Louisville Institute-Sabbatical Grant for Researchers

Project: Research project

Project Details


Louisville Institute-Sabbatical Grant for Researchers Louisville Institute-Sabbatical Grant for Researchers On weekday nights at the Phoenix, Arizona Greyhound station, vans and buses carrying a dozen or more people recently released from immigrant detention centers pull into the parkinglot. Men and women unboard and make their way toward the terminal, carrying the plastic bags that hold their few possessionslegal documents, spare clothing, religious pamphlets, and Bible covers made of strips of paper, folded meticulously by hand. They dig sneakers out of the bags and remove prison-orange crocs from their feet. Some of were shackled during the ride from Florence, a town about an hour southeast of Phoenix that contains one of Arizonas most notorious immigrant detention facilities. Those who step off the vans at the Greyhound station each night are from among the tens of thousands of men and women held in U.S. immigration detention each day. The majority are asylum seekers who have been granted authorization to travel within the United States as they await pending court procedures. About half are from Latin America, and the rest are from India. They arrive to the bus station highly disoriented after spending weeks, months, or even years behind bars. More often than not, those who are most distraught have been held in facilities managed by Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company that contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enclose thousands of immigrants each year. Over the last three decades, the incarceration of immigrants in the United States has increased steadily. In 1981, a mere 54 immigrants were held in the nations detention facilities each day. By 2011, that number had surged to over 32,000 (PBS Frontline). These figures alone are enough to raise concern among people of faith interested in immigrant outreach in the United States. Yet it is not simply the rate of detention that has changed. Rather, the quality of immigrant experience in America is undergoing a fundamental shift due to the growing involvement of the private prison industry in matters of immigration enforcement. As companies like Corrections Corporation of America push for legislation that will help fill bed space with migrant bodies, unauthorized persons have become increasingly criminalized within the public view. The goal of my project is to explore the spiritual implications of this trend of criminalizationboth for the people within detention facility walls, and for those who minister to them. My starting assumption is that the changing nature of detention poses new emotional, psychological, and religious challenges for those who come to the United States in pursuit of a better life. The phenomenon also poses new challenges to members of North American faith communities as they seek to develop effective migrant and refugee ministries. While Christians in the United States have long referenced notions of loving ones neighbor and extending kindness to foreigners as they grapple theologically with immigration, I argue that even these familiar tropes do not fully encompass the gravity and depth of todays situation. Through an ethnographic study centered on several of Arizonas most prominent detention facilities, I will explore the following questions: First, what are the material, emotional, and spiritual challenges currently facing people in detention? Second, how are detainees, chaplains, and faith volunteers responding to these challenges? Finally, what remains to be donein other words, what are the points of entry for people of faith seeking to become involved? Rather than present a single, definitive perspective on detention, my goal is to provide a rich and varied collection of voices that can spur further reflection and debate among academics and members of faith communities alike. Through a year of research that will form the basis of a second book, I will gather the voices of detainees, immigration activists, chaplains, and others who have witnessed the reality of detention first-hand. I seek to highlight moments of encounter between individuals of diverse theological and political perspectives. What happens, for example, as detained individuals tell their stories with the professional chaplains? What conversations emerge as a Catholic detainee shares moments of struggle and hope with her evangelical cell-mate? What emerges in encounters between detainees and guards, or between those leading Bible classes and those organizing protest vigils outside detention facility walls? I will focus on the experience of Spanish-speaking detainees, with a possible comparative chapter on the experience of the immigrants from India who now constitute about half of Arizonas detainee population. By centering on the theme of encounter, I hope to encourage readers to reflect upon their own relationships to the men and women currently in detention in the United States, and to consider ways in which they might take action.
Effective start/end date8/15/147/30/16


  • Louisville Institute, The: $37,747.00


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