New Visitation Program: Northwest Detention Center

By NWDC Roundtable 

The Roundtable is happy to announce that its visitation program at the NW Detention Center is starting off with lots of good news!

On January 23rd, there will be two training sessions–one in Tacoma and the other in Seattle. The training will be conducted by Christina Fialho who is co-founder of Detention Dialogues and recipient of an Echoing Green Fellowship to expand visitation programs across the U.S. under a network called CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement). 

With a very heartfelt thank you to Pat Gunn and Barbara Peterman of the University Unitarian Church who organized this training. Please RSVP name and number of people attending to nwdcr.info@gmail.com

Overview of the NWDC Roundtable Visitation Program

Hundreds of thousands of men and women must wait behind bars while an Immigration Judge decides whether they can continue to live in the United State or whether they will be removed from the United States.  While they wait, they endure the basic frustration and indignity of being locked up and the social isolation of separation from family, community and jobs. Many worry because their families have been left without their support. For these men and women, the need for emotional support is acute.

Even when high standards are maintained in a detention center, a jail or private prison is not home. Constant uncertainty, separation anxiety, social isolation and the accumulating irritations of confinement all add up to a dehumanizing experience. Trapped, frustrated and waiting in colored uniforms, identified by their “Alien registration number” more than their name, they need human ties just to affirm their basic identity and humanity. They need hope, and volunteer visitors provide this hope. Visitors let the men and women in detention know they are not forgotten. Someone is concerned with their welfare and wanting to hear their stories.

When visitation occurs over several months, volunteer visitors may form close personal relationships with detained immigrants and may wish to continue to provide support after detention has ended. When the immigrant is deported, the opportunity to provide support is often limited to letter writing. However, if the immigrant is released to the greater Northwest community, pending the outcome of their case or upon winning their case, the volunteer visitor has an opportunity to provide additional support via the Roundtable’s Post-Release Programs.  If they are released to other parts of the country, CIVIC’s network of visitor volunteers can provide additional support.

Most indigent immigrants released while their cases are still pending are enrolled in the Roundtable’s Alternatives To Detention (ATD) Program. Under this Program, the Roundtable’s Case Manager coordinates their access to direct services such as food, clothing, housing, transportation, educational and vocational training and/or mental or physical health care. Volunteers in the ATD Program help to provide spiritual support and/or social engagement services that facilitate the immigrant’s integration into the community.

For immigrants who have won their case and are no longer in removal proceedings, the Roundtable may provide these types of direct services on a short-term basis, generally until the immigrant has received their employment authorization document (EAD) and has found a job that provides sufficient income to support their basic living needs. Volunteer Visitors may continue their relationship for years after the case is closed.