Chaplaincy on ICE.

Author:Shields, Joseph W.
Position:Correctional Chaplain Perspectives - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

It's an old saying: "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, but a chrysanthemum, by any other name, would be easier to spell." Despite this humorous truism about roses, a chaplain is not just a chaplain is not just a chaplain. Chaplaincy is a calling, not a job. Chaplaincy is a ministry of presence, being present with those who are suffering during periods of hardship, adversity, trials and pain. The areas of chaplaincy are just as varied as the types of flowers. Chaplains serve in many organizations, agencies and companies--including hospitals, schools, universities, military branches, law enforcement departments, jails, detention centers and prisons. Even that list is incomplete.

Our places of service are different, but is there something that is the same for all chaplains? Something that is true about all chaplains? According to Chuck Christie, assistant chaplain at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, Ga., "The chief duty of a chaplain is to be the presence of God." The chaplain carries a ministry of the presence of God into the lives of men and women in many different traumatic situations and in many different ways. Every new encounter brings another focus upon the presence of God on the scene. The common factor in the ministry of presence within these divine arrivals or epiphanies is the human factor of the chaplain.

The trauma and adversity surrounding immigration detention, in particular, presents a unique and challenging opportunity for chaplains. Mandatory detention for immigrants was officially authorized by the federal government in 1996, and in 2003, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency was created under the Department of Homeland Security (interestingly, immigration detention began in the U.S. in 1892 at Ellis Island). ICE detains immigrants at 15 detention centers across the U.S., in addition to state and local jails, juvenile detention centers and shelters. One example of an ICE detention center is the Stewart Detention Center, a large facility in Lumpkin, Ga., which has more than 300 employees and holds approximately 2,000 men from all over the world. Most detainees are Hispanic, and therein lies one of the big differences between ICE detention center chaplaincy and prison/jail chaplaincy--language. How many jail or prison chaplains find being functionally bilingual a practical necessity? How many are fluent in Spanish? Almost every volunteer at the Stewart Detention Center has to be able to speak...

To continue reading