Undocumented immigrants living in southeastern Wyoming place their hands on a picnic table for a photo. Several families and individuals agreed to speak with WyoFile under conditions of anonymity. Fears amongst the state’s undocumented community have risen since Trump’s election, as have the numbers of detentions and deportations. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

A 600-bed for-profit immigrant detention center is being planned for Evanston in response to a federal request for a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility near Salt Lake City.

Do the people of Wyoming want to lend support to for-profit prisons? Should our justice system outsource the detainment of asylum seekers and migrants to for-profit companies that are not monitored for proper care of detainees? For-profit detention centers like Management and Training Corporation and Core Civic have a reputation for cost-cutting, poorly-run facilities and abuse.

According to the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with 106 detention facilities to detain removable aliens. Since the beginning of FY 2016, ICE has paid more than $3 billion to the contractors operating these 106 facilities. Despite documentation of thousands of deficiencies and instances of serious harm to detainees that occurred at these detention facilities, ICE rarely imposed financial penalties.”

In June, a pediatrician visited 39 detainees and performed medical exams on 21 infants and children at a detention center in McAllen, Texas. Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier said, “The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities … That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food.”

Is this a just and morally responsible way to treat our brothers and sisters fleeing violence and poverty? Is this how we ought to love our neighbors, the immigrants who have been productive members of our communities for many years and who are now living in fear of being rounded up? 

For those who share Christian roots, we seek to live according to the words of Jesus, who said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me … Whatever you did for one of these least brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me,” Matthew 25:35, 40.

As the Catholic Bishop in Wyoming, I stand in opposition to the establishment of an ICE for-profit detention center in Evanston, and anywhere else in our state. I invite all people of good will to join me in seeking a more just and morally responsible manner to treat our fellow human beings. Just as we seek to protect the lives of innocent unborn children, so must we treat asylum seekers and migrants as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. If we do not, then we are eroding the respect for all human life. Then we are being anti-life.

The situation with migrants today is similar to the Israelites who migrated to Egypt because of famine. Later, after they were prospering in the Promised Land, the Lord ordered them to treat any foreigner with proper care. He said, “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt,” Exodus 22:20

Today, this commandment is directed to us.

Furthermore, I urge all citizens to oppose the inhumane practice of separating children from their parents, incarcerating people who are awaiting due process for asylum and holding human beings in intolerable conditions without regard for their basic needs. We must stand united in upholding the dignity of all human beings. The soul of our nation is at stake.

Recently, Pope Francis wrote a message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He offers valuable insight into this issue. He wrote, It is not just about migrants: it is also about our fears. The signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of ‘the other’, the unknown, the marginalized, the foreigner … We see this with the arrival of migrants and refugees knocking on our door in search of protection, security and a better future … The problem is when [doubts and fears] condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even — without realizing it — racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord.”

It is not just about migrants: it is about charity. Through works of charity, we demonstrate our faith (James 2:18). And the highest form of charity is that shown to those unable to reciprocate and perhaps even to thank us in return.”

“But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight” (Luke 10:33). “It is not just about migrants: it is about our humanity … Compassion strikes the most sensitive chords of our humanity, releasing a vibrant urge to ‘be a neighbor’ to all those whom we see in difficulty. Being compassionate means recognizing the suffering of the other and taking immediate action to soothe, heal and save. To be compassionate means to make room for that tenderness which today’s society so often asks us to repress.”

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I encourage all people of good will to express their opposition to this proposal by signing petitions, and by writing letters to the Uinta County Commissioners or to the five elected officials of the State of Wyoming. Also, I encourage them to support the Fiestas de Familias around the state.

Steven Biegler is the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne.

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  1. Bishop Biegler, you are the spiritual shepherd of more than 50,000 people in Wyoming. You are responsible for a multi-million dollar annual budget. You have jurisdiction over more square footage of housing and church buildings than anyone in this state. You have authority to act on behalf of the Vatican in this state. And, above all else, YOU are the apostolic successor for this time and place. It rests upon you to DO something!

    Stop complaining about our government. Stop wasting Wyoming Catholic parishioners tithing by wastefully persecuting deceased and elderly priests. Spend that money on helping asylum seekers. Stop trying to build an artificial political legacy for yourself. Use the authority of your position to actually DO something. Otherwise, please just pray quietly.

  2. A good summation of relevant scripture and where Christians should be on this issue. The very idea of “For Profit” prisons is sickening. I never thought I’d personally see the re-establishment of the internment camps of the 40’s. We need to get beyond the idea that the solution is either open borders or mass incarceration. This issue is not black and white and it is time to move beyond divisive rhetoric, roll up our sleeves and get down to the hard work of creating a comprehensive, equitable and humane immigration policy for the 21st century.

  3. Bishop Steven sits on the sidelines and says “You should do this”…or “You should do that.” But he never offers any solutions. He can’t even run his diocese in a professional, responsible, transparent manner. He refuses to disclose to the catholics the salaries of those that work for the dicoses or the individual parshies. He has never offered to pay for those that are seeking “asylum”. I think if you compare the living conditions of the living conditions of those sneaking into the country and the ICE facilites, the immigrants are still better off. Ever notice how no one ever says where the money for immigrants is suppose to come from?


  4. Our nation is being invaded.

    We are caring for all who are illegally entering the country. And a for profit facility will do a much better job at housing the illegal immigrants than a government one, after all it is in the financial interest of a for profit to care for their detainee.

    I do not see the “good” pope Frank opening the gates of the Vatican to all of the refugees he tells us we must care for. Should the “good” pope Frank practice what he preaches?

    It is time to build the wall.

    It is time to deport all illegal immigrants.

    1. The words of invasion come from corrupted news sources such as Fox. This Catholic stands with Bishop Biegler and furthermore renounces all the evil done by this administration. Hoping Church and country survive this as it’s horrifying to see people of faith led astray by a charlatan and traitor. My father said single issue voting would be the tool used to swindle Catholics over to the GOP. Lord have mercy.

  5. Yes! Right on. Good job, Bishop Biegler.
    Surely all churches, synagogues and mosques and caring people of all stripes should be speaking out about inhumane treatment of any and all people.
    “Detention centers” are jails =no, they are worse than jails, because the people in them have not been convicted of any real crime. Separating families, mean treatment of refugees, is not who we are in the state of Wyoming. It’s not who we are in the United States of America.
    We care about people and do our best to take care of them because that’s who we are.