CIVIC Presents Annual Rev. John Guttermann Legacy Award to New Jersey Visitation Programs

Liz Martinez, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications, CIVIC,
Sally Pillay, Program Director, First Friends of NJ & NY,
Frances Connell, Coordinator, Sojourners,
Jamila Hammami, Executive Director, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project,

NEW YORK – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) presented the 2018 Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award to three visitation programs for their longstanding contributions to the detention visitation and abolition movements: Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Sojourners, and First Friends of New Jersey and New York.

CIVIC is the national visitation network working to abolish the U.S. immigration detention system. CIVIC established this award in honor of Reverend John Guttermann, who passed away in December 2016 after a valiant fight with brain cancer.  Rev. Guttermann was the founder of Conversations with Friends, a visitation program in Minnesota that was one of the first in the country, and a member of CIVIC’s founding Leadership Council.  

Each year, CIVIC awards the Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award to one or more outstanding visitation programs.  The first Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award was presented to Conversations with Friends in 2017.

First Friends of New Jersey and New York, Sojourners, and Queer Detainee Empowerment Project all offer visitation, post-release accompaniment, and other crucial forms of support to people held in ICE detention centers in the New Jersey area.  Over the years, their direct service as well as their activism have made powerful impacts on the experiences and lives of countless asylum seeking and immigrant individuals, as well as the policies of these facilities and localities.

“It has been such an immense pleasure to partner with these organizations over the years and witness how we have grown and learned from one another,” said Christina Fialho, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of CIVIC. “We are truly inspired by their work and leadership in the nationwide movement to support people in immigration detention and end the detention system. It is beautiful to see Rev. Guttermann’s legacy live on in the love, hope, and compassion that these visitation programs bring into some of the darkest systems of oppression in our country.”

First Friends of NJ and NY has been supporting immigrants detained in New Jersey since 1997 through visitation, pen-pals, advocacy, and post-release services.  They began visiting individuals at the Elizabeth Detention Center, and eventually expanded to meet the support and visitation needs of all the detention centers in New Jersey.  They hold events on Ash Wednesday, Columbus Day, and World Refugee Day to bring awareness to the isolation and trauma of detention.  In 2016, First Friends worked with CIVIC to file a civil rights complaint regarding substandard medical care on behalf of 61 individuals detained at the Hudson County Correctional Facility.  As a result, the County of Hudson appointed a committee of attorneys and doctors to investigate and created by local resolution the first medical oversight committee in the immigration detention system comprised of advocates.  In addition to continuing to put pressure on the County of Hudson, First Friends opened this year the Lighthouse, a safe haven for resettling asylees in partnership with the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Jersey City.

Sojourners was founded in 1999 as a social justice ministry project of the Riverside Church community.  Reverend David Fraccaro, a leader in the history of the detention visitation movement, was one of the first program coordinators, and Tom McCarthy, a Sojourners volunteer, directed the inspirational 2007 film The Visitor based on his experience.  Sojourners continues to recruit, train, and mentor volunteers to visit and befriend people at the Elizabeth Detention Center through meaningful one-on-one sustained relationships.  They arrange carpools, providing round-trip transportation from both uptown and midtown Manhattan.  Sojourners also assists in providing post-release orientation and services, such as finding housing in New York.

Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), founded in 2014 by Jamila Hammami, assists people coming out of immigration detention in securing structural, health and wellness, educational, legal, and emotional support and services.  QDEP works to organize around the structural barriers and state violence that LGBTQIA TS & GNC detained and undocumented people face related to their immigration status, race, sexuality, and gender expression and identity.  They visit people at Elizabeth Detention Center and provide phone and pen pal support and connection to legal services at multiple facilities in New Jersey as well as New York, Louisiana, Arizona, and California.  QDEP raises money for transwomen in segregated housing units and solitary confinement to make commissary purchases to alleviate their isolation, and post bond so that they can be freed from these oppressive facilities.

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