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Bishop meets with parishioner detained over immigration status

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 24. 2017 8:11PM
Bishop Peter A. Libasci 

MANCHESTER — Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Libasci unexpectedly met with a Manchester parishioner who was being held over his immigration status and whose wife was due to deliver a baby any day now.

“I am eager to return and, as Father (Joseph) Gurdak does regularly, to celebrate Mass for those who are detained so as to see as many as possible and to bring encouragement to these brothers and sisters who are so frightened and separated from their loved ones,” the bishop wrote in an email to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Last month, Libasci sent a letter to clergy saying the Diocese of Manchester would not allow illegal immigrants to take refuge by living in its churches. St. Anne-St. Augustin, a Manchester Catholic church with a large Spanish-speaking membership, had declared itself a sanctuary church.

Libasci on Sunday told parishioners at St. Anne-St. Augustin, where Gurdak is pastor, that he planned to visit the Strafford County House of Corrections in Dover on Monday to see how he could arrange to visit with people held over their immigration status.

The bishop was allowed to visit with Manchester resident Oscar Gutierrez, a church usher at St. Anne-St. Augustin Parish, who was picked up by immigration officials on May 16. His wife was due to give birth this week.

“He is tormented by worry for his wife and emotion brings him to tearful silence,” Libasci said. “How it must ache to imagine what this circumstance is doing to his little family as he and they suffer separation and the unknown. A loving husband and father whose circumstance now tears at the sanctity of their family life and home is, and he said this, consoled only by his faith.”

His wife, Mirna, a U.S. citizen, said Gutierrez was from Honduras and “he didn’t have documents here.” He was detained after authorities inquired about him fishing at Hampton Beach. The bishop met with Gutierrez in a secure interview room.

“We sat at a table and spoke about his experience,” the bishop said. “It is something he never imagined in his whole life — being detained is, for him, being incarcerated and unimaginable from his upbringing and his present life as a young man with a wife and child and expecting their second child any day.”

Chris Brackett, captain of security and operations at the house of corrections, said the facility was holding 104 federal detainees Wednesday on immigration issues. The county gets paid $83 per detainee per day.

Detainees are allowed two one-hour visits per week and sometimes more, he said.

Rev. Gurdak couldn’t be reached Wednesday.

The bishop discussed Gutierrez’s life in limbo.

“As a young family, Oscar, his wife and young son, who was born a year after I came to Manchester, were growing in the very best way to be the best of what family life hopes to be,” the bishop said. “They have been growing into the family that gives stability to a community. This hope has, for now, been frozen in time as we plead for a way to restore the sanctity of the family unit with honor and judicial process.”

Crime, law and justice Politics Manchester Immigration

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