like I had given them this gift and I felt so helpless and empty. But just sitting there with them made them feel like, wow, you just spent time to sit with me and hear my story, hear my truth, hear my sadness.”